“A mensa et thoro” is a Latin phrase which means “from table and bed,” although it is often translated as “from bed and board.” In a court of law, it refers to a type of divorce in which the couple is legally separated, but the marriage is still considered valid. This type of divorce is relatively unusual, as most couples who go to court to seek a divorce want a full divorce, known as a vinculo matrimonii, rather than a partial divorce.
When a couple receives an a mensa et thoro divorce, it is essentially a court-sanctioned separation, meaning that the partners may legally live apart, but they are still legally married. The legitimacy of children in the marriage remains intact, and the partners may not remarry. This type of divorce allows partners to live apart without fear of being taken to court for desertion.
There are several reasons why a couple might seek this type of divorce. In some regions, it can be difficult to get a full divorce, but if the partners are separated this this method, the judge may decide to grant a full divorce. When the burden of proof requirements are difficult to meet, the a mensa et thoro ruling gives the couple a place on the court's schedule when they file for a full divorce, by showing that they are serious about their separation.
Sometimes, this type of divorce is used when one partner is extremely abusive, keeping the marriage legitimate while the couple is separated; it may give them a chance to work out the problems in their relationship while living in legally sanctioned separate dwellings. Spouses may also request it to protect themselves from accusations of desertion or abandonment.
Because this type of divorce is relatively rare, most lawyers assume that their clients want a divorce a vinculo matrimonii when clients request a divorce, although some legal professionals may mention the a mensa et thoro divorce as an option. For couples who are interested in this type of divorce, it is a good idea to specify this when discussing the situation with a lawyer, to ensure that there is no confusion.