Alabama state laws establish spousal rights in marriage and divorce after abandonment. In particular, Alabama law establishes an abandoned spouse's right to support and penalizes an absent spouse for desertion. Spousal abandonment is a fault ground for divorce with potential consequences in property division, alimony and child custody.
Spousal Desertion and Nonsupport
Alabama marriage laws specifically prohibit spousal desertion and nonsupport. If a spouse leaves a husband or wife without adequate financial support, the deserted spouse may file a complaint for criminal desertion as a misdemeanor in the state court. After a guilty plea or conviction, the court may require probation, suspend the sentence and issue a court order for ongoing, regular payments of financial support to the abandoned spouse.
Grounds for Divorce
An abandoned spouse may decide to file for divorce if the spouses cannot repair their relationship. Alabama divorce laws include several grounds for legally ending a marriage. Voluntary abandonment for a period of at least one year may serve as a ground for divorce. State law defines voluntary abandonment as a continuous absence from the marriage "bed and board." Accordingly, the spouse claiming abandonment must establish that the couple kept separate homes and did not engage in intimate relations during the required period of time.
If a spouse abandons the marriage, the absence might affect the divorce proceedings in Alabama if the absent spouse does not respond to the abandoned spouse's divorce complaint. If the absent spouse does not file a reply within the period of time allowed by state law, the divorce may continue by default. In a default divorce, the court might disregard the absent spouse's wishes or defer to the abandoned spouse's requests.
Property Division and Alimony
Abandonment used as the grounds for divorce may affect the division of the couple's property. Alabama state laws allow a judge to review either party's misconduct and make an allowance to the abandoned spouse in consideration of the misconduct. Although the judge might make an allowance from the couple's marital property, the judge cannot include property earned or acquired before marriage or received as a gift or inheritance during the marriage. In addition, fault-based divorce can also affect a judge's ruling on alimony.
When a husband and wife have children together, abandonment of the family by one of the spouses might affect an Alabama court's rulings on child custody in the future. In general, the court must award custody to the parent who can best protect the child's safety, well-being and morals. However, if one parent abandoned the family, the court might take the parent's decision into consideration during custody proceedings. If the wife is the parent who abandoned the family, the Alabama court generally must award custody of children older than seven years of age to the children's father unless he is not suitable or fit to parent.
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