Divorce is generally defined as the dissolution of marital bonds, which for most people refer to emotional connections such as love and commitment. However, the legal definition of marital bonds is far more complex, consisting mostly of unromantic entities like tax liabilities and ownership in each other's retirement funds. The degree to which these bonds can be dissolved, if at all, is largely dependent on how you choose to move on from your spouse. In New Jersey, a couple can either choose to divorce, or legally separate through a process known as “divorce from bed and board.”
The main difference between these two methods is whether you are still legally married. This is a rather confusing concept because a divorce from bed and board is quite similar to a standard divorce. The filing procedures are the same for both methods, as are the grounds under which you may file. You and your spouse can divide marital properties, set custody and visitation terms, and negotiate alimony and child support payments. However, the fact that you're still married means that benefits such as health care coverage will continue until you formally divorce. The only exception to this rule is if your policy specifically names legal separation as a qualifying reason for discontinuing coverage. You will also retain important financial benefits, including survivorship rights under your spouse's pension plan, and the right to claim dependent social security benefits under your spouse's record.
In spite of these benefits, a partial dissolution of your marital bonds still ties you to your spouse in ways that can hurt you in the long run. Closing out joint credit cards may be a problem since credit card companies are under no obligation to change the ownership of an account due to a change in marital status. They are, however, more likely to do so if you are formally divorced, as opposed to legally separated. Aside to the finances, there are personal issues that you will need to consider as someone who is technically married. For example, it's understandable that you may want to pursue a relationship with a new partner. However, such behavior may not work in your favor should you choose to actually file for divorce. While most personal indiscretions have little to no effect on a divorce settlement, living with or being seriously involved with someone may result in a reduced alimony award. Granted, it will be considerably challenging for your spouse to prove that your new relationship is a compelling enough circumstance to merit a reduced alimony award, but going to court over it is likely to be expensive and time-consuming.
Regardless of how you want to move on from your marriage, please consider discussing your legal options with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. Choosing the right method of dissolution is critical to protecting your interests, as well as those of your children. Our attorneys look forward to advising you during a free initial consultation.