How Abandonment Impacts Divorce

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People divorce for all kinds of reasons and each case has its own individual story to tell. Sometimes it takes the form of a gradual breakdown, spouses often separate ahead of time, and occasionally one party simply up and leaves. This begs the question: How does abandonment impact divorce?

What Constitutes Abandonment?

While the idea of abandonment seems obvious at first glance, from a legal perspective, it isn’t so cut and dried. Most people probably think of it as physical desertion, as one spouse taking off and not coming back. That certainly plays a part, but doesn’t show the whole picture.

Just leaving for a period of time—for example, a week, or even a month, after an intense fight—doesn’t automatically constitute abandonment. Neither does a month of missed child support here or there. In order for the court to consider this situation abandonment or desertion, it must continue for an extended period of time. The absence must also be permanent and without the consent of the other spouse.

A number of factors must play into the situation for it to constitute abandonment. Most states require an absence of at least a year. It can’t be a mutually agreed upon decision. During that time, the absent spouse must fail to pay support. Additionally, the remaining spouse must not have caused the departure—for instance, fleeing from physical abuse doesn’t count.

Abandonment And No-Fault Divorce

Oregon is a no-fault divorce state. This means that in order to dissolve a marriage, there’s no need for one spouse to assign blame or to prove the other was in the wrong. All that needs to happen is for one spouse to proclaim the marriage irretrievably broken and that no hope for reconciliation exists. As long as you meet the residency requirements and follow the proper procedure, you’ll get your divorce.

While abandonment may ultimately be the root cause of a divorce, it may not end up the cause, legally speaking. In Oregon, the only basis for divorce is “irreconcilable differences.”

Some states require a couple to live apart for a period of time in order to grant a no-fault divorce, but that’s not the case in Oregon.

Abandonment may not wind up the reason written down on your divorce decree, but it does still have a significant impact. Especially when it comes to child custody and divorce settlements.

Abandonment And Child Custody

Leaving children behind doesn’t put one in contention for parent of the year. When one spouse physically abandons children, leaving them in the care of the other parent, it creates a situation where the remaining parent has custody by default. While not an official, permanent custody order, this scenario often results in court-sanctioned guardianship.

When one parent leaves his or her children in the care of the other, it’s difficult to return later and convince the court they’re truly the ideal fit for custody. In cases of abandonment, it’s hard to show a strong, stable bond between parent and child. During a prolonged absence, the de facto custodial parent can also seek divorce and attempt to gain sole custody.

In certain instances, the court may even terminate a parent’s rights in the cases of abandonment. If a parent avoids contact with the children or refuses to pay child support, rights may be cut off. Again, a missed month of payments here and there or a week’s absence won’t do it, it must be a prolonged, definite pattern. Cutting off parental rights is a serious, not to mention permanent decision. The courts don’t take such rulings lightly, and you must prove it’s in the best interest of the children.

Abandonment And Divorce Settlements

Similar to child custody, abandonment can also have a significant impact on a divorce settlement. The real influence of prolonged desertion often manifests in areas like child support, spousal support, and others.

Abandonment and similar issues don’t usually play into areas like division of property. Factors like financial need, child custody, the length of the marriage, future job prospects, and other considerations weigh heavier. But it does come into play in certain areas.

For instance, if a prolonged absence contributes to financial hardships, that can figure into the settlement and spousal support. Abandonment influences decisions on child custody, which can result in subsequent child support payments. Like with the actual divorce, abandonment may not be the official cause, but it definitely has an influential role.

Though on the surface the idea of abandonment appears straightforward, it often serves to further complicate matters in divorce. It has a number of impacts and influences on the process and further muddies the already cloudy legal waters.

Comments 2

  1. Almost two years ago my alcoholic and pill addicted husband went out to do laundry…three days later I found out he was in Florida (we lived in NJ and I still do) and I haven’t heard from him since. He not only left me after I made several attempts to get him sober with rehabilitation centers via my medical insurance benefits from my job but also at a time when we were facing eviction and starting acquiring major debt because he couldn’t keep a job and mine didn’t pay much but was kept for the benefits. Seeing how he was home most days he also managed to intercept the mail and there was so much more going on than I was aware of until he was gone. Now, I was homeless for a period of 5 months as a result of his abandonment and being homeless led my 11yr job loss(+other reasons) I’m barely making it day to day so what can I do? Dissolvement of the marriage costs money I don’t have so not really an option or a priority right now so how does one survive this situation and not be lost under a mountain of debt? Where do you go especially when your state doesn’t seem to be able to provide you with any assistance but has infact cut off and denied any further unemployment benefits you were getting. Where do you go next? Any ideas because I’d love to hear them all. Thanks for your time.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Kristine,

      Thanks for reaching out. That’s a complicated situation. I passed your contact information along to our managing attorney, Colin Amos. He’ll reach out to you shortly to discuss your case and give you an idea of your options.

      -Best, Goldberg Jones

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