desertion, in law, the forsaking of a station involving public or social duties without justification and with the intention of not returning. In military law, it is the abandonment of (or failure to arrive at) a place of duty without leave; in time of war, especially in the face of the enemy, desertion is punishable by death. In maritime law, a seaman who abandons a ship without leave is rendered liable to damages and forfeits the wages he has already earned. In family law, desertion is the willful abandonment by one spouse in a marriage, without the consent of the other. The refusal to renew cohabitation without justification is also considered desertion, and in some states of the United States, mere abstinence from sexual intercourse is considered such. The refusal by a husband to support his wife has been regarded as desertion if he has the means to support her. In most states, desertion continued for a certain period is grounds for divorce. In the modern, no-fault divorce, desertion is not recognized, although the marital partners may have been living apart prior to the divorce.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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