What is Divorce from Bed and Board?

couple in divorce

North Carolina is a no-fault divorce state. That means that a couple that decides to divorce can end the marriage without providing any reason for the divorce. This is known as an absolute divorce, it requires living apart for a year before asking a judge to declare the marriage over.

But sometimes one partner in a marriage cannot be found to take part in divorce proceedings. In these situations, North Carolina courts grant another kind of legal order known as a divorce from bed and board. The name is confusing because it’s not an absolute divorce.

A divorce from bed and board is a type of court-ordered legal separation. It does not end the marriage or allow either spouse to remarry. But it grants the spouse who sought the legal separation certain rights that allow them to move on.

If you have an uncooperative or absent spouse and need assistance understanding the steps available to move forward with your life, a divorce from bed and board in North Carolina may be an option. A compassionate attorney at Charles R. Ullman & Associates can review your situation and help you determine the appropriate steps to take. Attorney Charles R. Ullman is certified by the North Carolina State Bar as a board-certified Specialist in Family Law. He concentrates his legal practice exclusively on family law matters, including legal separation and divorce.

What Are Reasons to Seek Divorce from Bed and Board?

A divorce from bed and board is a married couple’s economic separation. It does not end the marriage.

An injured spouse may seek a divorce from bed and board at any time. It does not require a year of separation. Because it is a legal separation order, a divorce from bed and board severs some rights that spouses normally have with regard to each other’s estates.

Obtaining a legal separation can entitle the injured spouse to certain benefits of an absolute divorce, including alimony, distribution of marital assets, child custody, child support, and attorney’s fees.

Under North Carolina law, a spouse may seek divorce from bed and board if the other spouse has committed any of the following acts:

  • Abandoned his or her family.
  • Maliciously thrown the injured spouse out of the home.
  • Endangered the injured spouse’s life with cruel or barbarous treatment.
  • Inflicted emotional or psychological abuse indignities on the injured spouse that are intolerable and a burden on their life.
  • Used alcohol or drugs at a level of excess that the injured spouse finds intolerable and a burden on their life.
  • Committed adultery.

A divorce from bed and board may be used to have a spouse ordered out of the home. With the judge’s decree that a legal separation exists, the spouse who is still maintaining the home may ask the judge to find that the spouse has given up their rights to the marital home as a result of abandonment, malice, or abuse.

The injured spouse may then move to have the judge declare other conditions of the separation, such as awarding child custody, support payments, and division of assets. These would be finalized in the eventual order of absolute divorce, barring a successful argument by the at-fault spouse.

Conversely, the judge’s order of divorce from bed and board could also be used to argue that an at-fault spouse has given up rights to the proceeds of the marriage.

A court order of divorce from bed and board also affects North Carolina’s inheritance laws, which normally give spouses rights to assets following a death. Even if the injured spouse’s will includes the spouse at fault, the spouse at fault has no inheritance rights.

How Can a Spouse Obtain a Divorce from Bed and Board in North Carolina?

To obtain a divorce from bed and board:

  • Establish fault. A married individual seeking a legal separation must be able to show that their spouse committed at least one element of fault as spelled out in North Carolina law for a divorce from bed and board.
  • File a complaint. The injured spouse who is seeking a divorce from bed and board must file a complaint – legal separation papers – in Wake County Family Court. The complaint asks a judge to grant a legal separation and explains the reasons for it.
  • Present the complaint. The spouse seeking separation must appear before a judge to attest to the contents of the complaint and answer any questions. If the allegedly at-fault spouse appears for court, there are several potential defenses to charges of abandonment or wanton conduct, such as alcohol or drug use. A spouse contesting a request for legal separation may present evidence, testimony, and witnesses.
  • Seek further conditions of separation. Once the injured spouse has been granted a legal separation, he or she may seek additional orders from the court pertaining to support payments, child custody, division of marital assets.

After a year of living apart, the injured spouse may petition the court for a final order of absolute divorce. The petition would ask that the legal separation order be incorporated as part of the divorce decree. The other spouse would have the right to contest the divorce petition and present evidence that contradicts the assertions of the divorce petition.

Contact an N.C. Legal Separation Attorney

If your marriage to an absent, abusive, or uncooperative spouse in North Carolina cannot be repaired, you should speak to an attorney about obtaining a divorce from bed and board. The issues of a legal separation granted in a divorce from bed and board are among the most important to be settled before the dissolution of a marriage in a final divorce.

A Raleigh legal separation lawyer at Charles R. Ullman & Associates can move promptly to develop and file your petition, present your case and advocate for your rights and interests every step of the way. Contact us today for a confidential consultation.


Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.