The state of Virginia recognizes two kinds of divorce. The type that most people think of when they hear the word “divorce” is “divorce from the bond of matrimony,” or “absolute divorce.”
However, Virginia also allows for a kind of partial divorce called “divorce from bed and board” (“a mensa et thoro“).
Often, an individual files for a divorce from bed and board in advance of an absolute divorce, in order to speed up the overall process. This is because a divorce from bed and board can act as a kind of “shortcut” to regular divorce proceedings.
In this article, we’ll talk about the advantages of filing for a divorce from bed and board. However, keep in mind that you can’t file for this type of divorce in every situation.
In particular, you can only file for a divorce from bed and board in preparation for fault-based divorce proceedings. Those interested in a no-fault divorce will have to stick to absolute divorce.
What is Divorce from Bed and Board?
According to Virginia law, divorce from bed and board is a legal act of separation. It asserts that immediate separation is necessary due to desertion or cruelty on your spouse’s part. As a fault-based legal action, it does not require your spouse to agree to the divorce.
A divorce from bed and board will sever your spouse from your property. You may then divide your assets and achieve separation, either personally or through the court. However, unlike an absolute divorce, both of you will retain tax and insurance benefits. Additionally, neither of you may remarry until your absolute divorce is complete.
Why File for a Bed and Board Divorce?
In most cases, the appeal of filing for a bed and board divorce is the lack of a waiting period. Normally, you must live apart from your spouse for six to twelve months before initiating a fault-based divorce. However, if you file for a bed and board divorce during that waiting period, you can begin dealing with asset division, child custody, and the like.
For example, let’s say a person with two minor children leaves their spouse on grounds of cruelty. Normally, they would need to wait twelve months before initiating divorce proceedings. During this time, issues regarding assets and child custody are very likely to arise.
By filing for a bed and board divorce, they can receive support from the court system in working through those difficult issues. Then, when the time comes for an absolute divorce, they can point at the agreements and injunctions made during the bed and board divorce. This can shave months off the divorce process, since the actual divorce proceedings have already been completed.
Bed and board divorces often result in a much cleaner, smoother divorce process.
Bed and Board Divorce vs. Immediate Absolute Divorce
In some cases, you may qualify for an immediate absolute divorce with no waiting period. In these cases, there’s very little advantage to filing for a bed and board divorce.
Grounds for immediate absolute divorce include:
- Felony convictions
Outside of these two circumstances, you will need to separate from your spouse before filing for absolute divorce. You will only need to be separated for six months if you have no minor children and can come to a legal agreement. Otherwise, the waiting period is a full year.
In this way, a bed and board divorce is best for cases where the waiting period is required. For immediate absolute divorces, a bed and board divorce is not needed since the process starts immediately.
Grounds for a Bed and Board Divorce
As a fault-based legal action, you must have valid grounds for a bed and board divorce. Additionally, you must be able to demonstrate that you have been a Virginia resident for at least six months before filing for a divorce. The state or country you were married in doesn’t generally matter, although you will need proper paperwork demonstrating a legal marriage.
Virginia law recognizes a few types of grounds for a bed and board divorce. These center on cruelty, reasonable fear of bodily harm, and abandonment. If you cannot demonstrate any of these grounds, you should instead file for an absolute divorce.
Virginia defines cruelty as acts producing reasonable apprehension of bodily harm. This often comes in the form of physical abuse or harm, which leads to ongoing fear in the future. However, it may also include other cruel or abusive acts, such as persistent verbal assault.
Normally, cruelty refers to ongoing acts of abuse. Thus, while a crime, a single act of domestic violence is not necessarily grounds for divorce from bed and board. However, an act of domestic violence so extreme as to produce ongoing and persistent fear may qualify as cruelty.
In conjunction with this, any reasonable fear of bodily harm can also serve as the grounds for a bed and board divorce.
Virginia defines abandonment as an intentional, permanent desertion of one’s marriage. In most cases this refers to a literal physical departure.
However, neglecting one’s spouse and children to an extreme degree also qualifies as constructive abandonment. Similarly, a persistent and willful refusal to engage in sexual intercourse with one’s spouse can be considered constructive abandonment.
Proving regular (not constructive) abandonment entails demonstrating the following:
- Your spouse intended to leave your marriage.
- They failed to justify their desertion.
- The desertion was against your wishes.
This means that you cannot allege abandonment if you assented to your spouse’s leaving. Similarly, it is not abandonment to leave an abusive or dangerous marriage—in such a case, the person leaving has a justification.
What if your spouse comes back? If your spouse has made a good-faith effort to return to the marriage following desertion, you may lose your grounds to file divorce. For this reason, it’s generally a good idea to file for a bed and board divorce as soon as your spouse leaves.
As everyone knows, divorce proceedings can be an enormous drain on both your money and time. This is even more true of a fault-based divorce in which both parties have a great deal to lose. Of course, this is all in addition to the considerable stress of dealing with questions of asset management, custodial rights, and child support.
By filing for a bed and board divorce, you can significantly speed up this otherwise sluggish process. However, keep in mind that legal actions taken during a bed and board divorce are just as binding as those taken in an absolute divorce.
For this reason, it’s important to hire an experienced divorce attorney to represent you throughout the process.