Legal Remedy for an Abandoned Spouse

By Cindy Chung

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Abandonment by a spouse can be a stressful experience, especially if the abandonment causes financial strain or legal problems. If the abandonment lasts for a long period of time, the abandoned husband or wife might need to learn more about legal remedies. The legal options available often depend on each state's laws regarding marriage and divorce. An abandoned spouse may benefit from discussing the relevant remedies with an attorney who practices law in the state.


Abandonment might serve as the grounds for a divorce if an abandoned spouse decides to end the marriage. Each state determines its own divorce grounds. In general, a husband or wife must use at least one of the state's divorce grounds when filing for divorce. All states allow no-fault divorce based on the ground of irreconcilable differences. Most states also offer fault divorce based on a variety of grounds. If abandonment or desertion qualifies as a fault ground for divorce in your state, there may be a minimum length of time that must pass before a spouse can use the other spouse's absence as reason for the divorce. Thus, filing on no-fault grounds might be advantageous if the filing spouse wants the quickest divorce possible.

Support, Alimony and Maintenance

An abandoned spouse may need financial help, especially if the other spouse formerly provided most of the couple's income. The legal remedies that could result in financial support depend on each state's marriage and divorce laws. Some states' laws establish a duty of support even if the spouses remain married and do not divorce. Other states permit an abandoned spouse to request spousal maintenance or alimony on a temporary basis through a pending divorce case or on a long-term basis as part of a finalized divorce. Although financial support might not compensate for the emotional effects of abandonment, spousal support can help as the abandoned spouse moves forward.

Desertion Complaint

Some states allow an abandoned spouse to file a complaint for desertion or family neglect. If allowed by state law, a civil complaint for desertion penalizes an individual who allows a spouse or child to become destitute or need public assistance. In general, a state will pursue a desertion case only if the spouse had the financial means to prevent destitution but chose to do otherwise. State law might establish a penalty such as a term of imprisonment or a fine for desertion.

Alienation of Affection Lawsuit

In an alienation of affection lawsuit, an abandoned spouse sues a third party who allegedly caused the end of the spouses' marriage. This type of lawsuit might be appropriate if one spouse abandoned the other spouse to engage in adultery with the third party. The availability of a lawsuit for alienation of affection depends on each state's laws — although states historically recognized alienation of affection as a legal action, most states no longer accept alienation of affection as the basis of a lawsuit. In some states, an abandoned spouse might be able to pursue a tort remedy based on the third party's "intentional infliction of emotional distress" when breaking up the spouses' marriage.

Read More: Alienation of Affection Divorce Laws