When filing for divorce in the state of Georgia, the parties must tell the court the reason they are asking for a divorce. Except in no-fault cases, a divorce can be filed under more than one ground. According to the State Bar of Georgia, there are 13 grounds for divorce, including one no-fault ground and 12 fault grounds. In Georgia, willful desertion, also called abandonment, is a fault ground, and it must be proven in accordance with the state laws that govern domestic relations.
According to the divorce laws of Georgia, desertion or abandonment occurs when one party leaves the home with the intention of not returning and ending the marriage. An example of this would be a husband who packs his bags, tells his spouse that the relationship is over and walks out of the door. The minute this happens, a time statute starts tolling, and the divorce can only be granted for this ground if the party stays gone continuously for 12 months or more. If the husband leaves for a few months, returns to try to work things out and then leaves again, the 12-month period resets itself and is calculated from the date when he left for a second time.
Georgia law also recognizes constructive desertion as a form of abandonment. This occurs when one spouse is forced to leave due to the words, behavior and/or actions of the other spouse. An example of this would be if a husband abuses his wife physically, mentally or emotionally, and she must leave in order to keep herself or her children safe. In such a situation, the 12-month period begins tolling the day the wife leaves because she has been forced to leave. However, just like the more straightforward situation of abandonment, if the wife returns and leaves again later, the 12-month waiting period to file for divorce under this ground is reset. Other behavior that can be used to support the grounds of constructive desertion include willful refusal to have sex and otherwise participate fully in the marital relationship.
Abandonment of Mother or Child
While not a factor in every divorce case that has issues of abandonment, Georgia domestic relation laws allow a married father to be charged with abandonment when he leaves and/or effectively stops supporting a child or a pregnant wife. Depending on the facts of the case, such abandonment can be a felony or a misdemeanor.
Proving Desertion in Georgia
Under Georgia divorce law, a party can prove all forms of desertion and abandonment by giving personal testimony corroborated by the testimony of witnesses or by documents showing that the spouse has lived elsewhere for at least 12 months.