What is a Bifurcated Divorce?

Given the number of issues that must be decided in a divorce, such as 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 or your spouse may be interested in filing a request for Bifurcation with the court. This is a process that can either be stipulated to (agreed with) by the two parties, or it can be made by one party over the objection of the other.

If the court grants a Motion for Bifurcation, it will separate certain issues of the divorce that can be more easily finalized while leaving other issues to be tried separately at a later date. A Motion for Bifurcation may be necessary in situations where either party needs to regain the status as a single person, or simply when one (or both) spouses wants to get certain aspects of the divorce finalized while negotiating others. Bifurcating the martial status issue (ending the marriage and restoring the status to the spouses as single persons) while waiting to agree on other terms of the divorce (or for their ultimate resolution at trial if settlement is not possible) 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 (and virtually always does) require the requesting party to submit to certain conditions to the grant of the request, conditions that generally tens to maintain the status quo and to protect the non-requesting spouse from damages that might befall them should the requesting spouse die after the status bifurcation is granted but before the rest of the divorce can be concluded. 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 is 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 sometimes complicated issue.

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