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Divorce From Bed And Board

A recent decision by the Passaic County Chancery Division highlights the distinction between a divorce from the bonds of matrimony (i.e., an absolute divorce), and the relatively obscure concept of divorce from bed and board, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-3. What is the difference between a divorce from "bed and board" (a mensa et thoro) and a divorce from "the bonds of matrimony" (a vinculo matrimonii)? According to one learned treatise the former is loosely-analogous to a so- called legal separation. The parties are still married in the sense that they may not marry others, but they may live separately and are relieved of the obligations that married couples have to each other.

Yet N.J.S.A. 2A:34-6 provides that both forms of divorce have the same effect on property rights. So from a conveyancing standpoint a divorce from bed and board appears to place the [former] spouses in the same position as an absolute divorce.

In Leggio v. Leggio, 2014 WL 3563328 (Ch. Div. 2014) (not officially reported), Marion Leggio filed an unopposed pro se motion for a name change, apparently relying on N.J.S.A. 2A:34-21, which states:

"The court, upon or after granting a divorce from the bonds of matrimony … may allow either spouse… to resume any name used by the spouse … before the marriage …or to assume any surname."

However, because the parties had not received an absolute divorce, but rather a divorce from bed and board, the court held that the statute was inapplicable. Thus, the application was denied, and Ms. Leggio was directed to proceed under the general name- change statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1.

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