What is a Bifurcated Divorce?

Given the number of issues that must be decided in a divorce, like child support, child custody, spousal support (alimony), and division of assets, the divorce process can take a long time. If you and your spouse are unable to agree on some aspects of your divorce, but can agree on others, you might be interested in filing a request for Bifurcation with the court. Bifurcation essentially means that you are "splitting up" certain aspects of your divorce where specific parts of your divorce will be decided on later.

This is filling process can either be stipulated to (agreed to) by both parties, or it can be made by one party over the objection of the other.

If the court grants a Motion for Bifurcation, the court will separate certain issues of the divorce that can be easily finalized while leaving other issues to be tried separately later. A Motion for Bifurcation might be necessary if one person needs the status as a single person, or if one (or both) spouses want to get certain aspects of the divorce finalized while negotiating others. Bifurcating the martial status issue while waiting to agree on other terms of the divorce can help expedite the overall divorce process.

Common Reasons to Bifurcate a Divorce

Two common situations where a judge is likely to grant a Motion of Bifurcation, is where one or both of the spouses wants to (1) remarry or (2) file as a single person on their taxes. Since spousal support payments are tax deductible, the paying party may want to file his or her taxes individually as soon as the payments are due. Since the courts often get backlogged with other taxpayers looking to file separately towards the end of the year, it's important to file your motion for bifurcation no later than September 15.

Requirements and Conditions for Bifurcation

Before a Motion for Bifurcation can be considered, you must file a preliminary declaration of disclosure on your spouse. This preliminary disclosure includes information about assets, debts, income, expenses, and other financial details that must be disclosed in a divorce. Three to six weeks after the Motion for Bifurcation has been filed with the court and copies are sent to the opposing party, you and your attorney will appear before the judge for a hearing on the motion. A judge will examine your case, and either grant or deny your motion. Almost all requests for bifurcation on the marital status are granted, unless the opposing spouse can present compelling reasons for denial.

Once requested, the court has the power to require the requesting party to submit to certain conditions. These conditions are generally meant to maintain the "status quo" and to protect the non-requesting spouse from damages should the requesting spouse die after the status bifurcation is granted but before the rest of the divorce is finalized. These conditions include:

  • Maintenance of health insurance;
  • Indemnification for the loss of death benefits for any pension or retirement accounts through either spouse's employer;
  • Reimbursement to the other party for any tax consequences resulting from the bifurcation such as homestead or family allowance deductions.

The complete list of factors considered in calculating spousal support can be found in section 2337 of the California Family Code.

If you think that a bifurcated divorce may be right for you or have specific questions about your divorce, contact an experienced family law attorney to give you guidance on this complicated issue.

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