In certain states, married couples who have decided to separate have an alternative to a final or “absolute” divorce. In New Jersey, couples may file for what is known as a “Divorce from Bed and Board.” This is New Jersey’s equivalent to a legal separation (offered in New York, and other states) that can act as an interim step towards an absolute divorce, or can be a final measure.
Know that you have options, and evaluate them. Often people enter mediation having identified only two possibilities: (1) divorce, or (2) stay married. When couples understand all their options, they canmove forward from an informed perspective. Learning what a Divorce from Bed and Board can accomplish, as well as its limitations, can empower people to choose wisely. Here are some important aspects to consider:
- Remarriage: Couples who go through Divorce from Bed and Board remain technically married. Therefore neither spouse may legally remarry without first taking the appropriate steps to convert the Divorce from Bed and Board into a judgment of absolute divorce. The conversion is a simple process and can be obtained by either spouse.
- Reconciliation remains possible: Couples who decide to reconcile after obtaining a Divorce from Bed and Board can easily apply to have the judgment revoked and go back to being married. With an absolute divorce, a couple does not have this option — they must go through all the formalities of remarrying.
- Financial reasons: Given the difficulty in securing affordable health insurance, many people are reluctant to forfeit the plan they share with their spouse. Bed and Board Divorce can enable a dependent spouse to continue his/her health insurance coverage provided by a supporting spouse’s employer.
- However, health insurance companies differ. It is important to check with your health insurance companyto be sure they do not regard a Bed and Board Divorce as an event warranting discontinuation of coverage.
- This issue continues to surface in the New Jersey Legislature, so it is feasible that the law may change thus disallowing this current benefit.
- In some cases, it may make sense for a couple to agree to a Divorce from Bed and Board on a temporary basis to allow the dependent spouse a “grace period” to:
- Find a job that provides health benefits
- Reach the age of eligibility for Medicare (depending upon timing)
- Research individual coverage options with a health insurance agent, and/or through the government website.
- Rights to your spouse’s estate: Certain federal benefits such as spousal Social Security are often preserved during the Divorce from Bed and Board. Other rights, however, are not. One major loss is the right of a spouse to automatically inherit property, if the other spouse dies without a will in place.
- Financial exposure and liability are treated as though the couple has obtained a divorce.
- For couples who are not emotionally or psychologically ready to proceed with a complete divorce, a Divorce from Bed and Board can give individuals a chance to settle into their new circumstances and status before taking further measures.
Consult with your mediator about what is available in your state. Your mediator can help you outline your choices, including Divorce from Bed and Board, that best meet your needs.