An estranged couple's attempt at a reconciliation, even where it involves the brief and isolated resumption of cohabitation and/or sexual relations, after a matrimonial action has already been commenced, does not, as a matter of law, preclude an entry of judgment in favor of the spouse who originally had an otherwise valid claim for abandonment. Rather, the trial court should examine the totality of the circumstances surrounding the purported reconciliation, before determining its effect, if any, upon the pending marital proceeding. Among the many factors for the trial court to consider are whether the reconciliation and any cohabitation were entered into in good faith, whether it was at all successful, who initiated it and with what motivation.
Gail Lowe Haymes filed an action for divorce on grounds including actual and constructive abandonment based on Stephen Denis Haymes’ having left the marital home to live apart from her and having abstained from sexual relations with her for a year or more. Pending trial, the parties unsuccessfully attempted reconciliation for six weeks, during which they engaged in sexual intercourse. The trial court, therefore, barred wife's abandonment claims as a matter of law on husband's oral motion.
Did the trial court err in its decision to bar wife's abandonment claims as a matter of law on husband's oral motion?
The court found that the trial court impliedly resolved disputed questions of fact without taking testimony by dismissing the claims without affording wife an opportunity to establish her version of the marriage's disintegration or to prove that husband did not make a good-faith effort to reconcile. The court held that an estranged couple's attempt at reconciliation, even including brief and isolated resumption of sexual relations, after a matrimonial action was already commenced did not preclude an entry of judgment in favor of the spouse who originally had an otherwise valid claim for abandonment.