Abandonment by a husband or wife often causes emotional, financial and legal stress. The abandoned spouse may want to know whether abandonment can result in an annulment of the marriage. Although abandonment generally does not serve as grounds for annulment, an annulment may be possible if the abandoned spouse can establish other grounds to invalidate the marriage. In addition, spousal abandonment or desertion may become grounds for divorce.
Legal Significance of Annulment
An annulment invalidates a marriage. It's as if the spouses had never married. To obtain an annulment, an abandoned spouse must request a court ruling that establishes the couple's marriage as invalid. The court cannot grant an annulment unless the marriage meets criteria set by state law. In contrast to annulment, a divorce legally ends a valid marriage. After divorce, former spouses become single and can remarry, but the former marriage remains on the record. Although abandonment often serves as grounds for divorce, states generally do not grant annulments due to abandonment.
Grounds for Annulment
Although each state sets its own annulment laws, states generally set similar criteria for invalidating a marriage. A couple generally has an invalid marriage if one spouse was already married or had failed to end a previous marriage properly at the time of the current marriage. Fraud or misrepresentation related to criminal history, sexually transmitted diseases, or impotence or sterility can also result in an annulment granted by a court. Other grounds for annulment often include marrying someone who's underage or mentally incompetent and; therefore, incapable of consenting to marriage, or marrying a close blood relative.
Abandonment and Divorce
Although spousal abandonment or desertion does not generally invalidate a marriage for the purpose of annulment, abandonment may become grounds for divorce. An abandoned spouse should research her particular state's laws to learn the specific requirements for divorce based on abandonment in her jurisdiction. A state might require abandonment or desertion for a specific period of time before the abandoned spouse can file for divorce. When granted by a state court, a divorce legally ends a marriage and frees the abandoned spouse for remarriage.
Other Legal Consequences of Abandonment
Spousal abandonment may result in additional legal consequences for the spouse who abandoned the marriage. For example, some states might impose a civil penalty such as a short jail sentence or fine on a husband or wife who deserts a spouse and allows the spouse to become destitute. In other states, spousal abandonment might eliminate a marital right to financial support, such as through spousal support or maintenance, unless the abandoned spouse caused the abandonment through misconduct. In addition, a spouse who abandons a husband or wife might give up the right to receive survivor's employment benefits if the husband or wife becomes injured or dies while on a job.