We have previously blogged about some of the common misconceptions about the divorce process in New Jersey. This blog will pick up on another popular New Jersey divorce myth: Legal separation exists for married couples.
Many spouses choose to live separate and apart before and/or while pursuing a divorce, and there are a myriad of reasons as to why this is the case. Some people simply need space from their spouse and/or time to determine whether divorce is the right course of action. Others treat living separately as a litmus test, to see what life is like without their spouse and whether they are happier or otherwise on their own. No matter the reason, there is no formal recognition of “legal separation” under New Jersey law. Quite simply, and despite the often popular belief to the contrary, “legal separation” is not a ‘thing’ in the Garden State.
New Jersey law does provide for a Divorce from Bed and Board, also known as a “limited divorce.” While there is a difference of opinion as to whether a Bed and Board Divorce is, for all intents and purposes, the same as what some other states recognize as a legal separation, the differences between an absolute (i.e., traditional) divorce and a divorce from bed and board are significant. The process for a Bed and Board Divorce is similar to the process for an absolute divorce; the main difference is that the marriage still exists at the conclusion of the Bed and Board Divorce whereas an absolute divorce results in the dissolution of the marriage entirely. All issues arising out of the marital relationship (child custody, child support, alimony, equitable distribution, etc.) are resolved as part of the Bed and Board Divorce, but neither party would be considered legally divorced. That means, amongst other things, that neither spouse can remarry unless and until the Bed and Board Divorce is converted to an absolute divorce (which generally requires a separate application to the Court).
At this point, you may be wondering why anyone would pursue a Bed and Board Divorce. The most common reason is the continuation of spousal health benefits. With an absolute divorce, spouses generally cannot remain on the same health insurance policy and employer-provided health insurance for the non-employee spouse terminates upon the entry of a final judgment of divorce. With a Divorce from Bed and Board, it is possible to continue coverage beyond the entry of final judgment. This makes a Bed and Board Divorce appealing to couples who no longer want to remain married but wish to continue health insurance benefits for the other spouse, either due to a specific medical condition or the cost of obtaining alternate insurance. The availability of continued health insurance coverage can, however, vary by employer/insurance carrier, even with a Bed and Board Divorce. So, be sure to get confirmation from the covering spouse’s employer or insurance provider that coverage can be extended to a spouse under these circumstances before pursuing a Bed and Board Divorce.
Whether you are looking for an absolute divorce, a divorce from bed and board, or just need some time and distance from your spouse, the experienced family law attorneys at ALBFRM are ready, willing and able to help you get there.
Thomas Roberto, Esq. is a partner with Adinolfi, Lieberman, Burick, Falkenstein, Roberto, & Molotsky, PA. Tom focuses his practice on helping clients with their unique family law matters. Tom provides practical solutions and works diligently to ensure his clients understand the legal process so they can make the best decisions possible for their families.