What Constitutes Abandonment in a Marriage?

You might have heard acquaintances throw around the phrase “marital abandonment.” You may even wonder if it applies to your situation. Whether you are the spouse who feels left behind or needs to exit a toxic environment, your decision to stay or not could affect the proceedings.

What constitutes abandonment in a marriage according to Arizona law? Lincoln & Wenk, PLLC, a leading divorce lawyer in Phoenix, AZ, has ample experience providing legal guidance to clients in various situations. Below, we outline what the term means and how it may affect your divorce.

What Does Marital Abandonment Mean?

Abandonment in matrimonial law refers to one spouse leaving the other spouse without any word of warning or support. Typically, the abandoning spouse has no justification for their actions. They may tire of the responsibilities of married or family life and eschew them without further communication.

The spouse left behind might struggle to make ends meet, care for the children, and manage their once-shared household. While many people often associate this sad image with abandonment, it also covers other circumstances.

What Constitutes Abandonment in a Marriage?

Marital abandonment comes in two forms: constructive and criminal. While both can disrupt the family and leave the remaining spouse struggling to balance their household, the departing spouse can justify one type. Learn how an Arizona divorce court might label your situation below.

Constructive Abandonment

Constructive abandonment occurs when a spouse leaves because life in their household has become unbearable due to the other spouse’s behavior. For example, you might abandon your spouse because of intensifying domestic violence. Some other qualifying reasons include:

  • Infidelity: You might choose to leave the household if your spouse steps outside of your marriage for sexual and emotional gratification.
  • Lack of financial support: Your spouse may withhold much-needed financial resources to ensure your health, security, and comfort.
  • Withholding sex: Your spouse might avoid or outright refuse sexual encounters with you for long periods.

While society might deem these reasons for constructive abandonment as more socially acceptable, Arizona courts might not recognize them because it allows no-fault divorce. That means you don’t need your spouse to agree to divorce to achieve one. Therefore, you technically don’t have to abandon your marriage to start the ball rolling on divorce.

Criminal Abandonment

Criminal abandonment occurs when one spouse refuses to provide essential resources to maintain and protect their marriage and household. For example, you might fall ill because of a health condition. Your spouse opts to leave the house and marriage altogether rather than take care of you.

Arizona’s allowance for no-fault divorces means your spouse can serve you with divorce papers and begin proceedings. They don’t need your agreement or permission to legally end the marriage. However, some courts might view an ailing spouse as a dependent and divide property or require alimony accordingly.

Can You Begin Divorce Proceedings Because of Abandonment?

Now that you understand what constitutes abandonment in a marriage, you probably want to know whether you can start the divorce process. Remember: Arizona is a state that honors no-fault divorce. Therefore, you can file for divorce anytime, and the Arizona court system will grant it.

However, you might want the court to hear your side before dividing your marital assets. A divorce lawyer can help you gather evidence, understand legal terminology, and navigate the following legal process.

#1 Termination Reasoning

You must properly define your reason for divorce using legal terminology. Sometimes, multiple terms apply to one situation. Your divorce attorney will determine whether the abandonment was criminal or constructive.

They will also explore your situation in depth to see whether other legal circumstances apply. Once you understand the legal reasons for your or your spouse’s departure, you can plan and file for property division accordingly.

#2 Divorce Filings

Next, you will fill out the papers required to begin proceedings. These documents outline:

  • Petition for dissolution: The petition informs the court about who wants the divorce, why they want it, and what they want from it. If you plan to serve the papers, you are the party seeking a divorce, and you want it because of abandonment or descriptors defining why you left.
  • Summons: The summons serves as your message to your spouse. It officially informs them about your decision to pursue a divorce with some of the above details.
  • Complaint: The complaint informs the court what you want from the divorce. Your lawyer will help you assess your lifestyle, earnings, and dependency on your spouse. These factors will determine what the court might realistically award you.
  • Marital timeline: You need plenty of receipts to build a timeline of your marriage story, from beginning to end. Include your marriage certificate and a description of when and why the abandonment occurred. You can also provide screenshots, invoices, and other evidence surrounding the circumstances of your separation.

Consult with your attorney to determine the specifics surrounding your filing needs. The above-listed basics don’t cover the entire filing package.

#3 Serving Papers

Next comes the hard part: serving your spouse with divorce papers. This step is often emotional, stressful, and even logistically difficult. Not only will you face personal obstacles, like mental and emotional hurt, but you might struggle to find your spouse’s physical location.

For example, you might not know your spouse’s physical location if they abandoned you. On the other hand, they can actively evade the service process if they catch wind of your intentions. You might need a professional server or other avenues for serving your soon-to-be ex-spouse.

#4 Settlements and Mediation

Some couples settle divorce cases outside of court through a process called mediation. A neutral third party will mediate the proceedings while each party’s lawyer argues their case. Ideally, both parties reach a divorce settlement.

Other times, the divorce case goes before a judge. Like other court proceedings, your lawyer will advocate for you to the judge. The judge ultimately determines how to split marital assets in their ruling.

#5 Finalization

No matter how you reach a divorce agreement, you’ll finalize it one way or another. The Arizona court will terminate your marriage. You and your spouse will divide your assets according to the mediation agreement or the judge’s final division ruling.

How Does Marital Abandonment Affect Proceeding Outcomes in a Family Law Court?

Did you technically abandon your marriage because of an unsustainable living situation? Perhaps your spouse left you behind, shirking all marital responsibilities for seemingly no reason. Either way, your decision to stay or go could impact the property you keep after the divorce.

Division of Assets and Property

Arizona is a community property state, meaning that all belongings and property acquired throughout a marital relationship belong to both parties. Thus, the court may divide the marital assets 50/50 unless persuaded otherwise. The circumstances surrounding your initial separation and subsequent divorce will influence the decision.

Custody and Visitation Rights

The court might deem the party who abandoned the marriage as unreliable. You could have full or majority custody of your children if your spouse left you and the household behind. However, if you left to protect your own mental and physical well-being, you need an attorney to build a solid case against the spouse you technically abandoned.

Alimony and Child Support

Child and spousal support also come into play in cases of marital abandonment. Your spouse might have been the primary household provider, bringing in a more substantial amount of money than you. If they abandon you, they leave you and any dependents without the means to survive.

This situation might help you achieve more spousal and child support following the divorce finalization. On the other hand, you might carry the abandoned label for one reason or another. It could curb your ability to seek adequate support and compensation from your spouse.

Divorce Is About Protecting Your Independence and Well-Being

A quality divorce lawyer can empathize with your situation and identify supporting evidence and reasons for your departure or support needs, no matter where you fall on the legal spectrum. Before you mention divorce to your partner, make sure you:

  • Consult with your lawyer first. Avoid missteps and protect your case by talking to an attorney about your wishes.
  • Collect evidence to protect your current and future well-being. Screenshots, invoices, recorded conversations, and other supporting evidence come in handy. Protect it.
  • Follow your attorney’s advice to a T. Do not let emotions guide your responses. Divorces are almost always difficult and emotional for all parties. However, maintain control of your responses to protect your case.
  • Brush up on Arizona divorce laws and terminology in your spare time. Knowledge is power. When you understand what you need and your spouse’s demands, you won’t feel out of the loop.

Consult With a Divorce Lawyer at Lincoln & Wenk, PLLC, for Divorce Guidance

When you understand what constitutes abandonment in a marriage, you can respond according to your circumstances. Lincoln & Wenk, PLLC, can help you navigate your proceedings and make you aware of  what can be used against you in a divorce. Call 623-294-2464 for a free consultation.

Call us at 623-294-2464 or contact us to schedule your consultation today.

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