Family Law Keyed to Weisbergback
Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff brought suit for divorce based on abandonment. Defendant responded that her claim of abandonment was precluded because of a brief attempt at reconciliation.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. An attempt at reconciliation does not preclude entry of a valid claim for abandonment as a matter of law.
Facts. Gail Haymes, plaintiff, alleged in divorce proceedings that beginning in 1984 defendant, Stephen Haymes, refused to have sexual relations with her. In 1987 defendant moved out without plaintiff’s consent or justification. Plaintiff claimed that defendant engaged in several adulterous relationships. In 1988 an action for divorce was commenced. The couple attempted reconciliation between November 1988 and January 1989. According to plaintiff, defendant neither expressed remorse for his adultery nor affection for her during this time. In January 1995 on the eve of trial, defendant moved for dismissal of his wife’s causes of action for abandonment and constructive abandonment. He asserted that her claims were precluded because of plaintiff’s admission that she and her husband had briefly resumed living together. She also conceded that the couple had engaged in sexual relations at least once during this period. Plaintiff responded that a single unsuccessful attempt at reco
nciliation after the matrimonial action had already commenced was insufficient to defeat her claims founded in abandonment.
Issue. Does a relatively brief attempt at reconciliation require plaintiff to forfeit an otherwise facially valid cause of action for divorce.
Held. An estranged couple’s attempt at reconciliation, even where it involves brief and isolated resumption of cohabitation and/or sexual relations, after a matrimonial action has been commenced does not, as a matter of law, preclude entry of judgment in favor of the spouse who originally had an otherwise valid claim for abandonment.
Attempted reconciliation should be supported based on public policy to encourage the preservation of families. Precedent suggests that an effort to reconcile is meaningless without a showing that it was made in good faith. In this case the trial court prevented the plaintiff form attempting to prove that defendant did not make a good faith effort at reconciliation.
The trial court should examine the totality of the circumstances, surrounding the reconciliation, with factors including if the reconciliation and any cohabitation were entered into in good faith, whether it was at all successful, who initiated it and with what motivation.
Discussion. The Court found that the plaintiff’s claim of abandonment was not precluded as a matter of law, but did not rule on if the reconciliation was sufficient enough to preclude the claim due to the lack of evidence presented relating to defendant’s good faith effort to reconcile, or lack thereof.