Getting a divorce can be a heart-wrenching, challenging process. When you’re filing for divorce because your spouse abandoned you, however, the process can be that much more difficult and confusing to navigate.
Alabama law allows abandoned spouses to sue for an at-fault divorce and to terminate the parental rights of their former partner. However, proving abandonment and handling the intricacies of an abandonment divorce can be complicated. What are your rights? How do you proceed if you can’t find your spouse? What if your spouse files a countersuit?
Abandonment is a complex subject when it comes to divorce, but getting help from an experienced family law firm can make the process much less onerous. You’ve been left alone to manage your finances and care for your children. You don’t have to face a complex divorce on your own, as well.
Our team is committed to making the divorce process as painless as it can be. To schedule your initial consultation, call us or fill out the form on our contact page. We look forward to hearing from you.
What Is Abandonment in a Divorce?
In Alabama, couples can either get a no-fault divorce or a fault divorce. In a no-fault divorce, the divorce is granted, but neither spouse is singled out for responsibility for the dissolution of the marriage. Abandonment, on the other hand, is one of three legal grounds for a fault divorce in Alabama (the other two are adultery and imprisonment).
While it’s common for one or both spouses going through a divorce to feel like they’re suddenly on their own, that’s not the same thing as the legal definition of abandonment. For a spouse to petition for a divorce using grounds of abandonment, they must show that there has been a continuous absence from the marriage “bed and board” for a considerable time period. Usually, a spouse has to be absent for a year or longer for it to be considered abandonment.
In essence, the abandoned spouse must provide evidence that their spouse has voluntarily left without planning to return, giving up all ties and responsibilities to the marriage.
It’s also important to note that abandonment is not the same thing as separation. The key distinction between abandonment and separation is that, in cases of abandonment, the spouse has left the home as well as given up on the responsibilities that come with a marriage. For instance, if your spouse has moved out of the house but is still communicating with you and providing for you and your children, that does not qualify as abandonment.
How Do Abandonment and Desertion Relate to a Divorce?
While both no-fault divorce and fault divorce broadly end the same way — the spouses go their separate ways after splitting their assets and determining who will have custody of any children — the circumstances of a divorce can dramatically impact the final outcome.
In a no-fault divorce, for example, the assets may be distributed equally, and both spouses may share custody of the children. This makes sense in many cases if the former spouses are on decent terms, and the divorce was relatively amicable.
However, in a fault divorce, one spouse must show that it was the other spouse’s behavior that caused the breakup of the marriage. This means the court may divide the marital assets differently or award sole custody to one spouse because of the other spouse’s behavior. In instances of spousal abandonment, the abandoned spouse will almost certainly be awarded more assets and sole custody of any children because the abandoning spouse acted so poorly.
One important issue to consider when filing for divorce on abandonment grounds is child support. Parents have a legal obligation to provide for their children, but if your spouse has abandoned you, you may not be able to find them so they can provide financial support.
Getting a divorce on abandonment grounds often results in the termination of the abandoning spouse’s parental rights, which means they no longer have custody but may also mean that they are no longer required to pay child support. Be sure to discuss this potential issue with an attorney before finalizing your divorce.
Similarly, property rights can be a tricky issue in abandonment divorces. If the abandoned spouse can show that the other spouse has given up on their financial responsibilities, the abandoned spouse may be able to claim sole right to the marital home and any other property.
Factors in Abandonment
There are several things courts will look at when a spouse files for divorce on the grounds of abandonment before they will grant the divorce. These factors include:
- Time – An absence of a few days or weeks is not enough to demonstrate abandonment. Even an absence of a few months may not be enough. Generally speaking, your spouse must have been gone for more than a year before the courts will consider a claim of abandonment.
- Communication – To prove abandonment, generally, the abandoned spouse must provide evidence that the spouse left without warning, that they have not been able to contact the abandoning spouse, and that there was a prior agreement about the responsibilities of the marriage.
- Financial support – A lack of financial support is another crucial component of any abandonment claim. Even if two spouses aren’t communicating with one another and are living in separate homes, one spouse has not abandoned the marriage if they’re continuing to support the other spouse and their children.
- Relocation – If your spouse relocated because they were transferred for work or got a new job, that does not qualify as abandonment.
- Childcare – While your spouse may not be paying your bills, if they’re still contributing toward your children’s well-being, they have not fully abandoned the marriage.
- Constructive desertion – There are times when a spouse leaving suddenly and not telling their partner where they’re going can be a good thing. For example, if one spouse is abusive or has issues with alcohol or drug use, it may be prudent for the other spouse to take the children and relocate. However, this is generally not seen as abandonment because the spouse who left did so for a good reason. In abandonment cases, there must be no valid justification for why the abandoning spouse left.
How Our Family Law Attorneys Can Help
Going through a divorce is a taxing process, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But you can make the situation much easier on yourself by hiring an experienced, compassionate family law firm. The attorneys at New Beginnings Family Law understand the toll these cases can take on a family, and we want to help however we can.
Here are a few ways we can assist with your divorce proceedings:
- Gathering evidence for your claim – Fault divorces in Alabama require the spouse who’s asking for a divorce to provide evidence to support the claim. For an abandonment divorce, you’ll have to show that your spouse has not lived in your home for a year or more; that you have not been in contact and have been unable to reach them despite your best efforts; that your spouse is no longer supporting you or your children; and that your spouse did not provide a valid justification for leaving you.
- Handling the legal paperwork – As much as we might wish that divorce proceedings were quick and painless, they’re often winding and convoluted journeys. And there’s a lot of paperwork to deal with. To make sure you don’t create any additional headaches for yourself and that your divorce goes as smoothly as possible, have an attorney prepare and file any documentation necessary to support your claim.
- Fighting for you to get what you’re owed – If your spouse abandons you, you’ll likely need every asset you can get your hands on to support yourself and any children you may have. You’ll also want to get sole custody of your children. While courts are likely to look favorably on abandoned spouses, you don’t want to take any risks. Your best chance to get a majority of your marital assets, as well as custody of your children, is to hire a lawyer with experience handling divorce and family law matters.
Contact Our Huntsville Divorce Attorney for Help!
If your spouse has abandoned you and you’re seeking a divorce, we know that you need all the help you can find. You’ve already been cut off from a major source of emotional and financial support, but we can help you get back on your feet and lay the foundation for a better tomorrow.
We know how frightening and confusing family law matters can be. That’s why we take a personal, dedicated approach to all of our cases. We understand how important this is to you, and we’re committed to providing you with exceptional legal representation.
The sooner you get started with your abandonment divorce proceedings, the sooner you can move on to a more positive chapter in your life. Schedule your initial consultation with New Beginnings Family Law today by calling us or filling out the form on our contact page.