Ask A Lawyer: What Are The Rules On Abandonment?


My wife moved out & wanted a trial separation, our 14 year old daughter lives with her. What are the rules about abandonment? I was not in agreement on the separation. Now she wants a divorce, which is ok with me. We have been married for 20 years. We also have a 19 year old daughter in college. Will I need to provide child support for our youngest daughter? And will I need to pay alimony? Thank you for your answers.


There is legal abandonment of the family, in which a spouse removes themselves from the family environment and fails to provide financial support.  The more common issue is a claim that one parent has failed to meet their non-financial parental responsibilities, such as participation in education, health care, or other activities of the child, as a factor in a custody case.  As your other questions relate to financial issues, it appears your question is as to legal, or financial, abandonment.

Most states have laws requiring spouses to support the family and failure to do so may be a criminal offense and the State may seek family support from the non-supporting spouse. Such cases often involve an assessment of the circumstances of the separation and the financial abilities of each spouse.  The primary legal purpose of such laws is to avoid the family resorting to public assistance of one kind or another.  These laws are usually unrelated to the divorce or separation status of the spouses and independent of whether child or spousal support will be award in a divorce.
Assuming that your wife and daughter have had adequate resources or access to family accounts or credit, there would usually not be an issue of financial abandonment.  Once a divorce case is filed, either party may seek temporary child or spousal support during the pendency of the case, often retroactive to the date the case was filed but usually not before that date.  The final decision on what your child or spousal support obligation will be after the divorce is final will depend upon the physical custody schedule, the incomes of both parents, and other factors.  Generally, the parent who has physical responsibility for the child the majority of the time (often measured by overnight stays not hours) will be awarded child support to help offset the expense of that responsibility.  However, the child support will be set based upon what is best for the child and the relative incomes of the parties may warrant child support regardless of the physical schedule.  Spousal support considerations include the employment history and employment prospects t the spouses and their individual expenses post-divorce.  The length of the marriage also is considered in evaluating the employment histories and financial needs of the spouses, with a 20 year marriage having significant history that will affect the spousal support issue.

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