What Is Spousal Abandonment?

what is spousal abandonment

Spousal abandonment was one of the most commonly used reasons to pursue a legal divorce before California became a no-fault divorce state. While you don’t hear the term “spousal abandonment” much these days, it is still a very real issue and takes a heavy emotional and financial toll on those who are left behind.

Understanding Spousal Abandonment

Spousal abandonment is defined as when a person leaves a legal marriage without an intent to return, without working through proper legal channels, and failing to honor their financial responsibilities. It happens without warning or communication, and often the spouse left behind cannot locate their spouse. While spousal abandonment is not grounds for divorce in no-fault divorce states, the one left behind can move forward with divorce on their own using “irreconcilable differences” as the reason.

Marriage is a legally binding contract. While spousal abandonment does not affect how a divorce is filed or how it moves forward, it can affect the divorce process and a judge’s final decisions. In our experience, judges do not take spousal abandonment lightly and the final judgment is likely to err more in your favor.

When Should I Take Legal Action If Abandoned By My Spouse?

It is worth your while to meet with a family lawyer sooner rather than later because time is of the essence when it comes to the legal and financial realities for one left behind. Ultimately, the decision to file a divorce is entirely up to you. However, there are some situations where we recommend taking legal action or filing for divorce if your spouse is not communicating. 

Consulting with an experienced family law attorney is a wise first step. We can help you determine which steps are necessary to move forward in a way that aligns with your values while ensuring your spouse is held accountable for their marriage responsibilities.

You have children

A parent’s first priority should be their children, and the law certainly views it that way. If your spouse has left and is not contributing financially, or the money they are sending is not enough, sporadic, or unpredictable, you speak with a family law specialist ASAP. Regardless of whether or not you choose to file for a divorce, your child’s parents owe you child support

The court has all kinds of ways to find your spouse if you can’t. If they don’t respond to the court, they risk having their driver’s license and passport suspended, bank accounts frozen, etc. The courts can garnish wages from employers as well as any future returns. And, they charge 10% interest to your spouse on unpaid balances, which are payable to you. 

You can download and complete child support forms on the California Child Support Services webpage. I also recommend scheduling a consultation with a family law specialist to make sure the forms are filled out correctly. If you miss anything, they get kicked back and it delays the process. Investing in even a single consultation can help expedite your process.  

You’re ready to get divorced

In many cases, regardless of the heartbreak and stress associated with spousal abandonment, clients are more than ready to file for divorce. In this case, the way is clear. Technically, there is no need to hire a lawyer to pursue a divorce. The California Self-Help Divorce Forms page has a wealth of information, as well as the forms you can download and print. 

Also, check your local family law court website to learn more about their self-help offerings, which typically include in-person support by appointment. In most cases, you are best off consulting with a Bay Area family lawyer 

You are in trouble financially

If you are currently a stay-at-home parent, you were the lower wage-earning spouse, or you’re struggling to pay the bills, take legal action. Again, I recommend consulting with a legal family law specialist to determine your next best steps. Alimony, called spousal support, is not like child support. It is not an automatic right so you’ll need to take a different route if you’re entitled to financial support from your spouse. 

In this case, if you are not ready to file for divorce, you’re advised to move forward with a legal separation. With a legal separation, your spouse will be legally ordered to pay child support, may be legally ordered to pay spousal support, and marital assets and debts are divided in half so you aren’t responsible for the whole.

Your spouse has or is running up additional debt

There are many benefits to living in a community property state. In a spousal abandonment situation, these benefits may be detrimental depending on your spouse’s actions. Each day you remain legally married, without filing legal separation or divorce papers, your spouse has the ability to add to your household debt and you are legally responsible for it. 

In many cases, the spouse who leaves acquires new credit cards and has them sent to a new p.o. box or mailing address, without you knowing it. Filing for a divorce is the best way to stop your responsibility for any bills or debts s/he’s wracking up. We also recommend running regular free credit reports to keep an eye on any lines of credit or loans (cars, toys, etc.) that appear after they move out. 

Also worth keeping in mind, any assets your spouse acquires during his/her abandonment are 50% yours; and any assets you acquire in the period between abandonment and legally filing for divorce are 50% theirs, too. The more you uncover prior to filing for a divorce, the better the outcome of the proceedings will be. 

Our Family Law Practice Is Here To Help

Are you wondering about how to handle your spousal abandonment scenario? The Law Offices of Gerard Falzone are here to provide solid counsel and personal recommendations. Contact us to schedule a free consultation. (510) 521-9500. Even a single meeting or two may be all you need to support your forward movement in the right direction.