What to do When Your Spouse Leaves

Please note: These opinions represent a generalization based upon Pennsylvania law as of December 2020. You should consult an attorney and discuss your specific circumstances before taking any action.

When a spouse leaves, it can be difficult to know what to do. The shock, disbelief and surprise that comes along with an unexpected abandonment can be overwhelming. Even if you expected your spouse to leave at some point, there will still be a complex mix of emotions you will face.

There are many articles online about emotional, social and familial steps to take when your spouse leaves, which are very important components. Not many articles list practical things you should do if you find you have been abandoned.

We know that for some people, having a list of things to do can be a great assurance in trying times, so this list of what to do (and not do!) when your spouse leaves should be a great resource in cases of marital abandonment.

Marital Abandonment—What Does it Mean?

Marital abandonment is a legal term that refers to when a spouse leaves the other without prior communication, severs all ties and financial obligations and has no intention to return.

In Pennsylvania, marital abandonment is considered grounds for an at-fault divorce. Pennsylvania divorce laws about at-fault divorces states, “The court may grant a divorce to the innocent and injured spouse whenever it is judged that the other spouse has: 1) committed willful and malicious desertion, and absence from the habitation of the injured and innocent spouse, without a reasonable cause, for the period of one or more years…”

In order for a spouse’s departure to be considered marital abandonment, it must be “willful and malicious…without a reasonable cause.” There must be no reason, like abuse or an affair, leading up to the departure and the spouse must have been gone for at least one year. If the spouse returns in less than a year and stays in the marital home, then leaves again, the time period restarts.

The departing spouse must not have provided intention of leaving or contact information and they must have abandoned their contributions to marital financial obligations. It is also not considered marital abandonment if a spouse moves to a new temporary or permanent residence, but continues to provide financial support.

Steps To Protect Yourself and Your Family

After the initial shock, it is important to take some steps to protect yourself—and your children, if you have them.

Keep in mind that you are facing an exceptionally challenging time in your life. While you may think of your spouse as a wonderful person, they have left you and you may be dismayed and heartbroken about what you learn about them in the upcoming months.

Make an intentional choice to hope for the best, but prepare yourself for the worst. Give yourself space to mourn, rally a few close family and friends to listen and support you and take these helpful steps.

  1. Be Careful About What You Say and Do
    As mentioned above, whatever you say or do could be used as evidence against you in a divorce situation. Continuous erratic behavior like multiple text messages, phone calls or stalking the other person could raise questions about your competency to parent your children. Retaliation, while it may feel like an appropriate response, can come back to harm your divorce case.
  2. Document Your Spouse’s Actions
    Save every email, text message, note and keep track of the things your spouse says they will or will not do—including the date and time. Note when they say, text, email or do things that are angry, mean or abusive. Do not just save them as a computer file. Print out these items and keep them in a safe place.
  3. Find a Knowledgeable, Experienced Pennsylvania Divorce Lawyer
    Consulting with an experienced divorce attorney will provide insight into what you should do when your spouse leaves, clarity on your rights and insight on ways to protect yourself and your family. An experienced divorce lawyer, like Lepley, Engelman, Yaw and Wilk, LLC’s family law team, will help you to navigate this challenging time with options like child support, spousal support, property division and the best options for you and your children.

    It is very important to remember that Pennsylvania divorce laws are very fact specific. Sometimes, you should immediately file a divorce. Other times, you should wait. In other instances, it is wiser to proceed in seeking spousal support. This is why finding a good, experienced divorce lawyer who you can trust is critically important. Lepley, Engelman, Yaw and Wilk, LLC’s Pennsylvania divorce lawyers would be honored to guide you at this difficult time.

  4. Open Your Own Bank Account—if You Do Not Have One
    If your spouse handled the finances, you may not even know what accounts are open and what debts you may have. The best place to start is by opening your own checking account.

    If you have a joint account, you can obtain records of the account by visiting the financial institution and requesting copies. Review accounts and flag any concerning purchases, then keep these records in a safe place.

    Please note, with a joint account, one spouse can remove everything from the account, not just half of the funds. If this is a concern for you, please speak to a Pennsylvania divorce lawyer right away.

  5. Determine Your Assets and Debts
    Collect bank statements, retirement account information, investments, and other assets. Create a list of valuable items and where they are kept, including jewelry, artwork, furniture, firearms, recreational vehicles, other properties and more.

    Also, make a copy and a list of any debts you are aware of, including credit card statements, loan information, mortgage information, student loans and any other debt you and your spouse may have accrued in your marriage.

  6. Prepare a Budget
    Create a budget based on what you need to live and also maintain your home, automobile, property and pay debts. With the departure of your spouse, you need to know what your monthly income and expenses will be. An experienced divorce lawyer in Pennsylvania, like Lepley, Engelman, Yaw and Wilk’s family law team, will guide you as you navigate this sudden change to your budget.
  7. Take Good Care of Yourself and Your Children
    When a spouse unexpectedly leaves, it can feel like they have died. The feelings can be overwhelming for the abandoned spouse and for any children. Lower expectations you may have for yourself and invest in good physical, mental, emotional and spiritual care for yourself and your children.

What Not To Do

When considering the next steps you need to take, be advised that what you should not do is equally as important as what you should do when your spouse leaves.

  • Do not rely on your spouse’s prior history or love for their children to protect your rights in a divorce. While you may have completely trusted your spouse, recognize that this person has undermined your trust and marital relationship in a significant way. You cannot trust that they will think of you and/or your children as they have in the past.
  • Do not ask family and friends to be your informal legal counsel, perform uncomfortable legal tasks or spy on your spouse. Sometimes, families and friends can care so much that they want to do whatever they can to help. They can care too much and this can cause problems for them and for you if things are taken too far.
  • Do not compromise your integrity because your spouse did. Your spouse made a choice that has significantly affected your life and the lives of your children, if you have them. Regardless of why your spouse made that choice, continuing to act and speak with integrity will protect you in the long run. If they have been planning a divorce, any angry texts, phone calls or emails could be used as evidence against you.

If your spouse has left you, trust the law offices of Lepley, Engelman, Yaw and Wilk, LLC as your advisor to navigate this challenging time. If you are considering a divorce, contact us for a consultation.

Our team of lawyers serves a number of areas in central Pennsylvania, including, but not limited to Bradford County, Clinton County, Columbia County, Lycoming County, Union County, Canton, Lewisburg, Mansfield, State College, Wilkes-Barre, Williamsport, and more.


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