What is meant by “constructive desertion” under Maryland Law?
Many people have heard of the term “constructive desertion,” but what exactly does it mean? People are familiar with the concept of desertion in a divorce action. That means one party has deliberately abandoned the relationship, by leaving the marriage without justification. For example, when a spouse, without the consent of the other party, leaves the marital home and says it is final, that is a desertion.
A constructive desertion is when conduct by one spouse renders impossible a continuation of the marital relationship by the other spouse with safety, self and self-respect. The offensive conduct of one spouse must be such as to compel the other spouse to leave. The behavior which would justify a party in leaving requires a pattern of persistent conduct, not just a solitary event. The party who is forced to leave by the cruel or dangerous conduct of the other must be experiencing a genuine fear about her safety, health and self-respect. Generally, although not always, constructive desertion requires that one of the spouses physically leaves the marital home. It is not necessary that the safety or physical health of the spouse be threatened, but a grave threat to a spouse’s self-respect alone may be sufficient.
When one spouse has been subjected to such persistent conduct by the other, if that spouse leaves because his or her safety, health and self-respect is endangered, the party who stays in the marital home is said to have been guilty of “constructive desertion.” In other words, the spouse who “constructively deserted” did not actually leave the home, but forced the other spouse to leave if she were to maintain her safety, health and self-respect.
In Maryland, a divorce may now be granted after a twelve month separation. The reason the parties separated is not a factor in the granting of the divorce, once the twelve month separation period has concluded. An absolute divorce on the ground of desertion requires also that the desertion continued without interruption for twelve months. For that reason, constructive desertion is not as common of a ground for an absolute divorce as it was previously.
Issues relating to the applicability of constructive desertion to the separation of a couple are complicated. We strongly recommend you consult a lawyer if you have questions about the conduct you have been subjected to, and whether you are justified in leaving the marital home. To speak to an experienced Baltimore County divorce lawyer, call us at (443) 589-0150 or contact us online.