Would you ever leave your children in a locked car in a parking lot, alone? Probably not. Would you ever go to a nightclub with your wife, but leave without her? Probably not. Final question: would you ever walk out the door, saying you were running to the store for milk and would be back in 20 minutes, only to disappear from your family’s life forever? Not willfully, right? Abandonment in Virginia has a strict legal sense, just as desertion does. Being accused of either is a serious problem.

Abandonment in Virginia

The Code of Virginia spells out abandonment in § 20-81, Presumptions as to desertion and abandonment, by saying evidence of desertion or neglect to your wife and children is willful (done with your intention and not by accident), and is evidence of an “intention to abandon such family.”

Say you do that “out for milk” nonsense. That is desertion. Say you did that but took with you all your bowling trophies, clothes, tools and half the bank balance on your way out the door. That is abandonment.

In either a desertion or abandonment, if you did the leaving, she can divorce you a year after you left. The Code of Virginia § 20-91 provides,

“A divorce from the bond of matrimony may be decreed: … (6) Where either party has been guilty of cruelty, caused reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt, or willfully deserted or abandoned the other, such divorce may be decreed to the innocent party after a period of one year from the date of such act; …”

The courts in Virginia do not ignore the very real plight of some people who are forced away from home without their consent, either through kidnapping or for medical reasons. Take amnesia victims, for example, like Shawnda Rush of Frederick County, who has struggled with memory loss from multiple sclerosis. She has not left her husband, child or home, but no court would ever find her guilty of abandonment or desertion if she did. She is fighting a medical condition that excuses her if she unintentionally leaves home and forgets her way back.

Preventing Accusations of Abandonment

Every marriage has rough patches. In the heat of argument, you may leave your home, slamming the door and making quite the show of driving away in a huff. You may even spend the night at a friend’s house, sleeping on a couch, but you have not deserted your family. You wake, feel awkward, and slink home.

Keep doing that, though, day after day. Let the time away from home stretch to several days, and you could be guilty of desertion. So even if you are angry or confused by your wife’s actions and want to storm out, be certain to let her know you will return:

  • “I can’t deal with this right now. I’m going to the bar to think, but I will be back in a few hours.”
  • “You are driving me crazy! I am sleeping at my Dad’s house tonight but will be back tomorrow after work to talk this out.”
  • “You need to calm down. I’m giving you some space; I’ll stay at the Barclay Cottage B&B for the next week, alone. You have my cell phone number if the kids need anything.”

Do not give your wife any grounds for accusing you of desertion or abandonment. This includes money and material possessions. If you start packing a suitcase and that snowballs into a U-Haul® in the driveway, you can be accused (with good reason) of abandonment.

What if I Did Leave My Wife and Kids?

What if you really did abandon your wife or family? Your guilt or innocence depends on your reasons:

  • She was cruel to you — You left because your wife routinely badgered, belittled or beat you; that is constructive abandonment, done in reaction to her cruelty, and is a reasonable justification for leaving
  • She pulled a gun on you — You did not abandon her; you retreated in fear for your life, or as Code of Virginia § 20-91 puts it, she “caused reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt”
  • You two consented to separate — You cannot be accused of abandonment, either, but get that consent dated and in writing; the date of your separation sets the clock for the later divorce

If, though, you withhold emotional and physical support from your wife, even if you live with her, that is desertion. No sex? Desertion. Refusal to clean, buy groceries, cook, repair the home, or simply talk to your wife? Desertion, desertion, desertion.

Your attorney will help you sort out whether or not you truly deserted or abandoned your marriage. If you have children, you have a legal obligation to provide for them, so withholding financial support can indicate abandonment. It also qualifies as child abuse (neglect) if your wife can demonstrate your children suffered by your actions.

Remember to Play Nice

If you are contemplating separation or divorce, you have to hold yourself together to avoid any recriminations from your wife. Do nothing to offer even the suggestion of desertion or abandonment. Plan for the separation and subsequent divorce: no stalking out of the house at 2 a.m., suitcase in hand.

If you separate from your wife, make it as formal as possible so she knows you will continue to help pay bills and take children to appointments. Treat your wife and children with respect and play nice until you leave at a previously announced date and time.

Call the ONLY Family Law Firm in Virginia Protecting Men Exclusively

The legal realm is littered with tricky terms. For a more complete explanation of abandonment, please call The Firm for Men at 757-383-9184, or contact us online. We can help explain any legal issue to you, and we will not abandon you if you get confused. We are always here to help, and with offices in Virginia Beach and Newport News, we’re just a hop, skip, and a jump away!

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