If you are considering divorce, but aren’t sure you’re ready to make things so official, you may want to know what other options are available. In New Jersey, an option is available to couples called divorce from bed and board, which is virtually the same procedure as legal separation and is sometimes called a limited divorce. The process including the word divorce is a bit of a misnomer as couples who choose to go this route are still legally married.
Divorce from bed and board arose back when official divorces carried a negative social stigma. While behaviors and opinions regarding divorce have changed over time, there are still many reasons why some people may choose to pursue divorce from bed and board over the traditional (and very final) divorce. Couples may choose to go the separation route due to religious, moral, financial, and many other reasons.
The Divorce From Bed and Board Process in NJ
Married couples in NJ can get a divorce from bed and board in the same way they would go about getting a full divorce, with the caveat that both parties consent. You will remain technically married but living separately. Given this arrangement, you can convert divorce from bed and board to an absolute divorce if that is a decision you decide to make down the line.
Just as in a traditional divorce, a couple can decide themselves how they want to divide assets and debts when they enter into a separation agreement. In situations where there may be some pushback on either side, a mediator can help reach an agreement.
Differences Between Legal Separation and Divorce From Bed and Board in NJ
In NJ, legal separation is not a formal process done through the court. In many cases, legal separation simply means a couple has chosen to live apart and has entered a separation agreement regarding finances, property, and parenting during the separation period. On the other hand, a divorce from bed and board is an official process handled by the NJ courts. If you and your spouse are in a position to make big decisions on your own, legal separation offers you more control and you can avoid involving the court at all. If the relationship is on rockier ground, divorce from bed and board may be a solution that does not require a full-on divorce.
Advantages Over a Traditional Divorce
If you are okay with staying married to your current spouse, and maintain a relatively cordial relationship despite the separation, there are certain benefits to divorce from bed and board over absolute divorce.
- Avoiding the Stress of Divorce – Divorce can be a very taxing process that can drag out for a long time. Legal separation can be a much more moderate affair with less stress and time commitment.
- Religious Reasons – One or both of the parties involved may object to divorce on religious or moral grounds.
- Tax Benefits – Both you and your spouse can still take advantage of marital tax benefits.
- Healthcare and Insurance Benefits – One spouse can remain eligible for the healthcare and insurance benefits of the other. However, sometimes there are clauses that disallow legally separated couples from gaining these benefits, so make sure to check your policy.
- Government Benefits – If one spouse will soon become eligible for their spouse’s government benefits or Social Security, it can be wise to pursue legal separation rather than divorce.
- Leaving the Door Open to Reconciliation – If you feel your situation may improve with some time apart and that future reconciliation is an option you want to keep on the table, legal separation allows that.
- Less Costly – Divorce can get expensive. A legal separation is generally a much cheaper option.
Legal Statutes Regarding NJ Divorce From Bed and Board
The New Jersey statutes, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-3 and N.J.S.A. 2A:34-6 are reproduced below. The first sets forth the legally recognized causes for a Divorce from Bed and Board and also the laws applicable to partners in a civil union:
- (a) Divorce from Bed and Board may be adjudged for the same causes as Divorce from the Bonds of Matrimony whenever both parties petition or join in requesting such relief and they, or either of them, present sufficient proof of such cause or causes to warrant the entry of a Judgment of Divorce from the Bonds of Matrimony, provided further that in the case of a reconciliation, thereafter, the parties may apply for a revocation or suspension of the judgment, and provided further that the granting of a Bed and Board divorce shall in no way prejudice either party from, thereafter, applying to the court for a conversion of said divorce to a divorce from the Bonds of Matrimony, which application shall be granted as a matter of right.
- (b) Legal separation from a partner in a civil union couple may be adjudged for the same causes as dissolution of a civil union whenever both parties petition, or join in requesting such relief and they, or either of them, present sufficient proof of such cause or causes to warrant the entry of a judgment of dissolution of a civil union, provided further that in the case of a reconciliation, thereafter, the parties may apply for a revocation or suspension of the judgment, and provided further that the granting of a legal separation from a partner in a civil union couple shall in no way prejudice either party from, thereafter, applying to the court for a conversion of said legal separation from a partner in a civil union couple, to a dissolution of a civil union, which application shall be granted as a matter of right.
The second statute sets forth the property rights spouses are entitled to in the event of a divorce from bed and board:
- (a) For and during the time that any judgment for divorce from bed and board shall remain in force and effect all property rights of the parties shall be as though a judgment of absolute divorce had been entered. In any property transaction had by either of the parties in such status the fact of the existence of such judgment shall be distinctly recited and reference to the public record thereof shall be clearly set forth.
NJ Mediation for Divorce From Bed and Board
Steve B. Menack has been helping New Jersey couples reach separation agreements through a collaborative and positive process for over 25 years. If divorce from bed and board seems like the right course for you and your spouse, do not hesitate to contact us so we can begin the process right away.