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Divorce from Bed and Board in NC: What You Need to Know

Divorce from Bed and Board in NC: What You Need to Know

Frustrated Asian man sitting on the side of his bed with his wife in the background

When you hear “Divorce from Bed and Board” (DBB), you might understandably assume it’s a fancy term for divorce itself. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. DBB is not a divorce; instead, it’s a court-ordered legal separation. This article aims to clarify the intricacies of DBB and its potential implications for individuals considering this path.

What is a Divorce from Bed and Board?

DBB is a unique legal concept that exists under specific circumstances. It’s not a separation by mutual agreement; instead, it’s a separation mandated by the court, and it occurs when one spouse can provide convincing evidence of severe misconduct by the other, such as adultery or substance abuse.

While there have been instances where plaintiffs have achieved favorable outcomes, the overall success rate of alienation of affection cases can vary widely.

The Separation Agreement

When a couple separates pursuant to a DBB order, they may still be able to address the issues arising from their separation through a separation agreement. This is an agreement that allows them to tackle critical matters like property division and post-separation support as if the separation had been voluntary. This is where you and your spouse can establish the terms of your separation, giving you some control over the process. Entry of a DBB order may affect the viability of claims for property distribution and spousal support.

What About an Absolute Divorce?

Crucially, even after obtaining a DBB order and physically separating, you are still legally married. To officially dissolve the marriage, you must wait for a year, and then you can commence the process to obtain an absolute divorce.

The Grounds for a Divorce from Bed and Board

DBB is not handed out freely; it’s reserved for specific scenarios where one spouse’s behavior significantly disrupts the other’s life. These circumstances include:

  • Excessive Alcohol or Drug Use: If one spouse’s addiction makes the other’s life unbearable.
  • Adultery: When one spouse is unfaithful.
  • Abandonment: If a spouse leaves their family.
  • Maliciously Forcing Separation: When one spouse forces the other to leave the shared residence.
  • Cruel and Barbarous Treatment: If one spouse endangers the other’s life through cruelty.
  • Intolerable Mistreatment: If one spouse treats the other so poorly, living together becomes impossible.

In essence, DBB can be granted by the court in these situations when the marriage is no longer tenable due to these issues. It’s a court-acknowledged separation in response to severe problems within the relationship.

Impacts on Spousal Rights

DBB significantly affects spousal rights, particularly for the spouse found at fault. While the marriage is not dissolved, it does alter the legal rights each spouse holds in relation to each other. Here’s how:

  • Separate Residences: The at-fault spouse must live apart from their partner, maintaining separate residences.
  • Inheritance Rights: The at-fault spouse may lose the right to inherit their partner’s property if the partner passes away without a will.
  • Spousal Support: The court’s decision, often based on fault, can influence spousal support arrangements.
  • Child Custody and Support: DBB orders may have implications for child custody and support, as the court’s determination of fault could affect these decisions.
  • Property Division: The division of marital property may be influenced by the fault-based nature of the DBB order.

Remember, even in cases of DBB, couples can collaborate to reach agreements on some of these matters through separation agreements. These agreements provide a degree of control over the terms of the separation despite the court’s fault-based separation order.

What Divorce from Bed and Board May Look Like

Consider the case of Sarah and John, a couple going through a challenging phase in their marriage. Sarah believes that John’s alcohol problem has become unmanageable. His excessive drinking has created turmoil in their relationship, making life with him intolerable.

Sarah attempts to address the issue with John, but he refuses to acknowledge it or seek help. Furthermore, John refuses to leave the house. Frustrated and concerned for her well-being, Sarah seeks a legal separation through a DBB. After presenting substantial evidence of John’s alcohol abuse, the court grants the DBB order.

Consequently, John is legally obliged to move out of their shared home. This is a significant step, as it’s ordered by the court due to John’s behavior. While they are legally separated, they may still be able to collaborate on resolving issues related to their separation, like property division and post-separation support, through a separation agreement.

However, it’s vital to remember that they remain legally married during this period. To officially end their marriage, they must adhere to the legal requirement and wait a year before initiating the process to obtain an absolute divorce.

Final Thoughts on Divorce from Bed and Board

In conclusion, a Divorce from Bed and Board is not a typical divorce. It’s a court-ordered separation available under specific circumstances. If you find yourself in a situation that qualifies for DBB, remember that while it doesn’t dissolve your marriage, it does significantly impact spousal rights. Through a separation agreement, you and your spouse can retain some control over the terms of your separation. And when you’re ready to move forward, you can take the necessary steps to obtain an absolute divorce.

Picture of Carolyn Bellof

Carolyn Bellof

Carolyn Bellof is a Certified Family Law Specialist in North Carolina. She brings empathy and a personal understanding of loss and resilience to her clients, ensuring their legal needs are protected during emotionally challenging family law proceedings.

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