Divorce from Bed & Board: Understanding Your Options

Robin M. Mermans, Esq
January 13, 2023

Like so many before me, I really did think my first marriage would last forever. And, when my now ex-husband and I made the difficult decision to end our marriage, it took a lot of work and legal guidance to make our way through the divorce process.

Luckily, we were able to find our way through those difficult times in an amicable and respectful manner.

As a result, I’m keenly aware of just how confusing and complicated family law is—it can really make your head spin! And the different approaches to divorce are just as vast and varied to the divorce laws themselves.

That's one of the reasons I’ve chosen to make divorce mediation and family law my life’s work. I’m passionate about helping couples compassionately maneuver through divorce. And, one of the biggest questions I hear from couples centers around the complexities of filing divorce from bed and board (DBB). And it is no wonder: DBB isn’t common, and is rarely used as a legal remedy.

However, it can be beneficial to understand how this option works. Let’s take a look at what divorce from bed and board is and review a few key considerations.

Understanding what divorce from bed and board means

In North Carolina, there are two types of divorces: (1) absolute divorce and (2) divorce from bed and board. Let’s take a look at what each of these divorce options means, and the differentiators between the two:

1. Absolute divorce requires that both parties must live separately for at least one year with no intent to resume the marriage.

The big difference: This option completely dissolves the marital contract between two spouses.

2. Divorce from bed and board isn’t actually a divorce. Confusing, I know. DBB is instead defined as a court-ordered separation. According to the North Carolina Judicial Branch, DBB orders are available only under limited circumstances where the spouse requesting the order can prove serious fault (for example: adultery or drug abuse). An important note: Once you are separated due to a DBB order, you will still need to wait one year and file for an absolute divorce in order to legally end the marriage.

The big difference: This option is available when one spouse does not want to enter into a divorce or doesn’t agree to a separation agreement. (This isn’t required to fulfill the separation requirements involved in an absolute divorce; but, the process of divorce from bed and board can help settle some of the rights of separating spouses.)

Divorce from bed and board: Six important elements to consider

A big part of taking steps to divorce from bed and board is that one party must file an action against the other party to instigate the legal action.

To then move this process forward in North Carolina, the injured spouse needs to provide evidence that the accused participated in one or more of the following six grounds for divorce from bed and board:

1. Abandonment of the family. In this instance, the spouse filing for DBB must establish several complaints:

  • Intentionally ended cohabitation: This is done by showing that the accused spouse no longer lives with the injured spouse, and instead resides elsewhere. This can also be proven by showing that the accused spouse lives in a different part of the home or is out of the home and not providing any financial support to the injured spouse.

  • Intent not to resume cohabitation: One spouse must live separately, permanently, with a different address from the injured spouse. (If the spouse living away intends to return—or does in fact return to the shared home—DBB can’t be validated.)
  • Leaving without consent: For this element of divorce to be valid, one spouse must have disagreed to stop living together. For example, if both spouses consent to living apart, this element of abandonment is not fulfilled.
  • Leaving without provocation: A spouse claiming abandonment must prove he or she did not provoke the other spouse to leave their shared home. He or she cannot have instigated or participated in any behavior that would have given their spouse reason to leave.

2. Maliciously turning the complaining spouse out of doors. As a subcategory of abandonment, it must be proven that one spouse was evicted from the home against their will. And similar to abandonment of family, with this path to divorce the accuser will need to establish that there was no provocation on their part.

3. Treating the complaining spouse in such a cruel or barbarous way that it endangers his or her life. In the past, North Carolina courts initially interpreted this ground for divorce rather narrowly. Today the courts recognize that physical and mental or emotional cruelty will satisfy this ground.

4. Indignities that render the complaining spouse’s condition intolerable or life overly burdensome. Divorce laws prohibit spouses from engaging in mental cruelty or the humiliation or degradation of their spouse.

To establish this ground for DBB, the accusing spouse must show that the accused participated in inappropriate conduct that was intended to hurt or annoy without provocation. Proving this must include repeated behavior over time and illustrate a hostile state of mind. (Examples of this type of behavior include frequent criticism and insults, inappropriate sexual conduct, harassment, constant insults, repeated criticism, and so on.)

5. Excessive drug or alcohol use that makes the complaining spouse’s condition intolerable or life overly burdensome. If one spouse struggles with overuse of drugs or alcohol in the marriage—and the other spouse can establish that the accused uses more than just once in awhile—this ground for divorce may be pursued. This can be a challenge, however, as there is no established definition for what equates excessive use of drugs or alcohol under North Carolina law. (The help of an experienced attorney will  assist with the intricacies of claiming this ground for divorce.)

6. Adultery. Adultery is another consideration for granting a divorce from bed and board. Adulterous behavior, proven by social media posts, cell phone messages and photos, and more, can also crossover and satisfy the grounds of cruelty and indignities, strengthening the accusing spouse’s case for DBB.

What happens after a DBB order is filed

After you and your spouse have separated from a DBB order, you can still resolve any issues you may have related to your separation with a separation agreement (if your separation has been consensual).

Additionally, you can ask the court to help you resolve any issues you may have, like property division or post-separation support).

If this feels like the right path for you and your spouse to take, there are a several considerations you need to be aware of. If you’ll be the spouse seeking the divorce from bed and board, you’ll need to file your papers in the district court where you reside. Additionally, you or your spouse must have lived in North Carolina for at least six months before making your filing.

Still confused? You’re not alone!

Give us a call today at (980) 260-1600 to learn more about collaborative options, if you’re looking for a traditional divorce attorney, or if you have questions about the process of DBB. Our Charlotte-based team is here to help you.

The ROAD to RESOLUTION Divorce 101 Series can help you differentiate the fact from the fiction, and guide you towards the support you need during this difficult time. Use our resources and services to find all the info you need—from pre divorce education to drafting essential legal documents. Please contact us today to find out more about how we can help you.

Note: This blog is intended to be informational only and shall not be construed as legal advice.

Robin M. Mermans, Esq
Founder and Principal Attorney

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