Unlike an absolute divorce, a divorce from bed and board does not absolve the marital bond between a couple. This type of claim can be filed if one spouse refuses to enter into a legal separation agreement or if the accused spouse is at fault for marital misconduct.
Legal Grounds for Filing for Divorce from Bed and Board
In order for a spouse to be eligible for a divorce from bed and board, the spouse must have proof that the other person is guilty of fault. It is important to note that the grounds for filing this type of claim may vary by state.
- Abandonment – In order for a spouse to file the claim on the grounds of abandonment, they must be able to prove that the accused spouse was no longer living at the residence or that they were driven out of the home, that the accused spouse has no intent to reconcile and that the complaining spouse did not agree to a separation.
- Endangering the Life of the Spouse Through Cruel Treatment – A complaining spouse may file this claim if there was physical, emotional or mental abuse aimed at them.
- Maliciously Kicking the Spouse out of the Home – If the complaining spouse was forcefully evicted or removed from their marital home by the accused spouse, they may be able to file on these grounds.
- Adultery – This refers to when the accused spouse is seeing another individual outside of the marriage.
- Drug and Alcohol Abuse – In order to file on grounds of drug and alcohol abuse, the complaining spouse must provide evidence that the accused spouse’s drug and alcohol abuse was not only frequent or regular but that the behavior was detrimental to the marriage.
- Indignities – Indignities may refer to behaviors exhibited by the accused spouse that are meant to humiliate or degrade the complaining spouse. For example, indignities may include harassment, neglect, indifference or even an addiction to alcohol, drugs or pornography. In order to file on these grounds, the complaining spouse must be able to show a string of these incidents as just one incident will not suffice.
There are four common defenses that an accused spouse may rely on to defend themselves against the claims made by the complaining spouse.
- Condonation – refers to the complaining spouse’s knowledge of the accused spouse’s conduct and forgiveness of this conduct. This defense can only be used if the complaining spouse knew, not just suspected, the marital conduct and continued to allow the accused spouse to remain at home or resumed normal married life.
- Connivance: In order for the accused spouse to be able to allege connivance, there must be evidence that the complaining spouse brought about or provoked the misconduct that was used as grounds for filing a divorce from bed and board.
- Recrimination: The accused spouse may use this defense if there is enough evidence to establish grounds for divorce from bed and board against the complaining spouse. This defense can be used regardless of whether or not the accused spouse is seeking to separate from the complaining spouse.
- Collusion: This defense is the least common in states in which laws do not require that the complaining spouse file for divorce from bed and board prior to seeking an absolute divorce. To use this defense, the accused spouse must prove to the court that the complaining spouse intentionally misled the court with false evidence of marital faults.
Effects of a Decree of Divorce from Bed and Board
The consequences associated with a decree of divorce from bed and board are similar to a decree of absolute divorce with the exception that the couple remains married. By finding the accused spouse guilty of marital misconduct, the complaining spouse may be able to establish alimony, child support and child custody.
Additionally, if the complaining spouse is successful, they retain a number of legal rights while the accused spouse loses a number of legal rights. For example, the accused spouse loses the right to return and live at the marital property even if the property is co-owned by both spouses prior to the decree. The successful spouse has the right to retain or sell marital property without the consent of the other spouse and has the right to the homestead.
Should the couple reconcile, the decree is terminated. A couple is considered to be reconciled if they cohabitate, or live together, after the decree has been entered, if they show an intention to live together again or if they have re-integrated their marital lives. However, couples who cohabitate on a trial basis are not considered to be reconciled.