Traditional marriage vows include the line, “til death do us part,” and while most couples have every intention of staying married through sickness and in health, and until both spouses live well into old age, roughly 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. In some cases, a spouse leaves the marriage without any warning, which is known as abandonment or desertion. If you are the spouse who was abandoned, this can be particularly devastating, especially if your spouse suddenly cuts off all financial support as well. If you are filing for divorce on the grounds of abandonment, it is important that you understand your legal rights, and what does and does not qualify as abandonment. A skilled divorce lawyer can walk you through every step of the divorce process, determine whether you have valid grounds for divorce, and secure the best possible divorce settlement.
Is Maryland a Fault or No-Fault Divorce State?
While most states today only recognize no-fault divorces, Maryland allows people to obtain either a no-fault or a fault-based divorce. In a no-fault divorce, the spouse who files for divorce only needs to demonstrate irreconcilable differences, that they parted ways amicably or that they have not been living together for at least 12 months. In this case, either spouse can file for divorce. Unfortunately, this is not an option for some couples. However, it is important to keep in mind that fault-based divorces tend to be significantly more time-consuming, emotionally draining and expensive. Some spouses choose the fault-based option as a way to punish their spouse for their infidelity, cruelty, or other misconduct. In order to obtain a fault-based divorce, you must be able to prove one or more of the following fault-based grounds:
- Excessively vicious conduct
- Imprisonment of a crime
What Is Marital Abandonment?
The legal definition of marital abandonment may vary, depending on where you live. In Maryland, abandonment occurs when one spouse willfully and deliberately abandons a spouse without any warning. In order to be granted a divorce on the grounds of desertion, the desertion must continue for 12 consecutive months. Maryland law requires the spouse who is filing for divorce to establish grounds for the divorce. Abandonment is considered a fault-based ground for seeking a divorce. There are two types of abandonment, including the following:
- Actual abandonment: Also known as physical abandonment, this occurs when the deserting spouse abandons the home and fails to meet his or her financial responsibilities to the family. In order to be granted a divorce on the grounds of actual abandonment, you must be able to prove all of the following factors:
- The desertion continued for at least 12 consecutive months.
- The deserting spouse intends to end the marriage.
- You and your spouse no longer live together or engage in sexual intercourse.
- The desertion was not justified.
- It is highly unlikely that you and your spouse will reconcile.
- You did not consent to the desertion.
- Constructive abandonment: This refers to a situation where your spouse’s actions make it unbearable to stay in the marriage. Some of the most common reasons spouses give for constructive abandonment include cruelty, infidelity, domestic abuse, withholding sex and a failure to meet financial obligations.
What Does Not Qualify as Abandonment?
There are some situations that may cause a spouse to feel as though he or she has been abandoned, but they do not technically qualify as abandonment. For example, if your spouse suffers from amnesia, a devastating injury, or is in a coma, this does not qualify as abandonment, despite the fact that your spouse is no longer able to provide physical, emotional and financial support. In addition, if you leave your spouse because you and your children are in immediate danger due to spousal abuse, child abuse or some other type of violent behavior, your spouse cannot claim abandonment as grounds for divorce. If you are divorcing your spouse under these conditions, it is highly recommended that you consider getting a restraining order or a protection order against your spouse.
How Does Abandonment Impact Property Distribution?
Maryland follows the law of equitable distribution, which means that both spouses will receive a percentage of the total marital assets, based on a number of factors, including each spouse’s monetary and non-monetary contributions towards the acquisition of assets. However, if abandonment was the grounds for the divorce, the Court will consider this when determining how the assets are going to be divided. For example, if your spouse moved out of the home without justification, the Court will likely increase the percentage of marital assets that are awarded to you, particularly if your spouse emptied out a shared savings account to pay for his or her living expenses after moving out.
Unlike other states, in Maryland, your spouse does not give up his or her rights to the marital home if he or she abandoned the marriage. However, you are legally allowed to continue living in the house, or sell it if you so choose, although your spouse will be entitled to an equitable share of the value. Once you have established marital abandonment, you have the right to change the locks, making it difficult for your spouse to access the property.
How Does Abandonment Affect Alimony and Child Support Payments?
Unfortunately, spousal abandonment and child abandonment often go hand in hand. However, it does not necessarily mean that the abandoning spouse will lose parental rights. The courts recognize the important role that both parents play in children’s lives, and that biological parents have a fundamental right to see their children. In order for a spouse to be considered an absent parent, the parent must have had no contact with the child for several months to a year. Missing several visitations, arriving late or falling behind on child support payments is not considered child abandonment. However, if the parent does not meet his or her obligations, the custodial parent can petition the court for sole custody and request that the other spouse’s parental rights are terminated. A skilled divorce lawyer can review the details of your case and recommend the best legal course of action.
Bel Air Divorce Lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC Represent Clients in Abandonment Cases
If you wish to file for divorce on the grounds of abandonment, contact our Bel Air divorce lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC. We understand how devastating it can be when your spouse abandons the marriage without explanation or warning. Call us at 443-589-0150 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. With offices located in Hunt Valley and Towson, Maryland, and we proudly serve clients across Baltimore, Baltimore County, Bel Air, Bentley Springs, Columbia, Freeland, Hereford, Hampton, Westminster, Essex, Monkton, Sparks Glencoe, Parkton, Phoenix, Pikesville, White Hall, Carroll County, Harford County, and Howard County.