If it involves the law, the Romans had a phrase for it. You have probably heard the expression, “bed and board,” but in Latin it is divorce a mensa et thoro, or divorce from table and bed. Whether you say bed and board or table and bed, is the same idea; you and your wife no longer satisfy each other’s appetites — both calorically and carnally. This is separate and distinct from divorce a vinculo matrimonii, divorce from the bonds of matrimony. If you are contemplating a Virginia divorce, knowing the difference between these two types of divorce is important to your reputation and your criminal record.

Divorce from Bed & Board

The Virginia Bar Association provides a neat summary of the two types of divorce and how they affect you. If you and your wife wish to only separate without considering remarriage, and one of you has committed a real breach of the trust most marriages take for granted, you can opt for the divorce from bed and board (a mensa et thoro). You separate because one of you charges the other with one of two rather unpleasant accusations outlined in Code of Virginia §20-95:

  • Willful desertion or abandonment — Say you are accusing your wife of this; you are stating for the court that she has broken off cohabitation and intends to desert you; you cannot “agree” to separation through this accusation, she has to thrust this upon you; if you both agree to separate, that is neither desertion nor abandonment
  • Cruelty and reasonable apprehension of bodily harm — Not mental cruelty of the Hollywood scandal type, but real and odious physical cruelty; if continuing to live together creates an unsafe environment for you or your children, you have fault grounds to seek a divorce from bed and board

When you are divorced from bed and board in Virginia — what is considered a limited divorce —, neither of you can remarry for the rest of your life unless you proceed to a divorce from the bonds of matrimony. In most cases, divorce from bed and board does lead to the full divorce, but not always.

To remarry while separated from your wife under divorce from bed and board can bring you charges of bigamy, a crime under Virginia Code §20-43 and §20-38.1. The punishment for that crime is outlined in Virginia Code §20-40:

  1. The new marriage is void without need for divorce, decree or any ruling
  2. You can face a fine up to $500
  3. You may serve up to six months of jail time

You can use divorce from bed and board, with its built-in fault grounds, to get your spouse out of your house, to begin a separation, to avoid physical abuse, or to stabilize your life in the face of the uncertainty of abandonment by your wife. It is limited in that you are both still married until you apply for a divorce from the bonds of matrimony, and it must be triggered by one of those two previously mentioned fears.

Divorce From Bonds of Matrimony

The full, “unlimited” divorce in Virginia is the divorce from the bonds of matrimony. It is more involved and has more options than divorce from bed and board. For starters, neither of you needs to accuse the other of something vile and embarrassing, like cruelty or desertion. You can move ahead with an uncontested divorce, the most expedient means of getting the divorce from the bonds of matrimony. You both separate, work out a property settlement, and each hire an attorney. Your case will go through relatively quickly after the customary six-month or one-year separation.

On the other hand, this “fully loaded” divorce does encompass fault grounds, including the two grounds from divorce from bed and board as well as things like adultery, buggery, sodomy or conviction for felony.

Because divorce from the bonds of matrimony requires either a six month or 12 month separation period, you can petition a Virginia court to merge divorce from bed and board into divorce from the bonds of matrimony.

Under Virginia Code §20-121, after the divorce from bed and board has endured one year (with children) or six months (without children), the court can merge the two divorces into one if either you or your wife petitions for it. One of you has to be the guilty party from the grounds identified for divorce from bed and board, but either of you can petition for the full divorce.

The divorce from bed and board has the effect of fulfilling the separation requirement and expediting a change to divorce from bonds of matrimony. To get a better sense of your best options, of course, consult a qualified Virginia family law attorney.

Clarifying legal niceties is just what we do at The Firm For Men. Please call us at 757-383-9184 or contact us online. We will be happy to discuss the various Virginia divorces, unique strategies for child visitation schedules, and much more. Or, call our Virginia Beach family law office to schedule a consultation with us in person. We can help with every facet of family law in the Commonwealth.