Legal separation in NJ — it’s a term that we hear often, but we always have to impart the bad news to our New Jersey clients: legal separation in NJ doesn’t exist.
While New York has an established institution known as legal separation, New Jersey does not.
That does not mean you’re optionless or powerless! You still have choices if you’re not ready for an absolute divorce. New Jersey has an answer to legal separation:
It’s called a Divorce from Bed and Board.
In NJ, we have this incredible, unique option that doesn’t exist in NY—the bed and board divorce.
We’ve actually written an entire article on this phenomenon—you can read more about bed and board divorce and how it mimics legal separation in NJ here.
However, just because a divorce from bed and board is similar to a legal separation doesn’t mean it’s the same. In certain ways, a divorce from bed and board does a lot of the same things that a legal separation does, but it’s still technically a divorce.
The difference between a divorce from bed and board and a “regular” divorce is that parties are not able to remarry until they have obtained an absolute divorce.
To terminate a divorce from bed and board in favor of an absolute divorce, either party can file a document with the court, converting the divorce from bed and board to an absolute divorce.
In a divorce from bed and board, ostensibly all the same papers are filed as for an absolute divorce, however, the relief requested in the documents is for a bed and board divorce.
However, in these documents, as well as in the marital settlement agreement or property settlement agreement, there is one crucial difference: the documents all state that this is a divorce from bed and board, and not an absolute divorce.
Why is this important? What is the significance of the distinction?
Well, someone very important cares quite a bit about this distinction:
Health insurance companies.
This is why a divorce from bed and board is often referred to as the legal separation of NJ.
Essentially, this is a loophole.
A number of insurance companies don’t recognize divorce from bed and board as a divorce, but rather as a legal separation. Because they don’t recognize it as a change in circumstance warranting a change of coverage status, they often won’t change your insurance coverage entitlement.
Basically, a divorce from bed and board can mean both spouses maintain virtually the same coverage for the same costs that they had during the marriage.
This doesn’t always work: remember, it’s a loophole. Some insurance companies do recognize this as a change in circumstance and will revoke health insurance of the secondary insured, so it’s important that you find out if your health insurance company will recognize a divorce from bed and board or not.
This is the current law—There is always a possibility that the law will change, and divorce law is often in review in the legislature, so check with your mediator and/or attorney to fully vet your current options.
Other Benefits of a Bed And Board Divorce
The bed and board option can be a game changer for you—it can save hundreds of dollars each month that would otherwise go to COBRA coverage (often quite expensive) or to buy an individual policy.
It can also free clients to pursue a variety of employment options, rather than having to pursue only jobs which provide health insurance coverage.
Often, the fear of losing health insurance coverage is among the most threatening of concerns in the divorce process. This is particularly true for clients with serious existing conditions, conditions requiring regular medical care. The option of continuing with coverage in the same manner received during the marriage can be a great relief—The option of continuing coverage without incurring the substantially increased fees COBRA requires can augment the relief considerably.
By working cooperatively in this way, families who otherwise couldn’t have made their budgets stretch across two separate households now may have more alternatives.
While health insurance is often one of the biggest concerns, it is by no means the only aspect of divorce that can be frightening.
Psychologically, a divorce can be traumatic by itself or by triggering memories of past losses and traumas. People need varying amounts of time to adjust and process their divorce, and there is often no urgency to get the divorce finalized.
A divorce from bed and board offers a structured way to separate for those who want the formality and closure of a process without needing or being ready for a final divorce. For couples who don’t require this structure, they might wish to enter an informal or therapeutic separation, where they live separately without signing any documents or filing any paperwork with the courts.
In this case, it can still be very useful for you to enter a contract, such as a “contractual separation agreement.” This agreement, best arrived at with the help of a mediator or other legal professional, can outline how you will both handle various issues, like parenting or household finances.
A separation such as this can provide a healthier, more comfortable distance from which both people can evaluate and address marital issues and decide how to best move forward.
If you’re considering a bed and board divorce, separation, or divorce, click here to contact us today and see how mediation can make a difference. Many couples find that a third, objective party can make all the difference between an explosive fight and a constructive conversation.