When people hear the word “divorce” everyone thinks that it means the marriage has been formally terminated and either or both former spouses are free to go get remarried if they want. That is true, in an absolute divorce or a “Divorce from the Bonds of Matrimony”. But did you know that an absolute divorce is not the only kind out there?
Hold your hats: it’s true!
In New Jersey there is also a much rarer form of divorce called a Divorce from Bed and Board. It is specifically authorized under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-3(a). A Divorce from Bed and Board is different than an absolute divorce because the parties remain legally married. The parties to an absolute divorce are free to remarry while the parties to a Divorce from Bed and Board are not because they are still legally married despite the use of the “divorce”. I know, it sounds crazy right? Why get divorced at all if you aren’t divorce? What’s the point of that? Well, for one, because a Divorce from Bed and Board is New Jersey’s answer to legal separation, which we do not recognize.
For another, there are distinct benefits to it. All property and support issues are addressed within a Divorce from Bed and Board just like they would be in an absolute divorce. In fact, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-6 provides that:
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.
But – and this is a BIG and VALUABLE but—because the marriage itself has not been terminated, a spouse may continue to be eligible for benefits such as, for example, healthcare insurance. Healthcare insurance is a hot commodity. It is not uncommon for one spouse to have the benefit of employer-sponsored healthcare and provide the insurance coverage for their whole family because the other spouse is either not able to get it or it costs too much. In the event of an absolute divorce, the law requires that the former spouse be removed from the employee spouse’s insurance coverage, no ifs, ands or buts about it. See my other blog entitled Healthcare Coverage Post-Divorce: What about Me? for more on that topic.
However, depending on the insurance plan, it may be possible to resolve the issues incident to a divorce and still keep the other spouse on the health insurance coverage at no additional out-of-pocket cost simply by agreeing to a Divorce from Bed and Board. Considering how much COBRA coverage costs and/or even Affordable Care coverage can be, a Divorce from Bed and Board can be a very attractive alternative to a spouse who may be looking at an increased alimony obligation to factor in the cost of obtaining alternate healthcare or the spouse who may be looking at being either without coverage or at a significant cost. Under those circumstances, a not quite absolute divorce may be just the ticket.
Word to the wise, though, insurance companies have gotten savvy to Divorces from Bed and Boards so before selecting this option, it is very important to get the insurance plan handbook and review it carefully to see if they have already provided that a legal separation or Divorce from Bed and Board is an exclusion from continued coverage. If it is, it may be back to the drawing board.
Adinolfi & Packman, PA is located in Haddonfield, NJ. We specialize in all aspects of divorce and family law. For more information contact us online or by calling 856.428.8334.