Can I just leave? Will that be abandonment?
October 28th, 2013 by Laura Parker
When a client comes in for their initial consult prior to moving out of the marital home, one of the most common questions they have is about abandonment. “I want to leave, but I don’t want to be sued for abandonment!”
“Abandonment” is a word that is thrown around a lot in separation and divorce situations – but it rarely is an actual issue. North Carolina has defined abandonment as when “one spouse abandons the other where he or she brings their cohabitation to an end, without justification, without the consent of the other spouse and without intent of renewing it. “ It’s the “without justification” prong that is key here – if a couple is divorcing, then there is generally some sort of justification for one spouse to move out. Also keep in mind that one spouse has to move out in order for the divorce timeline to start – the couple has to be living separate and apart for a full year before someone can file for divorce!
So where does “abandonment” come into play? Under the alimony statutes for North Carolina, “marital misconduct” is listed as just one of sixteen factors the court must consider when determining the amount and duration of alimony – and “abandonment of the other spouse” is included in the definition of martial misconduct. So what does THAT mean?
It simply means that when you separate, you will want to do it as responsibly and respectfully as possible. You still have a responsibility to ensure that your spouse has the resources they need to pay the mortgage, utility bills, and other necessities. If you’re able to, talk with your spouse to determine what their immediate financial needs are during this period of separation. If you have been the breadwinner in the marriage and you leave without ensuring that your spouse can at least meet their basic needs, the court will likely take that into consideration when determining alimony – and it won’t look good for you. Paying a reasonable amount of postseparation support from day one of the separation may save you thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees in the long run – litigation is often far more expensive than simply paying reasonable support.
So how do you know what to do? Prior to moving out, you should consult with a family law or divorce attorney to determine what your needs or obligations might be. At Frye Law Offices, our attorneys are experienced at helping people through these initial steps in the divorce process. To discuss your options and obligations, please call us at 919.846.8807 to set up an initial consult. We work hard to provide you with experience, professionalism, and knowledge when you need it most.