In North Carolina, when we think about a couple getting a divorce, we are thinking about  “Absolute Divorce.” However, another type of divorce is called a “Divorce from Bed and Board” (DBB). A DBB does not give you “single” status again or allow you to remarry. In fact, a DBB is not a divorce at all; instead, it is a separation ordered by a court because of specific issues in the marriage that prevent living together as a married couple any longer. Let’s look at why someone might choose to get a Divorce from Bed and Board in NC.

How Absolute Divorce Works in NC

There is a one-year separation period in North Carolina before you can get an absolute divorce. You can separate on your own or get a court-ordered DBB that starts your separation period. You may wonder if it’s best to separate or to get a court-ordered separation or DBB. 

Most couples choose to separate without a court-ordered DBB. To be separated, you generally must live in different homes, and at least one of you must consider the separation permanent. 

Usually, instead of filing an action for Divorce from Bed and Board, a couple will draw up a separation agreement when they separate. A separation agreement usually includes terms for handling life separated from each other, such as:

  • Who is responsible for bills such as mortgages, utilities, school fees, leases, etc.?
  • New addresses or phone numbers for each spouse
  • Property division
  • Spousal support
  • Child custody agreements
  • Child support agreements

You don’t have to write a separation agreement with your spouse to consider yourselves separated, but writing one together can help you resolve many of the issues you must consider before getting a divorce. 

If you can together resolve the issues involved in separation and divorce, you can avoid going to court and instead obtain an uncontested divorce. An uncontested absolute divorce is a divorce agreement without court interference and is often less expensive and quicker to obtain. 

Who Files For a Divorce From Bed and Board?

A DBB is not available to every couple. A spouse may file a DBB order for a few different reasons. Usually, the spouse who files the DBB can’t physically, mentally, or emotionally stay with their spouse but feels concerned about the ramifications of leaving and beginning a separation period. They need a court order to sort out complications related to the other spouse before leaving the family home. 

The spouse who puts in the DBB order must generally prove that their spouse has committed adultery or other grievous harm to the marriage, such as drug abuse.

Getting a DBB from a court does not mean that you and your spouse don’t need a separation agreement. It is still best to write a separation agreement to settle all of your divorce issues. However, if you can’t work through issues together, you can ask the court to resolve issues such as property division or child support.

Once you obtain a DBB order, your separation period starts. After the one-year required separation, you may file for an absolute divorce to legally end the marriage.

Why File for Divorce From Bed and Board?

Some spouses are afraid of what may happen if they stay in the marital home, but at the same time, they are afraid of what might happen if they leave. 

For example, let’s say your husband uses street drugs and is frequently high when you need to go to work and leave the kids with him. In filing a DBB, you would prove to the court that your husband was using illegal drugs and making life impossible for you and your children. By filing the DBB and proving your charges, you can prevent your spouse from claiming you abandoned him. 

Courts grant DBBs to spouses who suffer these types of situations:

  • Abandons his or her family without the intent to return and without letting their spouse know or with any legal justification or excuse
  • Maliciously turns the other out of doors.
  • By cruel or barbarous treatment endangers the life of the other. In addition, the court may grant the victim of such treatment the remedies available under G.S. 50B-1, et seq.
  • Offers such indignities to the person of the other as to render his or her condition intolerable and life burdensome.
  • Becomes an excessive user of alcohol or drugs so as to render the condition of the other spouse intolerable and the life of that spouse burdensome.
  • Commits adultery. (1)

DBB and Property Rights 

You may feel concerned about future plans for your assets, should you pass away unexpectedly before settling your property and beneficiary issues. In that case, speak with a family law attorney about a DBB. 

There is sometimes reason to consider inheritance laws and outcomes during the separation period. A spouse often acts as administrator of the other spouse’s estate. If you die without a will, your spouse may inherit up to 50% of everything you own. With a DBB, your spouse no longer has any spousal rights to act as administrator or to inherit anything from your estate.

If you own property together and cannot agree upon how to sell or share the property, a DBB can sometimes give you the right to sell your property without the other spouse’s signature. (2)

We Can Help

Whether you are considering a future separation or trying to decide whether a Divorce From Bed And Board is right for you, at Plekan Law we want to help. We understand the laws and how to navigate the emotionally charged landscape of separation, DBB, and absolute divorce. We work within the frameworks provided in NC to bring about solutions for your family disputes and struggles. Divorce is difficult enough without facing the legal ramifications and regulations alone. We work with you to mediate agreements when possible to reduce your costs and make your divorce easier when possible. Contact us today for an initial consultation and find out how we can help you get through this struggle and come out the other side with a brighter outlook. 



  1. § 50-7
  2. DIVORCE FROM BED AND BOARD | Co-Counsel Benefits | North Carolina State Bar 
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