What is a Divorce from Bed and Board?
In North Carolina, there are two different types of divorce that a spouse may file for: absolute divorce and divorce from bed and board. To obtain an absolute divorce, a divorce that ends the marriage contract that was created and deems the two parties no longer married, the two people must be separated for at least one year with the intent to never again live together or act as spouses. In this type of divorce, there is no fault required by either party. On the other hand, a divorce from bed and board is not an actual divorce in the sense that it completely ends a marriage contract, but rather, a legal separation of a couple in which at least one party is at fault. Divorce from bed and board does not completely end a marriage between two people, but legally separates the two parties through a court order and is usually only necessary when one party refuses to voluntarily enter into a legal separation.
How can I Obtain Divorce from Bed and Board?
Two people cannot consent to a divorce from bed and board, or else it would simply be a legal separation. Rather, the spouse that files for divorce from bed and board must show that he or she has been injured in one of the statutorily specified ways, listed in North Carolina General Statute § 50-7. There is a high standard for obtaining this type of divorce, and if the spouse does not clearly show that he or she has been injured by the other spouse, without provoking the spouse to cause the injury, the divorce will not be granted. The statute lists six grounds for which a spouse may obtain divorce from bed and board:
1. Abandonment of the Family:
In order for the injured spouse to establish the ground of abandonment, he or she must prove that the accused spouse has willfully brought their cohabitation to an end without justification, without the consent of the other spouse, and with no intentions of renewing cohabitation. In order to show that the abandonment was willful, it must be shown that the injured spouse did not provoke the abandonment by causing the accused spouse to believe that he or she was in danger, emotionally or physically, in the shared home. It is also not necessary for the accused spouse to physically leave a shared home in order for this ground to be established. In certain circumstances, it is possible that the injured spouse may prove abandonment when the other spouse has ceased to financially support or communicate with the injured spouse. The injured spouse may even show constructive abandonment by providing evidence to the court that the accused spouse forced him or her to leave the home to escape abuse.
2. One Spouse Maliciously Turns the Other Out of Doors:
This ground is essentially a subsection of the abandonment justification in that it requires one spouse to maliciously or wrongfully evict the other spouse from their shared home. As with abandonment, the injured spouse will need to show that the turning of the spouse outdoors was malicious and was not provoked by the injured spouse.
3. By Cruel or Barbarous Treatment One Spouse Endangers the Life of the Other:
In order to establish cruelty or barbarous treatment, the injured spouse must specifically plead the cruel actions and show that the actions were not provoked. Although this ground was initially very difficult to establish, courts will now allow for the introduction of evidence of mental or physical cruelty to obtain a divorce from bed and board. For example, the injured spouse may show cruel or bararous treatment by proving that due to the toxicity of the relationship, he or she has considered committing suicide or has mentally struggled so much that it is no longer bearable.
4. One Spouse Offers Such Indignities to the Other Spouse as to Render His or Her Condition Intolerable and Life Burdensome
This ground is similar to the establishment of cruel or barbarous treatment in that it allows the injured spouse to recover from mental abuse that is so unbearable as to render his or her life unlivable. In order to establish this ground, the injured spouse must show that the accused spouse willfully or maliciously committed inappropriate conduct with the intent to aggravate the injured spouse without provocation. The statute does not specify certain types of behavior that will be substantially inappropriate as to establish this ground, but case law shows that the injured spouse must have suffered multiple instances of the conduct, rather than going through one bad experience. The inappropriate conduct that was committed must also be such that would cause an objective, reasonable person to suffer, not just the spouse alleging injury. However, the court will take into consideration certain subjective characteristics and past experiences of the injured spouse.
5. Excessive alcohol or drug use
Because there is no specific standard for what will be deemed to be excessive alcohol or drug use in North Carolina, establishment of this justification will depend on the facts of each case. However, the abuse will not establish grounds for divorce unless the spouse is overly intoxicated to the point that he or she lacks self-control more than on an occasional basis. The drug or alcohol abuse will also not establish grounds for divorce if the injured spouse was aware and accepting of the activity from the beginning of or throughout the relationship.
The last ground that the court will consider in granting a divorce from bed and board is when the accused spouse is found to have had an affair during the time of the marriage. The type of behavior that will qualify as adultery will depend on the facts of each case and may also satisfy the requirements for establishing another ground for divorce from bed and board.
Each of these grounds may have been met at any point during the marriage, unlike an absolute divorce in which the grounds for divorce must have been met within 6 months prior to the divorce filing. However, if the injured spouse was aware and accepting of the behavior for an extended period of time, divorce from bed and board will not be granted. Additionally, most of these grounds to be established overlap with each other. If there is a possibility that more than one of the statutorily specified grounds may be established, the filing spouse should allege each justification separately.
What are the Effects of Divorce from Bed and Board?
Once a divorce from bed and board has been granted and the two spouses are legally separated, they will still be able to resolve issues related to the separation with a separation agreement, as if the separation had been voluntary. Then, either spouse will be able to file asking the court to resolve issues such as property division and post-separation support. After the divorce from bed and board is final, the separated couple will still need to wait one year to file for an absolute divorce in order to legally end the marriage. If, on the other hand, the spouses decide to reconcile, the order of divorce from bed and board will be deemed terminated. If either spouse seeks to separate through divorce from bed and board after reconciliation, he or she will need to seek a new order and show new evidence of injury.
If you are seeking to file for divorce from bed and board or your spouse has filed against you, contact us so that we may assist you in considering all of your options.
About the Author
Sydney Smith is a rising second year law student at Campbell University School of Law. She is the secretary of the Business Law Association and has been selected to join the school's law review journal.