Family Law Keyed to Weisbergback
Brief Fact Summary. Mrs. Reid was unhappy with various aspects of her marriage to Dr. Reid and his constant work schedule. Mrs. Reid sought a divorce on the grounds of constructive desertion, Dr. Reid responded claiming divorce on desertion.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Proof of an actual breaking off of matrimonial cohabitation combined with intent to desert constitutes desertion as grounds for divorce. However, reasons for leaving the marriage other than an intent to desert may justify discontinuance of the relationship without giving rise to grounds for divorce.
Facts. Judith Reid married Dr. Robert Reid in 1965. Mrs. Reid worked in medical technology in a local hospital and Dr. Reid was in medical school. In 1966 the first of four children were born to the couple. In 1967 the couple moved to New York City where Dr. Reid completed internship and residency. Following a stint by Dr. Reid in the Navy, the couple moved to Charlottesville, where Dr. Reid obtained a position at the University. He became tenured, head of his division, and director of the nurse practitioner program. He subsequently left the University to establish a medical corporation. In the early years of their marriage Mrs. Reid was a homemaker. In 1980 she began part-time employment at her husband’s corporation, and ultimately became its controller. In 1985 Mrs. Reid and two other individuals formed a travel agency. However, in April of 1984 Mrs. Reid moved out, and in June she sought a divorce on the ground of constructive desertion. Dr. Reid responded seeking a div
orce on desertion. The commissioner recommended denial of the divorce on fault grounds but the entry of a no-fault divorce decree. Both parties filed exceptions and a motion requesting preservation of the issue of fault for appeal.
Issue. Did the circumstances both parties attest to provide justification as a matter of law for Mrs. Reid leaving the marriage?
Held. By deserting the marriage without legal justification Mrs. Reid forfeited her right to spousal support. Therefore, the commissioner erred by not granting Mr. Reid divorce on grounds of desertion.
Mrs. Reid claims she was justified when she moved out in 1984 because her emotional health was endangered because of four marital problems. The first of these problems was sexual inactivity. The couples’ sexual pattern was infrequent, with Dr. Reid suffering periods of impotency. However, this pattern was developed between the couple from almost the beginning of the marriage, and Dr. Reid’s impotency was not within his sole control.
The second problem and third problems Mrs. Reid claims is Dr. Reid’s excessive work habits and related failure to assist in the disciplining and rearing of their children. Dr. Reid held more than one job from the beginning of the marriage and worked extensive hours. However, placing fault on Dr. Reid for this would require the Court to draw a fine line where perhaps he excelled in one duty to the family (providing for them) at the sacrifice of another duty.
The final marital complaint of Mrs. Reid was a lack of intimacy within the marriage. This complaint seems to be only a reflection of different personalities of these marital partners and their different method of relating to one another. It is no more than a general complaint of unhappiness, and is an unfortunate risk in all marriages.
These problems reflect at most a gradual breakdown in the marriage. However, the cause of Mrs. Reid’s unhappiness cannot be attributed factually or legally solely to the conduct of Dr. Reid. Because proof of an actual breaking off of matrimonial cohabitation combined with intent to desert constitutes desertion as grounds for divorce, Mrs. Reid forfeited her right to spousal support.
Discussion. The Court sympathizes with Mrs. Reid’s marital problems, but a concise application of the law forces a determination that Mrs. Reid deserted the marriage and had no reason to do so other than the intent to desert. Thus, she is at fault and barred from collecting spousal support.