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Desertion is willful abandonment of a person's duties or obligations, especially to a spouse or child. Some common uses of the term desertion in a legal sense include:

  • Desertion is a ground for divorce in states with fault divorce. In the context of divorce, cases such as this one from Virginia explain that “Desertion occurs when one spouse breaks off marital cohabitation with the intent to remain apart permanently, without the consent and against the will of the other spouse.”
  • As explained in this case from Georgia, the term “desertion” as an element in the offense of abandonment of a child, means “the willful forsaking and desertion of the duties of parenthood.”
  • Desertion can also be the basis for a court to grant an adoption where a parent has deserted a child for a specified period of time. Cases such as this one from Oregon, explain that the term desertion as used in the context of the statute permitting adoption, means parental conduct which indicates an intention to desert all parental duties and parental rights in the child. 

[Last updated in July of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]