California Divorce Law on Abandonment

By Jeff Franco J.D./M.A./M.B.A.

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At the time of publication, the state of California does not require you to have reasonable cause, such as evidence of abandonment by your spouse, when filing for a divorce. Instead, California is one of many states that use “no-fault” principles in all divorce proceedings. This means that it’s unnecessary to prove to the court that your spouse has abandoned you, or the existence of other circumstances that prove your spouse is responsible for the deterioration of your marriage.

Historical Abandonment Laws

Prior to the passage of the Family Law Act in 1969, California’s divorce law required petitioners to choose one of seven statutory grounds for divorce, six of which required the showing of some wrongdoing on the part of the other spouse. Abandonment, or willful desertion as the statute originally referred to it, allowed one spouse to file for divorce on the grounds that the other had left the home for an extensive period of time. However, California was the first state in the country to eliminate willful desertion and the other five grounds from its divorce laws. As a result, there are currently only two grounds for divorce in California: irreconcilable differences and the incurable insanity of one of the spouses.

Irreconcilable Differences

Most states that use a no-fault divorce system allow a divorce due to irreconcilable differences. A majority of the divorces in California are the result of irreconcilable differences; however, California courts don’t require couples to substantiate any claim of these differences. Although abandonment by your spouse certainly supports a contention of irreconcilable differences, the courts have no interest in the details of your marriage. Instead, its goal is to facilitate the dissolution of your marriage as expeditiously and as fairly as possible.

Missing Spouse Divorces

Despite the fact that it’s no longer necessary to prove abandonment, obtaining a legal divorce increases in complexity when the abandonment is ongoing and you cannot locate your spouse. California law allows you to proceed with the divorce, but it requires that you first attempt to locate your spouse. Ways in which you should attempt to contact your spouse include, but are not limited to, contacting your spouse’s friends and family members, searching through telephone directories in the areas in which your spouse had a connection and tracking financial transactions on all joint bank and credit cards you have.

Service by Publication

Since providing the other party to a lawsuit with sufficient notice of the legal proceedings is a fundamental principle of the U.S. legal system, California courts allow you to satisfy your service of process obligations through publication. To accomplish this, you must first file a Declaration of Due Diligence with the court, which provides details on your attempts to locate your spouse, before making a formal ex parte request to the court to allow for service by publication. Service by publication requires you to publish a notice of the divorce proceedings on a weekly basis for a minimum of four weeks in newspapers that circulate in areas that you suspect your spouse may currently reside. Once service by publication is complete, you can proceed with the ordinary California divorce procedures.