Legal Definition: Spousal Desertion – Criminal Abandonment
“Marital desertion (abandonment) refers to a situation in which one spouse severs ties with the family, forsaking his or her responsibilities and duties to the family. Simply moving out of the family home in an attempt to create a temporary or permanent separation is not considered abandonment. The difference is often seen in the person’s refusal to provide necessary support, whether financial or otherwise, with no intention to return, or to fulfill those responsibilities. In most states, the remaining spouse has no financial responsibility to the abandoning spouse.
In an at-fault divorce state, abandonment may be considered grounds for divorce. In these states, the spouse claiming abandonment must prove certain things to the court. She would need to show that the couple had not agreed on the departure of the spouse, that she didn’t cause the departure, and that he hadn’t provided any support during his absence.”
There is also something called constructive abandonment when one spouse, through bad behavior, gives the other spouse no alternative except to leave.
Examples of legal grounds for a victim/spouse to leave the marriage and the home include:
- Physical, mental or emotional abuse
- Withholding sex
- Refusing to provide financial support.
Suddenly refusing to provide care, support and protection for minor children, or for a spouse who has serious health problems, is considered criminal abandonment. It is likely the court would consider such an abandoned spouse to be financially dependent on the leaving spouse, and issue an order for continued financial responsibility and care. Abandoning a minor child is, in many cases, considered a crime as well, even if the child has not suffered physical harm as a result of being abandoned.
(Midlife Divorce Recovery cannot provide any legal advice about spousal abandonment, but we can help anyone going through any kind of divorce about how to navigate the grieving and the healing and the rebuilding work that needs to happen especially after traumatic divorces.)
Signs of Spousal Abandonment
Some common traits of those who abandon their spouse, children and marriage commitment:
- Usually men
- May have contemplated leaving for years
- Leaves suddenly with no attempt at fixing the marriage or even discussing their complaints
- Disappears with little or no future contact with ex or with their children
- Exhibits midlife crisis behavior; ie young girlfriend, adapting to her more youthful lifestyle
- Rewrites marital history, blames wife, moves on immediately and never looks back.
Change in Behavior
Often there is little outward change in the spouse who abandons his family. One of my RADiCAL women (women who are Rising Above Divorce In Confidence And Love) recounted how she and her spouse had a wonderful dinner for their anniversary the week before, and had purchased a “retirement home” the year before. In the middle of a regular conversation, he said, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m not happy. I haven’t been happy for many, many years, and I am filing for divorce.”
That kind of punch in the gut and stab in the heart is absolutely devastating for many reasons, but especially because it comes totally out of the blue like a shot in the dark where you are left gasping for breath and wondering if you will survive.
Some men pull back even further physically and emotionally if they are secretly considering spousal abandonment. They mentally leave the marriage and refuse to share the inner questions they may be having about life with their spouse.
When a wife confronts her husband and says, “You don’t seem like yourself lately. We need to talk. Is there anything going on I need to know about?,” he say “No,” or tunes her out. These questions often drive a husband further into his fantasy world of thinking something outside of himself is going to fix the turmoil that is going on inside of him.
He often mentally makes notes of all the things his wife is doing wrong or falling short of his often unrealistic expectations. (ie – expecting his wife of 20 or 30+ years to have the body or the attitude of a 20 year old.)
Causes/Reasons: Why Is This Happening
Often, men claim to not know why this is happening. According to the women who reach out to us, their ex-husband never talked about what was bothering them. One RADiCAL woman described meeting with a counselor to see if the marriage could be fixed. The husband described a stifling and overwhelming need to get out. This happened when everything on the surface of their marriage and their life seemed to be going just fine.
Lack of Communication
Because men often see baring their souls as a sign of weakness, they sometimes operate on their worst instincts. They bail out. They leave without explaining or trying to fix things. They ignore their obligations and seek fun and freedom!
Men often don’t talk to their friends about this either. It is frustrating to friends and family because we are here to listen, but men refuse to share what they are really feeling. That’s something we need to teach both our sons and our daughters. We all need to be honest and open about difficult and conflicting feelings with our spouses and have a support system of peers and mentors to be accountable to.
Often when men are thinking about fleeing their normal relationships and daily life, there are plenty of dissatisfied women (I call them girlFIENDS!) who are more than willing to be a shoulder to cry on. These women have no qualms about giving midlife crisis men the sex, the teenage-like obsession, the excitement they want, never thinking at all about the devastation they are heaping on the unsuspecting families of the men they hook up with. (Note: most affair partners share thousands of text and phone messages, much like immature adolescents!)
The men who go looking for new sexual partners are often cowards because they don’t end their marriage before they go looking for something better. All of us could have done better in our marriage. We all make mistakes. But infidelity is not the answer. The blame of infidelity is on the man (or woman) who makes that choice — not on their spouse and not on the person they find to seduce and woo to make themselves feel better. Check out our article on the Infidelity Recovery Stages.
Many men who abandon their family show signs of a “midlife crisis,” which I personally think is a term that has been overused as an excuse for bad behavior in response to a normal rethinking of life in your middle years. Every stage of life requires some re-evaluating. Many men, however, use it as a culturally accepted excuse for bad behavior. See my Midlife Crisis Divorce article for more info and on how to recover from a divorce that was a result of your ex-husband’s midlife crisis.
How To Feel Better
Figuring out how to feel better after spousal abandonment is extremely difficult … especially if you’re in the middle of the storm and barely keeping yourself together from morning ‘til night every day. Divorce is overwhelming and exhausting and your emotions are intense and erratic and usually not typical of who you are. We can help you grieve, heal and start rebuilding. It takes time, but we provide a practical agenda to get better. How Do I Get Over A Divorce .
Spousal Abandonment Is Not Your Fault
When something like spousal abandonment rocks our world, we, as women often tend to blame ourselves first. We ask ourselves, “What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t I see this coming? Why wasn’t I more attentive? Why didn’t I work out a little more?”
The truth is, men with skinny, sexy, smart, beautiful, attentive, good, fun wives do this, too. It’s not about you. (Really!) It’s about his insecurities. And many times, the family of the men who do this is like ours was, the kind of family everyone wanted. Spousal abandonment is not your fault.
We all make mistakes through the lifetime of our marriage. If our ex-husband didn’t have the common decency to talk to us about things that were bothering him and either get out with dignity and support or try to fix things, that is on him, not us.
Little did anyone know that simmering behind the men in these marriages there is often a sense of “Is this all there is?” or “I’ve been supporting this family since my late twenties. I’m fifty now. I want out!”
Instead of seeking help and being honest and open with their wife, they often just bail out to avoid all the emotional drama of leaving a long term marriage that seemed to the rest of the family to be strong and solid.
Also, often everyone is amazed that in these spousal abandonment cases, the men move on immediately, often with very little or no further contact with wife or children. They are fully invested in this “new and better” life they think they have found. They often move in immediately with the new woman and don’t look back. That’s heartbreaking to the family they leave behind.
If spousal abandonment has happened to you, there is help! You can’t control anything anyone else is doing, but you can get help yourself. Read our article on divorce recovery and join our group of RADiCAL women who are determined to create the life they want and deserve.