Marital Abandonment and Divorce in Maine
The majority of divorces in Maine are no-fault, citing “irreconcilable differences” as the grounds for divorce. However, at-fault divorces are permitted in Maine for certain reasons.
One such reason is marital abandonment, which is sometimes called “desertion” or “spousal abandonment” in Maine.
This occurs when one spouse leaves the family home and the relationship, severing all ties often without warning, without communicating, and without any intention of returning.
Abandonment may be sudden and shocking for a family. It can be difficult to come to terms with, creating many emotional, financial, legal, and practical issues.
Let’s take a closer look at abandonment and what you can do if your spouse has left the family home permanently and cut all ties or made conditions too intolerable for you to remain in the marriage.
What is considered abandonment in a marriage?
Abandonment is different from a separation arrangement when one spouse moves out of the home for “breathing space”.
To be considered abandonment in Maine, the move must be permanent, which is taken to mean three consecutive years. The spouse must sever all ties (no financial support, no communication, no visits, etc.) and have no intention of ever returning.
If the spouse lives away from the family and never visits but continues to honor certain financial obligations to the marriage, a claim of abandonment is unlikely to be successful.
An abandoned spouse is left to support his or herself alone and may have to raise the children without financial or any other type of support from the other spouse.
There are two main types of marital abandonment. The first is criminal abandonment, when a spouse stops caring for, supporting and protecting a spouse with minor children without “just cause.”
A parent is financially obligated to support the needs of minor children in Maine and a refusal to pay child support could lead to enforcement measures including a jail sentence. Court-ordered spousal support payments are also enforceable, so if a spouse abandons these responsibilities, a case may be made for criminal abandonment.
The second type of abandonment is known as constructive abandonment. This is where one spouse makes the conditions so intolerable for the other spouse or behaved so badly (e.g., adultery, gambling, etc.) that the other spouse is forced to leave the marriage.
What are the financial effects of marital abandonment?
It is normal in marriages for spouses to make financial decisions based on the combined finances of both. When one spouse deserts the marriage, this can create many financial problems as, suddenly, only one income is available to pay the bills.
A new budget is then required, which may involve drastic changes to lifestyle and considerable stress. Sometimes, economic hardship results from abandonment and spouses and their children become more dependent on the state. The Maine family law system is keen to avoid this scenario.
When abandonment has occurred, the location of the other spouse may be entirely unknown. This makes enforcement measures for support payments practically impossible.
However, for example, an abandoned spouse has the “right of occupancy” and is permitted to use the property in the marital home to assist with financial support, regardless of whether the spouse who abandoned the home retains property ownership rights.
In such situations, it’s best to discuss your situation with a divorce attorney, who can advise you of the respective property rights and your legal options.
What happens with child custody after spousal abandonment?
After abandonment by one parent in a marriage with children, one of the most pressing issues is usually what to do about child custody arrangements.
While the Maine courts place a great degree of importance on the rights of parents to be actively involved in their children’s lives, they also regard the responsibilities of parents as paramount. So, a parent who abandons his or her children is unlikely to be viewed favorably or with much sympathy by the courts here.
Providing the child’s best interests are served by living with the remaining parent and the appropriate timespan has passed (three years in Maine), there is a chance that sole primary physical custody and legal custody can be awarded to the remaining parent.
A parent awarded sole custody due to abandonment should also file for child support because there is a chance that the other parent may be located in the future so that payments can be enforced.
If a parent goes to court to prove abandonment, he or she may request the termination of parental rights for the abandoning parent.
This could be the case if a step-parent wants to adopt the child, for instance. Both biological parents must usually agree to the adoption but, if one parent is absent and cannot be located, the remaining parent with custody may be able to secure the termination of parental rights based on abandonment.
How do you file for divorce by claiming abandonment?
Many states no longer allow at-fault divorces but Maine is an exception. However, if you decide to file for divorce based on abandonment, you will need to wait three years and you must prove to the court that abandonment has occurred.
If the abandoning spouse returns home during that time, the three-year clock must be reset if he or she leaves again (it must be consecutive years).
No-fault divorces are generally quicker and simpler in comparison. Proving abandonment can be challenging and you will require legal assistance from an experienced divorce lawyer who can advise you on how strong your case is and what you need to do to prepare.
To be successful, you must generally show that the other spouse has left and failed to meet their financial obligations for three years. You will also need to demonstrate that your spouse did not leave because of your behavior (such as abuse or adultery).
Ultimately, you need to determine how best to end your marriage while protecting yourself and (if applicable) your children. If claiming abandonment is considered the best course of action, the divorce settlement may be more favorable for you in terms of financial and custody matters.
If you are considering filing for divorce on the grounds of abandonment by your spouse, it is a big step that requires legal advice. Speak to an experienced attorney at The Maine Divorce Group during an initial consultation, or call us directly at 207-494-2779.
Call 207-230-6597 or contact us online to schedule a consult with one of our highly skilled family law attorneys today.
We serve many clients, just like you, across Maine in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, & Lincoln Counties.
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