Is it legal for my spouse to abandon me?
What is considered abandonment in Georgia?
If your spouse just packed his or her bags and announced the relationship is over, you have just experienced abandonment, or “desertion,” as it is called by the Georgia Code chapter on divorce.
In Georgia there are 13 grounds for divorce that you can claim when filing for divorce. One of the 13 grounds is a no-fault reason for your divorce and the other 12 are at-fault reasons for divorce. The at-fault grounds for divorce must be proved in court in order for them to be admissible in court. You may file with multiple reasons as your grounds of divorce.
Going back to our example where the spouse packed his or her bags and left, the abandoned spouse cannot file for divorce on the grounds of abandonment quite yet. The Georgia Code states that there must have been “Willful and continued desertion by either of the parties for the term of one year.” There are three elements required for a divorce to be filed on the grounds of desertion in Georgia.
The first requirement for desertion in Georgia is willfulness. The spouse must have decided on his or her own that he or she wanted to abandon the other spouse and was not driven away by the actions of the other spouse.
There must be an ending of a cohabitation relationship. This could either be an absence physically or it could be the result of a denial of conjugal relationship to the other spouse, assuming the other spouse had the intent to leave the relationship completely without justification. This means that one spouse can desert the other spouse, even if they live in the same house under the same roof.
A spouse simply stopping support of the other spouse does not meet the definition of desertion according to Georgia law. There must be a denial of conjugal relations and/or a cessation of cohabitation.
The spouse must have been abandoned for the period of at least one year. The period of one year must be continuous for the grounds of desertion to be viable grounds for divorce. The year begins when one spouse abandons the other spouse physically or conjugal relations are ended. If, at any point, the spouse returns physically to live with the other spouse or the couple begins a sexual relationship, the timeframe ends and the grounds for divorce on desertion are no longer valid. If the spouse ever abandons the marriage again, the clock of one year will be reset and, if the year of abandonment is met, then desertion is a viable reason for divorce again.
Also it should be noted that the one year period of abandonment needs to have been in effect immediately prior to filing the petition for divorce.
Now that we understand what desertion, or abandonment, means for divorce in Georgia, what about emotional abandonment?
What is emotional abandonment?
Every spouse is subject to having a bad day. These are the days we come home from work, tired and frustrated, and we say something that we will regret later. But then, if this type of behavior becomes a habit, the marriage begins to get in trouble.
If you or your spouse begin to hide your emotions from the other because you are afraid of what they might say or do, you know your marriage is in a dire place. When you or your spouse “check out on” or “shut out” each other the proper term is called emotional abandonment.
According to Georgia law, emotional abandonment would be described as “cruel mental treatment.” The Georgia Code states, “Cruel treatment, which shall consist of the willful infliction of pain, bodily or mental, upon the complaining party, such as reasonably justifies apprehension of danger to life, limb, or health.”
Just having a nagging wife or hot-tempered husband is not enough to meet the criteria to file for divorce on grounds of cruel treatment in Georgia. You need to be able to prove that your spouse has closed the door on you and has willfully inflicted pain, either physical or mental, upon you. You would need to prove that you have a reasonable fear of danger to your life, body, or health. Cruel treatment has previously been defined as the “wanton, malicious, and unnecessary infliction of pain upon the body or feelings and emotions of an individual.”
If mental pain and hurt feelings have constantly been fueled with continuous insults and or neglect, then the mental pain is just as credible as physical pain a spouse may have endured. However, the spouse must be able to reasonably justify that they are experiencing a fear of danger to “life, limb, or health.”
Often, a divorce can be filed on the grounds of desertion and cruel treatment. If you are not sure which grounds you may be able to file your divorce on, you should consult an experienced Georgia divorce attorney. He or she will help you navigate the complex nuances of Georgia divorce law.