Legal Steps to Take When Your Spouse Abandons You

What To Do When Spouse Leaves

Sometimes in an unhappy marriage, one spouse will simply pack up and leave. They may make no attempt to either reconcile or formally end the marriage. This may amount to spousal abandonment under North Carolina divorce law and could be grounds for a court-ordered separation known as divorce from bed and board.

If your spouse has left you, you should discuss the legal implications with an experienced North Carolina divorce lawyer. A compassionate separation and divorce attorney at Charles R. Ullman & Associates can review your situation and help you determine the appropriate steps to take. We have more than 25 years of experience counseling men and women facing difficult family matters.

Attorney Charles R. Ullman is certified by the North Carolina State Bar as a Specialist in Family Law. He concentrates his legal practice exclusively on family law matters, including legal separation and divorce.

What Qualifies as Spousal Abandonment in North Carolina?

Under North Carolina law, three elements must be proven to establish spousal abandonment. One spouse must:

  • Willfully end cohabitation with no intent to resume living together
  • Leave without the other spouse’s consent
  • Leave without justification or provocation.

Leaving the marriage is considered justified or provoked if it is due to the following:

  • Adultery
  • Physical or verbal abuse
  • Substance abuse
  • The other spouse’s mental and emotional absence from the marriage
  • The other spouse’s withholding of love and affection.

North Carolina recognizes constructive abandonment as evidence of marital fault, giving the spouse who left grounds for seeking a divorce from bed and board.

Leaving home for military service, job reassignment, to care for an ill or injured relative, or other legitimate obligations would not be considered marital abandonment, regardless of spousal consent.

What To Do After Spousal Abandonment?

If your spouse has left you, you should take certain steps to protect yourself:

  • Save a copy of any communications from your spouse about your marriage or their duties as a spouse, such as about supporting you or your children or possession of the house.
  • Gather copies of documents such as deeds, insurance policies, bank account statements, mortgage and loan payment books, tax returns, and pay stubs.
  • Make a list of income, monthly expenditures, and debts. You’ll need to figure out what it will cost you to live alone.
  • Obtain a copy of your credit report to make sure there are no debts you aren’t aware of.
  • If you share a bank account with your spouse, withdraw half of it and establish your own account. Be sure you do not withdraw more than half of a shared account.
  • If you have joint credit accounts, obtain new credit cards in your name only and use them to establish a credit rating of your own.
  • If you have life insurance, annuities, o4 retirement accounts for which your spouse is the beneficiary, change the named beneficiary to a new beneficiary.
  • Change all of your banking, email, and online passwords. But do not change your social media accounts or change your marital status on social media. Don’t delete social media accounts or start new ones. Deleting social media content could be considered destruction of potential evidence and could be held against you if your spouse later contests divorce proceedings.
  • Consult a North Carolina divorce attorney. If your spouse has abandoned you, you should learn about your rights and consider seeking a legal separation and, eventually, a divorce. After the emotional blow, the primary impact of separation and divorce is financial. The guidance of a qualified separation and divorce attorney can help you protect your rights.

How Spousal Abandonment Affects Divorce?

If your spouse has abandoned you, you have the right to seek a legal separation order known as a divorce from bed and board. Despite the name, this order does not end your marriage. It could entitle you to certain benefits of a divorce, such as alimonychild custody, and child support.

Your petition for divorce from bed and board could also ask the judge to rule that your spouse has given up rights to the marital home and to the property you acquired while married and own jointly.

Seeking a divorce from bed and board requires you to appear before a family law judge to attest that your spouse has abandoned you and answer any questions. If your spouse appears in court, there are several potential defenses to claims of marital abandonment. Your spouse may present evidence and witnesses to counter your assertions. You must be prepared to make your case and persuade the judge. An attorney can gather and present evidence to rebut your spouse’s assertions in court.

After you and your spouse have lived apart for a full year, you can petition the court for a final order of absolute divorce. The petition would ask that the requirements of your legal separation order be incorporated as part of the divorce decree. Your spouse would have the right to contest the divorce and present their side of the story in court.

Contact an N.C. Spousal Abandonment Attorney

If your spouse has left you and your marriage cannot be repaired, you should speak to an experienced North Carolina divorce attorney about your legal options after spousal abandonment. When seeking the legal separation granted in a divorce from bed and board, there are important issues to settle before petitioning for the final dissolution of your marriage. A compassionate attorney at Charles R. Ullman & Associates can review your situation and help you determine the appropriate steps to ensure you are able to move forward with your life.

A Raleigh spousal abandonment lawyer at Charles R. Ullman & Associates can move promptly to develop and file your petition, present your case and advocate for your rights and interests every step of the way.

Contact us today for a confidential consultation.


Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.