New Jersey allows married couples to seek a limited divorce known as Divorce from Bed and Board. This action is often taken by parties who have religious objections to divorce, or for economic reasons such as maintaining eligibility for health insurance through their spouse’s health insurance coverage, social security and retirement benefits. While Divorce from Bed and Board offers certain advantages, there are also pitfalls which couples should consider before pursuing a Divorce from Bed and Board. By way of example, until a Final Judgment of Divorce is entered, neither party can remarry.
Like a Final Judgment of Divorce, a Divorce from Bed and Board allows a couple to enter into a marital settlement agreement (MSA) dividing their marital property and debts. If spouses cannot agree, the court can order equitable distribution of property as well as child support and alimony.
Unlike a Final Judgment of Divorce, both parties must agree to the entry of a Divorce from Bed and Board. However, either party can seek to convert the Divorce from Bed and Board into a Final Judgment of Divorce, even against the other spouse’s wishes. As illustrated by a recent New Jersey appellate case, the terms of an MSA in a Divorce from Bed and Board will be enforced according to its terms so couples may not be able to reopen matters such as equitable distribution or support even if there is a change in circumstances.
In Benedetto v. Tosti, the parties entered into an MSA as part of their Divorce from Bed and Board. In the MSA, the wife agreed to maintain health insurance coverage for the husband. The parties also waived the right to dispute alimony or equitable distribution for any reason. The wife later retired and became unable to maintain health insurance coverage for the husband. The husband moved to enforce his rights and tried to modify equitable distribution and alimony, and the wife cross-moved for entry of a Final Judgment of Divorce. Both the trial court and Appellate Division agreed that the husband was not entitled to alimony because he had expressly disclaimed any right to alimony. Furthermore, the court found that husband had no entitlement to health insurance coverage once the wife obtained a Final Judgment of Divorce.
If you are considering a Divorce from Bed and Board, contact us for a consultation to ensure that your rights are protected.