What Constitutes Abandonment Legally in Ohio?

By Karyn Maier

In Ohio, either spouse can file for divorce based on a no-fault reason for the marriage coming to an end, such as incompatibility or irreconcilable differences. If one spouse protests, however, the party seeking the divorce must prove the other at fault for the breakdown of the marriage. Abandonment is one acceptable reason for divorce in Ohio, but its legal definition is broader than the literal sense of the word and may extend to other areas of domestic law.

Marital Abandonment

As in most states, the legal definition of abandonment in a marriage in Ohio is perceived as the willful, voluntary physical absence of one spouse from the marital residence for a period of at least one year. The period of separation must be continuous. In other words, if you and your spouse reconcile for any length of time during the one-year period, the abandonment issue as a cause for a divorce action becomes disputable.

Constructive Abandonment

Chapter 3103 of the Ohio Code addresses the mutual obligations each spouse in a marriage can expect. Specifically, it describes the relationship between husband and wife as a contract for the provision of mutual support, respect and fidelity. Because sexual relations promote intimacy and the opportunity to have a family together, the refusal of one spouse to engage in sexual activity without a good reason demonstrates intent to stop cohabitating as husband and wife. This kind of emotional detachment is referred to as constructive abandonment.

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Other Causes for Absence

Although Ohio recognizes abandonment in a marriage as leaving the marital home for one year or more regardless of intent, there are other reasons for the physical absence of a spouse that are sufficient grounds for divorce but do not legally constitute abandonment. These consist of incarceration in a state or federal prison, or neglect, including the failure to provide financial support without a valid reason.

Newborn and Child Abandonment

Pursuant to Ohio’s Safe Havens for Newborns law that took effect in April 2001, it is lawful for a birth parent to anonymously abandon or, more accurately, surrender, a newborn to a safe haven facility, such as a hospital, fire department or police station. However, section 2151.03 of the Ohio Revised Code defines a neglected child as one who has suffered physical or mental injury that impairs the child’s health or welfare as a direct cause of neglect on the part of the parents, guardian or custodian, including abandonment of the child.

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