Rights as an Abandoned Spouse in New York City

By Cindy Chung

Spousal abandonment can be an emotionally difficult and stressful event, and some marriages may not recover after one spouse leaves the other. State laws, rather than city laws, determine spousal rights. An abandoned spouse in New York City has rights given by the marriage and divorce laws of New York State. To assert those rights, the abandoned spouse may need to seek a court order.

Abandonment as Grounds for Divorce

In some states, spousal abandonment serves as grounds for ending a marriage through divorce. New York State's fault grounds for divorce include two types of abandonment. An abandoned spouse may file for divorce based on abandonment grounds if the other party, without a reason or justification, has been continuously absent and left the abandoned spouse for at least one year. New York courts also recognize "constructive abandonment" when a spouse, without a reason or justification, refuses to have sexual relations with the other spouse for a continuous period of at least one year. If the abandoned spouse would like to divorce before a year has passed, the spouse might file for divorce based on no-fault grounds of "an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage" for a period of at least six months.

Rights Established in Divorce

New York State laws establish the marital rights of spouses. In the event of a divorce, each spouse has financial rights, including the right to request spousal maintenance — alimony — and the right to an equitable distribution of the couple's marital property. To request spousal maintenance and other financial rights through a divorce, the abandoned spouse can file a summons and complaint with the New York State Supreme Court. In New York City, the abandoned spouse seeking a divorce must file the papers at the Supreme Court serving one of the boroughs: Bronx County, Kings County, New York County, Queens County and Richmond County.

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Right to Financial Support

New York State marriage laws offer some protection to a spouse who does not wish to file for divorce after abandonment. In a divorce, an abandoned spouse has a right to request spousal maintenance from the other party. If the spouses do not have a divorce case, however, the New York courts may grant spousal support instead of spousal maintenance. An order for spousal support requires a husband or wife to provide financial support to the other spouse while the couple remains married. An abandoned spouse must request spousal support through a case in a family court serving one of the boroughs of New York City. The New York City Family Court, rather than the State Supreme Court, handles non-divorce spousal support cases.

Child Custody, Visitation and Support Rights

The New York City Family Court determines child custody, parental visitation and child support rights when parents do not have a divorce case in the State Supreme Court. An abandoned spouse who has children with the spouse who left can request an order of custody to establish rights as the children's custodial parent. State law also allows a custodial parent to file a petition for child support from the other parent, even if the parent has left the family. The right to child support depends on the family court's analysis of the spouses' incomes and expenses.

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