This is a common question from individuals who no longer wish to be with their spouses, but choose not to completely dissolve the bonds of marriage for personal and/or financial reasons. New Jersey laws do not recognize legal separation, but couples can file for a divorce from bed and board, also referred to as a “limited divorce”. Couples can file on the same grounds as divorce, but the key difference is that both spouses must agree to the separation. As long as both are in agreement, they can make arrangements for alimony, custody, child support, property division, and most other issues that are associated with a divorce.
Regardless of how similar a divorce from bed and board is to an actual divorce, it's imperative to understand that the first arrangement does not dissolve the bonds of matrimony. This is important for couples of certain religious and cultural backgrounds such as Orthodox Judaism, which does not recognize a divorce unless it is officiated through a religious document known as a “get”. While a divorce from bed and board allows you to live separate lives, you are still married, and cannot remarry until you receive a final judgment of divorce. The benefit, however, is that a dependent spouse can still be covered under the other spouse's health insurance plan. It also gives couples the chance to reconcile without having to get married all over again.
Another key factor of a divorce from bed and board is that you will not be allowed to change your name. The courts base their ruling on the statute which specifically states that the court may allow either spouse to resume any surname used before the marriage, or for that matter, any surname of their choosing. The law is very clear in its language about name changed occurring only “...upon or after granting a divorce from the bonds of matrimony to either spouse”. Hence, spouses must be officially granted a judgment of divorce before either party can change his or her name.
The process of filing for a name change is essential if you want to change your name on government issued documents such as your driver's license and passport. Name changes due to marriage simply require showing the marriage certificate along with other required documents, but name changed due to divorce must be proven with a court order. Even if you have the official divorce decree, government agencies generally require that you present an additional court order certifying your name change.
Changing your name, however, may not be in your best interest depending on your personal circumstances and ties between you and your spouse (e.g., children). It is highly recommended that you discuss your situation with an attorney prior to requesting a name change, which can be done as part of the divorce filing, or after the divorce. For more information on changing your name due to divorce, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.