How to Divorce if Your Spouse Abandons the Relationship in Washington

By Cindy Chung

Spousal abandonment can be a difficult experience for the husband or wife left behind. An abandoned spouse might choose to file for divorce in Washington State and resolve the couple's legal and financial issues before moving on. Although the state does not specifically recognize abandonment as grounds for ending a marriage, the abandoned spouse can still file for divorce. In addition, spousal abandonment might become the basis of a criminal charge against the spouse who left.

Grounds for Divorce in Washington

Divorce, known as a dissolution of marriage in Washington, legally ends a couple's marriage. As each state establishes its own divorce laws, the grounds to get a divorce vary from state to state. In some states, spousal abandonment or desertion becomes grounds to obtain a fault-based divorce, which can affect the abandoned spouse's rights. However, Washington is not one of the states recognizing abandonment as fault grounds for divorce. Washington divorce laws only require at least one spouse to file for a no-fault divorce based on an irretrievably broken relationship. Although abandonment might show an irretrievably broken relationship, the abandoned husband or wife filing for divorce may choose to do so without relying on the abandonment as grounds to end the marriage.

Divorce Procedures for Abandoned Spouse

An abandoned spouse who would like to file for divorce can do so by filing a Petition for Dissolution with a Washington superior court. The spouse requesting the divorce, known as the petitioner, must serve the other spouse with a copy of the petition and summons; thereby, giving the spouse a chance to respond. If the abandoned spouse cannot locate the other party, Washington civil procedure laws allow for another type of service, such as service by publication in a local newspaper. The opposing party must respond to the divorce petition within a specified number of days or risk a default order from the court in favor of the petitioning spouse.

Alimony and Property Issues After Abandonment

In some states, spousal abandonment and other types of misconduct may affect the spouses' property division or alimony issues during divorce. Washington state laws, however, do not specifically permit a superior court to consider abandonment when dividing a couple's property or deciding whether to award alimony, which is known as spousal maintenance. The court may consider the duration of the spouses' marriage, each spouse's financial contributions and financial resources, each spouse's potential for financial independence and the existence of community property or separate property. The court may also consider any special circumstances -- including spousal abandonment -- as a factor. In addition, if spouses choose to negotiate their own financial settlement rather than ask a court to make the decision, the abandoned spouse might bring up the abandonment during negotiations.

Family Nonsupport Laws

Although divorce is a type of civil case in Washington, the state's criminal laws also address spousal abandonment through family nonsupport cases. Washington criminal laws prohibit spousal abandonment when the abandonment leaves a husband or wife without necessary shelter, food, clothing and medical attention. If one spouse abandons the other, the state may pursue the offense as a gross misdemeanor, which can result in a fine or a sentence of imprisonment for up to 364 days.