Is Marital Abandonment Legal Grounds for Divorce?

When a couple files for divorce, one of the first steps is to complete the “Complaint for Divorce” document. Among other information that must be listed in this document, you must specify the reason for the divorce. In New Jersey, valid grounds for divorce include no-fault grounds, adultery, extreme cruelty, and addiction. Abandonment may also be listed as the grounds for a divorce if your spouse has left your home and does not appear to have any intention of returning. However, it is important to understand the legal definition of abandonment, and that you are able to prove that your spouse’s actions meet the criteria for abandonment. A skilled divorce lawyer can thoroughly explain the requirements for an abandonment claim, ensure that your legal rights are protected, and that you receive the financial settlement you deserve.

What Is Considered Abandonment?

In New Jersey, abandonment is one of the at-fault grounds for the dissolution of a marriage. There are a number of legal requirements that must be met in order to demonstrate that you have been abandoned by your spouse, including the following:

  • Your spouse has not been living in the marital home for at least 12 continuous months. If, at any point, you and your spouse reconcile and live together after the initial abandonment, the timeline for abandonment is reset.
  • You did not agree to the separation or abandonment.
  • Your behavior or actions did not cause the abandonment.
  • Your spouse did not provide you or your children with any financial support during the period of abandonment.

How Is Abandonment Different from a Separation?

The main difference between abandonment and a legal separation is that both parties mutually agree to the separation, whereas abandonment occurs without one of the party’s foreknowledge. For example, after making a concerted effort to resolve their issues over several months, including attending couples therapy, a couple may decide to legally separate. If, after living apart for a period of time, both parties decide that their marriage is not fixable, and they are better apart, they may pursue a divorce. By contrast, abandonment occurs when one spouse leaves without any notice and with no intention of returning. In New Jersey abandonment also includes sexual abandonment, which refers to the refusal to engage in a sexual relationship for at least one year.

How Does Abandonment Impact Child Custody?

New Jersey is a no-fault state, which means that, while fault-based grounds are still an option, they are not usually used to terminate a marriage. However, if you listed abandonment as the grounds for your divorce, this would likely have an impact on how a judge determines who will have custody of your children. For example, if your spouse abandoned your marriage and has made no effort to maintain contact with your children, the court will likely grant you full custody.

What Are Common Misunderstandings About Abandonment?

If you are claiming abandonment as the grounds for your divorce, there are a number of misconceptions that you should be aware of when it comes to spousal abandonment, including:

  • Abandonment is the same as separation. As discussed, a separation is agreed upon by both spouses, whereas abandonment occurs when one spouse leaves the home without notice.
  • If my spouse relocates, but I do not want to go, this is considered abandonment. If your spouse got a new job or a promotion that requires him or her to move to a different town or state, but you do not want to leave your home and start over somewhere new, your spouse cannot be charged with abandonment simply because you do not want to relocate.
  • An abandonment charge means my spouse will not be responsible for paying child support. Just because your spouse left the marriage without any warning to you, or your children does not mean that they are absolved of their child support obligations. If you are the abandoned spouse, you may file for full custody and request the cancellation of your ex-spouse’s parental rights.

Somerville Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Assist Clients Who Have Been Abandoned by Their Spouse

If your spouse has abandoned your marriage without warning, contact the Somerville divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. We will assist you with every step of the divorce process and ensure that your legal rights are protected. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 908-5759777 or contact us online. We have offices in Somerville, Morristown, and Freehold New Jersey, and serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.