Understanding Divorce From Bed and Board in North Carolina

Every state has slightly differing laws dealing with marriage and divorce. Where other states implement rules for "legal separation," the equivalent in North Carolina is called divorce from bed and board.

Divorce from bed and board does not completely dissolve a marriage, but it does alter the nature of the legal contract between the partners. For some couples, a divorce from bed and board leaves open the possibility of a future reconciliation and a renewal of the marriage. In more cases, a divorce from bed and board will be followed by a formal ending of the marriage, called an absolute divorce in North Carolina law.

Grounds for a North Carolina divorce from bed and board

Absolute divorce is a no-fault procedure in North Carolina. In contrast, divorce from bed and board requires a finding of fault. That means only the spouse who has been injured by the marital misconduct of the other party can start a petition for divorce from bed and board. The injured spouse who files for a separation will be the plaintiff and the other spouse, the defendant.

As provided in the North Carolina General Statutes, Section 50-7, the state recognizes six possible grounds for divorce from bed and board:

  • Abandonment. This means that the defendant either moved to a separate residence (or a separate part of the marital home), or forced the plaintiff to leave the home by abusive behavior.
  • Malicious turning the other out of doors. This means that the defendant must have sent the plaintiff spouse out of the home.
  • Cruel or barbarous treatment that endangers the life of the other spouse. While examples of domestic violence will often be used to satisfy this provision, this phrase may also include other forms of cruel behavior, such as emotional abuse.
  • Indignities to the person of the other. Public humiliation, degrading treatment, and physical abuse are all potential actions that can merit a North Carolina divorce from bed and board. The plaintiff must be able to show a pattern of misbehavior here; a single incident will not be sufficient.
  • Excessive use of alcohol or drugs. The plaintiff must be able to show that substance abuse has been interfering with a happy marriage, and that abuse of alcohol or drugs occurred regularly and frequently.
  • Adultery. Only one incident is needed. A regular pattern of infidelity may also satisfy the requirement of the cruel treatment and personal indignities grounds for separation.

Results of the decree

If the court agrees with the plaintiff in a motion for divorce from bed and board, the obligation for the couple to live together is ended. The spouse who is found to be at fault may be forced to vacate the home. The court may also order alimony or child support to be paid. The marital misconduct proven in the course of this divorce action can be a factor in determining court-ordered support payments.

A divorce from bed and board is often a precursor to an absolute divorce in North Carolina. Terminating the obligation to live together can "start the clock" on the required twelve months of living apart needed for an absolute divorce. However, we should also acknowledge that the divorce from bed and board can sometimes spur a couple to strengthen their marriage rather than end it.

If you have questions about whether divorce from bed and board is the right step for you, contact a family law attorney in Wilmington for a consultation about your future. At the Speaks Law Firm, our staff and attorneys are known for discretion and compassionate approaches to clients with troubled marriages. Call us locally at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233 for the advice you need at this critical point in your life.

R. Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.