The Bifurcated Divorce

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What is a bifurcated divorce? It is the division of a divorce case into two or more parts. For example, the marital status of a couple can be terminated by the court while settlement issues such as child custody, support, alimony, and property division are decided at a later date. It can also be an option when a couple agrees on everything but one specific issue, such as determining the division of a business or the custody of a child.

You'll usually hear about this type of divorce in connection with high profile marriages, but ordinary people can use this option as well.

Why would someone want a bifurcated divorce?

Because some divorce cases can take months to resolve, a couples may seek to have their divorce divided in order to have their marital status changed as soon as possible.  This may be the case when:

  • One spouse is seeking to remarry before the property settlement is finalized.
  • A spouse wishes to be declared single for tax purposes. This can be an important issue for the spouse who will be paying alimony because spousal support payments are a deductible expense.
  • When one spouse drags out the settlement agreement as a form of emotional blackmail, knowing the other spouse can't get on with his or her life until the marriage is finalized.
  • When an automatic stay is put on the divorce proceedings due to a bankruptcy action.  If one spouse files for bankruptcy while the divorce is pending, the divorce case halts until the bankruptcy is finalized.  In this situation, a couple can either seek bifurcation of their divorce or permission from the Bankruptcy Court for relief from the automatic stay.

Which states allow bifurcation in a divorce? 

Not all states will allow a divorce to be bifurcated. Because state laws vary on the subject of bifurcation, a person considering this route should consult with their lawyer to see if it is allowed in their state and what restrictions apply. 

Some states, such as Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, and Texas do not allow issues to be split up in a divorce. On the other hand, California (California Family Law Code Section 2337) and Alaska (Alaska Statutes Sec. 25.24.155b) have specific laws regarding the bifurcation of a divorce.  And still other states have case law that has addressed the issue of bifurcation in divorce.

What is needed to get a divisible divorce?

Most courts require the filing of a motion for bifurcation, but the procedures will vary from state to state.  The decision to bifurcate your divorce case will be at the discretion of a judge, who will schedule a hearing to decide whether bifurcation is appropriate in your case.

If you choose to pursue the option of splitting up your divorce, you need to take into consideration that obtaining a bifurcated divorce will be more expensive, due to increased lawyer fees, litigation and court costs. Carefully discuss the pros and cons with your lawyer before proceeding with this option.

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