Abandonment Of Spouse

Abandonment Of Spouse
Abandonment Of Spouse
Quick Summary of Abandonment Of Spouse

Abandonment of a spouse refers to a situation where one spouse leaves the marital home and ceases to provide financial and emotional support to the other spouse without any valid reason or consent. In legal terms, many jurisdictions consider abandonment grounds for divorce or legal separation.

Certain elements must be proven to establish abandonment. Firstly, one spouse must commit a voluntary and intentional act of desertion. This means that the spouse must have left the marital home without the consent or agreement of the other spouse. Secondly, there must be a lack of justification or valid reason for the abandonment. This means that the leaving spouse cannot claim that their departure was necessary due to abuse, infidelity, or other valid grounds. Lastly, there must be a period of time during which the abandonment persists. The duration required for abandonment to be legally recognised varies depending on the jurisdiction.

Abandonment can have significant legal consequences. Divorce may affect the division of marital property, spousal support, and child custody arrangements. The abandoned spouse may be entitled to financial support from the leaving spouse and a fair share of the marital assets. Additionally, abandonment can be considered a factor in determining child custody, as it may demonstrate a lack of commitment or responsibility towards the family.

It is important to note that abandonment laws and requirements may differ between jurisdictions. Therefore, it is advisable to consult with a qualified family law attorney to understand the specific legal implications and remedies available in a particular jurisdiction.

What is the dictionary definition of Abandonment Of Spouse?
Dictionary Definition of Abandonment Of Spouse

Abandonment of Spouse refers to one spouse leaving the marital relationship without any intention of returning or providing emotional and financial support. It involves the complete desertion of the marital home and the spouse, often without any valid reason or legal justification. This abandonment can lead to the breakdown of the marriage and may have legal implications, such as in divorce proceedings or determining spousal support.

Full Definition Of Abandonment Of Spouse

Abandonment of spouse, or desertion, is a term used in family law to describe a situation where one spouse leaves the marital home and ceases to support and maintain the marital relationship without the other spouse’s consent and a reasonable cause. This legal concept can have significant implications on divorce proceedings, division of marital property, and child custody arrangements. This overview will provide a detailed examination of the legal aspects of spousal abandonment within British law.

Definition and Elements of Abandonment

In British law, abandonment or desertion is defined as the wilful act of one spouse leaving the matrimonial home and living separately from the other spouse to end the marital relationship permanently. For abandonment to be established, certain elements must be present:

  1. Separation: The spouses must be living apart. This physical separation indicates the start of abandonment.
  2. Intention: The abandoning spouse must intend to desert, which means they have decided to end the marital relationship permanently.
  3. Lack of Consent: The remaining spouse must not have agreed to the separation.
  4. Lack of Just Cause: No reasonable cause for the desertion must exist. For instance, leaving due to abuse would not constitute abandonment as it provides a justifiable reason.

Legal Implications

The concept of abandonment can play a crucial role in divorce proceedings, financial settlements, and child custody arrangements. Understanding these implications is vital for both the deserted spouse and the spouse who has abandoned the marriage.

Divorce Grounds

Abandonment is one of the five grounds for divorce under England and Wales’s Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. According to Section 1(2)(c) of the Act, a spouse can petition for divorce based on desertion if the other spouse has deserted them for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition. This must be proven alongside the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, which is the fundamental basis for divorce.

Proof of Abandonment

To successfully obtain a divorce on the grounds of abandonment, the petitioner must provide evidence to support their claim. This includes:

  1. Evidence of Separation: Documentation or testimony proving the physical separation.
  2. Intent: Demonstrating that the abandoning spouse intended to end the marriage permanently.
  3. Lack of Consent: Showing that the petitioner did not agree to the separation.
  4. No Just Cause: Proving there was no reasonable justification for the abandoning spouse’s actions.

The burden of proof lies with the petitioner, and the evidence must be clear and convincing.

Financial Settlements and Property Division

Abandonment can affect financial settlements and the division of marital property. The courts aim to achieve a fair distribution of assets, considering various factors such as the length of the marriage, the contributions of each spouse, and their financial needs.

Impact on Financial Settlements

While abandonment does not automatically entitle the deserted spouse to a larger share of marital assets, it can be considered by the court when determining a fair settlement. The deserted spouse may argue that the abandonment caused financial hardship, which could influence the court’s decision on maintenance payments and property division.

Property Division

Property division is governed by the principle of fairness rather than strict rules. However, abandonment can be a factor that tips the scales in favour of the deserted spouse. If the abandoning spouse left the marital home and ceased contributing financially, the court might award a larger portion of the property to the deserted spouse to ensure they are adequately provided for.

Child Custody and Support

Abandonment has significant implications for child custody and support arrangements. The child’s welfare is paramount in any custody dispute, and the court will assess the child’s best interests when making decisions.


