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Bifurcated Divorce: A Faster Way Forward

Speed is not a word that is typically used to describe divorce in California. The process resembles a sluggish crawl more than a rapid sprint. This is due in part to the legal procedures that must be completed to separate and the strong emotions that often flare between separating spouses. Add in scheduling issues for spouses, lawyers, and judges and the general overcrowding of the courts and their ever-decreasing resources and it is easy to understand why it can take many months if not several years to finalize a divorce.

Faced with the prospect of a lengthy journey through the legal system, many parties choose to expedite their return to the status of "single" with a legal measure called "bifurcation." In general, "bifurcation" refers to separating from the main divorce case a particular issue and holding the trial on that issue as soon as possible. There are many reasons why this may be a preferred approach to resolving a particular issue in a divorce case, but by far, in California the most common use of this process is in resolving the status of the marital status; going from "married" to "single." This is called terminating marital status. In that context, the requesting party asks the court to terminate their status as married persons so they are once again "single." There are legal consequences to this procedure so it is not simply "handed out" for the asking. Rather, application must be made and certain procedural and substantive requirements must be met before this will be granted.

In the situation involving a request to terminate marital status, a party may wish to terminate their marital status immediately in order to re-remarry. Single status may also be desirable in order for spouses to file as "single" on their tax returns and receive tax deductions for paying alimony. Bifurcation is also appealing in the case where a party wishes to have a separate trial to deal with a specific issue. A couple may, for example, have a disagreement over ownership of a large asset such as an estate or a business. Depending on the extent of the disagreement, it might be worthwhile to hold a separate trial from the main divorce proceedings in order to decide ownership of the asset first, which may thus make the case easier to resolve once that issue if decided.

Parties who consider bifurcation should be aware that dissolution of marital status is not final, and the parties are not free to remarry until six months after divorce papers have been served or six months from when the responding party files their responsive papers. Also, bifurcation must be requested of the court and approval is not guaranteed. When a judge does grant bifurcation it often comes with conditions for the requesting party, such as continuing to provide medical insurance and other benefits for the other party. If you think bifurcation is something you wish to know more about feel free to call Feinberg & Waller and arrange for a consultation on this issue.

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William A. Feinberg 1928 - 2001

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