Legal Blog

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover: Part I – Desertion

In December of 1975 singer/songwriter Paul Simon wrote “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”


The lyrics to this catchy song opens with the simple idea that separation from your spouse “…. is all inside your head…”  This is an interesting thought as under Virginia divorce law we have a fault-based concept of divorce based on constructive and/or actual desertion of your spouse.  If the idea of a divorce generates in your own mind, is the idea of wanting a divorce enough or do you need to take certain affirmative acts to convey that decision to your spouse such that he or she will clearly know your intent?  What are the legal consequences of announcing to your spouse that you’ve decided to leave the marriage?  Paul Simon says to just “…get yourself free.” Does that freedom come at a cost?


Paul Simon offers the following ways to “get yourself free: “Just slip out the back, Jack. Make a new plan, Stan. Don’t need to be coy, Roy. Just listen to me. Hop on the bus, Gus. Don’t need to discuss much. Just drop off the key, Lee, and get yourself free.”


Under Virginia law there are two kinds of fault-based on desertion.  The first is actual desertion.  Using Paul Simon’s lyrics, it would probably be sufficient to constitute actual desertion if you did “Just slip out the back, Jack…” or “Hop on the Bus, Gus…” assumedly without telling your spouse first of your intentions.  Or alternatively, as Paul further suggests, if you simply “Drop off the key, Lee…”


The second method of desertion under Virginia Law is constructive desertion.  Let’s say you decide that you just “don’t need to discuss much…” with your spouse or that you decide to just “make a new plan, Stan…” without letting your spouse know what’s going on. There may be “… no need to be coy, Roy…”  but you do need to discuss a whole lot of what germinated inside your head to reach a mutual decision to separate in order to avoid a claim of constructive or actual desertion being made in your divorce case.


Both actual and constructive desertion claims, when you decide among the 50 ways to leave your lover, bring corresponding legal consequences. For example, it would be sufficient in most cases for your spouse to allege desertion in the complaint if you decided to “Just slip out the back, Jack, make a new plan, Stan [or] hop on the bus, Gus”; particularly if you also decided on your own that there was “no need to discuss much.”  Any of these actions on your part would likely be sufficient to allow your spouse to seek relief in court, including temporary spousal and/or child support and exclusive use and possession of the marital residence, to name just two.

Additionally, what happens to the marital assets including any real estate owned by the parties if one of you just “…drops off the key, Lee…”?  Have you jeopardized your legal rights in any way as to jointly title real estate or to some of the equity in the property by leaving your spouse holding the proverbial bag by now solely having to pay for a joint marital asset?


These are all components of the dual concepts of actual and constructive desertion under Virginia divorce law.  Planning for divorce requires you to consider the consequences of any of the foregoing suggestions to find out if Paul Simon is correct when he offers that “…the answer is easy if you take it logically…” and while there may be “…fifty ways to leave your lover…”  consulting with a knowledgeable divorce lawyer before you decide to leave is a good first step in the process of getting yourself free.


If you have any questions about divorce or other family law matters, please contact Richard Gray at or 703.745.1851


ABOUT RICHARD A. GRAY | 703.745.1851

Richard A. Gray focuses his practice on Family Law. Drawing on his undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology, Richard is sensitive to how these feelings can affect important decisions that a client is trying to make. Knowing that divorce cannot change the past he directs his clients to the future and helps families rebuild their lives with dignity and emotional stability. Rather than spending unnecessary resources prolonging conflict, Richard works with clients to find solutions for moving forward and maintaining civility with each other, especially for the sake of children.

Richard is an experienced litigator, yet he always looks for ways of reaching an agreement outside the courtroom. By educating his clients on the full continuum of divorce options, including collaborative law, mediation and litigation, he enables them to be in control of their decisions. Clients appreciate his one-on-one involvement with their cases and the direct access he provides. Richard listens carefully to clients’ goals and strives to achieve them. As a voice of reason he will also advise his clients if their goals are unreasonable or will cause great harm to the parties’ relationship.






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