In cases of abandonment, the deserted spouse is often left as the primary caregiver. This fact can influence the court’s decision on custody arrangements. The court may view the abandoning spouse as less reliable and unsuitable for primary custody. However, the abandoning spouse is not automatically disqualified from having contact or shared custody, especially if they demonstrate a genuine commitment to the child’s welfare.

Child Support

The abandoning spouse is still obligated to financially support their children, regardless of their departure from the marital home. Child support is calculated based on the non-custodial parent’s income and the child’s needs. Failure to pay child support can result in legal enforcement actions, including wage garnishment and penalties.

Defences to Abandonment Claims

An accused spouse may raise defences against claims of abandonment. Common defences include:

  1. Consent: Arguing that the remaining spouse consented to the separation.
  2. Just Cause: Demonstrating a reasonable cause for leaving, such as abuse or intolerable behaviour by the remaining spouse.
  3. Reconciliation: Showing that the couple reconciled after the alleged abandonment period began, which resets the clock on the required continuous period for desertion.

Abandonment and Domestic Abuse

It is essential to distinguish between abandonment and situations where a spouse leaves due to domestic abuse. Leaving an abusive relationship is not considered abandonment, as it is justified by the need to ensure personal safety and well-being. In such cases, the courts provide protection and support to the victim rather than penalising them for leaving.

Legal Advice and Support

Given the complexity of abandonment cases, seeking legal advice is crucial for both parties. A solicitor specialising in family law can provide guidance on the best course of action, help gather necessary evidence, and represent the client’s interests in court. Additionally, support services such as counselling and mediation can assist spouses in resolving their issues amicably, reducing the emotional and financial strain of legal proceedings.

Case Law and Precedents

To further illustrate the principles of abandonment, it is helpful to examine notable case law and precedents that have shaped the legal landscape in the UK.

Case Study 1: Santos v Santos [1972] Fam 247

In Santos v Santos, the court addressed the issue of intention in abandonment. The case involved a husband who left the matrimonial home and argued that he had no intention to end the marriage permanently. The court held that the intention to desert must be assessed objectively, considering the actions and circumstances surrounding the separation. This case established that a spouse’s subjective belief alone is insufficient; there must be clear evidence of an intention to abandon the marriage.

Case Study 2: Quoraishi v Quoraishi [1985] FLR 780

The Quoraishi case dealt with just cause as a defence to abandonment. In this case, a wife left her husband due to his abusive behaviour. The court ruled that her departure did not constitute abandonment, as she had a justifiable reason for leaving. This case reinforced the principle that leaving a marital home due to abuse or intolerable conditions does not amount to desertion.

Case Study 3: Hopes v Hopes [1949] 2 All ER 41

Hopes v Hopes focused on the concept of reconciliation in abandonment cases. The couple had separated but later attempted to reconcile. The court found that their efforts to resume the marital relationship interrupted the continuous period required for proving desertion. This case highlighted that any attempt at reconciliation, even if unsuccessful, resets the clock on the abandonment period.

Modern Developments and Reforms

Family law is continually evolving, and recent developments reflect changing societal attitudes towards marriage, separation, and the welfare of children. Notably, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 introduced significant reforms to the divorce process in England and Wales, which took effect in April 2022.

No-Fault Divorce

One of the key changes under the new Act is the introduction of no-fault divorce, which allows couples to divorce without attributing blame. This reform aims to reduce conflict and streamline the divorce process. While abandonment remains a ground for divorce, the availability of no-fault divorce provides an alternative route for couples seeking to end their marriage amicably.

Impact on Abandonment Claims

The introduction of no-fault divorce may reduce the reliance on abandonment as a ground for divorce. Couples can now cite the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage without needing to prove specific misconduct such as desertion. This shift could lead to fewer contentious abandonment claims and a greater focus on collaborative approaches to resolving marital disputes.


Abandonment of spouse is a complex and significant aspect of family law in the UK. It involves various legal elements and has far-reaching implications for divorce, financial settlements, and child custody. Understanding the legal framework and precedents surrounding abandonment is essential for anyone navigating this challenging situation.

The evolving nature of family law, including recent reforms like no-fault divorce, reflects a broader trend towards reducing conflict and promoting fair outcomes for all parties involved. As society changes, so will the legal principles and practices governing abandonment and other aspects of marital relationships.

For individuals facing abandonment or considering it as a ground for divorce, seeking professional legal advice remains crucial. A solicitor with expertise in family law can provide invaluable guidance, ensuring that the legal process is navigated effectively and that the rights and interests of all parties, including any children involved, are protected.

In summary, spouse abandonment is a legally and emotionally complex issue. By understanding the legal definitions, implications, and recent developments, individuals can better navigate their rights and responsibilities within the framework of British family law.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th June 2024.

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