Divorce if you have been abandoned by your spouse

Dealing with abandonment from your spouse is difficult enough to come to terms with psychologically, but along with the emotional uncertainty, there are practical questions you may also have, such as how will the divorce process work if I have been abandoned? Or, how can I contact my spouse about a divorce if I don’t know where they live? 

What is abandonment in marriage? 

Abandonment in a marriage is also known legally as desertion. There can be many different reasons why desertion happens. It could be as a result of an abusive or forced marriage or because one of the spouses was in the marriage to gain a visa. Sometimes, there is no explanation at all which can leave the other spouse with feelings of grief, loss, anger, and confusion, all of which can take a long time to process. Naturally, if you have children together, the feelings surrounding abandonment are compounded and greater responsibilities may lie ahead.  

How do I demonstrate abandonment in my divorce proceedings?

If you’re at the stage where you believe your marriage is irretrievable and want to seek a divorce through desertion, acquiring more information about the divorce process can help alleviate doubts and provide you with some answers. 

In order for any divorce to go ahead, you will need to file a divorce petition to the court and state what the grounds for divorce are. Before you can start the petition, you will need to demonstrate that your spouse has abandoned you for a year or more (in most US states). In the majority of cases, you will also need to show that you and your spouse did not agree on the departure and that the person petitioning for divorce did not cause the other’s exit. The courts will look into the possible reasons why a spouse may have left, for example, the departing spouse could have suggested they return but you declined, or you may have arranged and agreed a trial separation with your spouse before they left. 

Contacting your spouse 

To ensure your spouse has the opportunity to respond, the divorce petition is sent to them from the courts. However, you may not know your spouse’s new address. If you do not know where they are living, you can try to reach them via friends, family or people they work with. If the petition is posted to their last known address and returned as undeliverable then other attempts will need to be made, for example, some government establishments are able to perform searches to find current addresses. If you are still unsuccessful, then your legal team will be able to speak to the court to convey your attempts to find an address and request that the proceedings are still able to continue despite this.

What is constructive desertion?

Every case is different and there are two sides to each divorce. In some instances, desertion happens when the spouse leaving is forced to because of the other spouse’s intentional misconduct – this is referred to as ‘constructive desertion’. These grounds can be used in various situations including one partner’s role in making life intolerable for the other to the extent where they had no choice but to leave the marriage.

The rise in spousal abandonment 

Although there are different circumstances leading to divorce through abandonment, experts have pointed to a specific scenario: ‘Spousal Abandonment Syndrome’ when one spouse departs unexpectedly, often without warning, leaving the abandoned spouse with disbelief, unanswered questions and the inability to discuss problems surrounding their marriage. The leaving spouse has often already organised new accommodation and planned their new life. 

Coping with divorce through desertion 

If you are on the receiving end of being abandoned unexpectedly by your spouse, there will be emotions to deal with in the aftermath. For any divorce, it typically takes a few years to recover. If you have experienced abandonment, the healing process can be longer and more challenging. Abandoned parties can feel blindsided and rejected and it is important to process your feelings through support sessions like counselling or therapy so you can healthily move past this stage of your life and embrace new beginnings. 



Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


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