North Carolina divorce law can be amazingly complex.
Other states have provisions for some form of legally recognized separation. In North Carolina, the equivalent is called divorce from bed and board. This legal procedure does not completely dissolve a marriage—that requires what's called an absolute divorce in North Carolina—but it does significantly alter the relationship between the spouses.
A divorce from bed and board begins when one of the spouses (the plaintiff) files a petition with the district court, claiming that the other spouse (the defendant) has engaged in misconduct that damages the marriage. It's important to bear in mind that the court will issue a decree of divorce from bed and board only if it is proven that marital misbehavior did, in fact, occur.
If your North Carolina divorce attorney convinces the judge to grant your divorce from bed and board, there will be several changes in your legal rights and those of your spouse. We highlight five changes below:
- Cohabitation rights. After a divorce from bed and board, the defendant no longer has the right to live with the plaintiff spouse. Indeed, the primary reason individuals seek a formal separation under North Carolina law is to force a spouse to vacate the home and live elsewhere, especially if domestic violence has been a factor in the marriage.
- Property rights. A divorce from bed and board does not directly affect the rights to jointly owned marital property. There is no division of marital property at this time. However, the date of the decree may be important for distinguishing marital property from separate property if the couple proceeds to an absolute divorce in the future. If the defendant spouse owns or co-owns the home where the couple lived, that property may be given over to the plaintiff spouse as part of the divorce order.
- Support issues. The court has the power to impose child support and spousal support (alimony) payments as part of the decree. The nature of the marital misconduct used as grounds for the divorce suit can be a factor in determining the level of support payments.
- Inheritance rights. The defendant no longer has automatic rights to inherit from the estate of the plaintiff spouse after a divorce from bed and board. If the plaintiff's will specifically gives the defendant spouse a portion of the estate, that bequest will stand; but the plaintiff will not automatically inherit money or property if the defendant dies without a will, and cannot administer the estate.
- Sexual relationships. It must be stressed that a divorce from bed and board does not end the marriage. After a decree is issued, the couple remains married. Any sexual relationship that develops outside of marriage is adulterous—and may ultimately affect the results of a future filing for absolute divorce in North Carolina. Any child that is born after a decree of divorce from bed and board is not automatically presumed to be legitimate.
Get the help you need, when you need it
If you are considering a separation or a divorce, or just need some questioned answered, turn to the Speaks Law Firm in Wilmington for guidance. Our New Hanover County family law attorneys represent clients in Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, Whiteville, Lumberton, Leland, and Shallote. Call us locally at 910-341-7570 or toll-free statewide at 877-593-4233 to schedule a consultation about your needs.