What is Bifurcation in Divorce and How to Get One

You want to resolve your divorce as quickly as possible, but you and your spouse aren’t agreeing on key terms of the divorce settlement agreement. In these situations, a bifurcation divorce can end your marriage while outstanding issues are still being resolved, allowing you to move forward sooner.

At the Law Offices of Renkin & Associates, we can advise you on whether you qualify for a bifurcation divorce and guide you through the necessary steps if you do. In this blog, we answer all your questions about this dissolution option and explain how a divorce lawyer at our firm can help.

What is a Bifurcation Divorce in California?

There’s more to divorce than ending a marriage. In most cases, couples also need to divide community property and debts, reach an agreement on child custody and support, and determine whether alimony (spousal support) is warranted. Until these details have been addressed, a divorce can’t be finalized, and in some cases they can take years to settle.

California’s Family Code allows divorcing parties to begin their new lives sooner by requesting bifurcation, which essentially means to split something. Through this process, a judge can grant a divorce by treating it as a separate matter from custody and property division. Once a bifurcation divorce goes through, your marital status is terminated while you continue to exercise your rights in settlement negotiations.

While most people think of marital status as the only issue that can be bifurcated in a divorce, the truth is that there are 12 other areas. They are as follows:

  • A postnuptial or premarital agreement’s validity
  • Separation date
  • Valuation date for ‌assets
  • What constitutes separate versus community property
  • Allocating an increase in the ‌value‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌business
  • Value or existence‌ ‌of‌ ‌business‌ ‌or‌ ‌professional‌ ‌goodwill
  • Child custody and visitation
  • Child or spousal support
  • Attorney’s fees and legal costs
  • Property and debt division
  • Claims for reimbursement
  • Family law issues specific to the‌ ‌case.

Benefits of a Bifurcation Divorce

Most people seek a bifurcation divorce because they want to remarry sooner. Although California observes a mandatory six-month waiting period before a divorce can be finalized, this can be a lot less than the time it takes to settle disputes over child custody and support or property division. Other common reasons for seeking a bifurcation divorce include:

  • Faster Divorce: Sometimes one spouse refuses to compromise on key issues because they want to delay the other spouse’s remarriage or they simply don’t want the divorce to begin with. Bifurcation prevents one party from being held back by the other’s stubborn or manipulative behavior. A spouse who is inclined to be difficult may also realize that divorce will happen whether they want it or not, and refrain from aggressive behavior.
  • Bankruptcy: If you or your spouse file for bankruptcy, you can motion for bifurcation so that the divorce can proceed while the bankruptcy details are being finalized. 
  • Also have a psych or emotional effect of the fighting spouse or spouse that does not want the divorce to come to grips that the divorce is going to happen and someone holding on may let go of the marriage sooner. MAYBE.

How to Get a Bifurcation Divorce in California

In‌ ‌California,‌ ‌you‌ ‌have to wait at least six months after the Petition for Dissolution was served before you can request a bifurcation of marital status. If you file a motion sooner, it will likely be denied or, if granted, your status won’t legally change until the waiting period is over.

To get started, you must file and serve Declaration of Disclosure documents on your spouse. This preliminary disclosure includes all the financial details that need to be disclosed in a divorce, such as assets, debts, income, and expenses. Once that is complete and the proof of service is filed, you can ‌request‌ a ‌bifurcation. 

After you file the motion with the court (and send copies to your spouse), you and your attorney will appear before the judge, who‌ ‌will‌ likely grant the request unless your spouse presents a compelling reason why it should be denied. 

Keep in mind that most bifurcation divorces are granted: courts have long acknowledged that forcing two parties to stay married serves no valid purpose, and in the 1988 case Gionis v. Superior Court, it was noted that no divorce should be delayed simply because a decision was yet to be made on matters such as support, child custody, property division, and attorney fees. 

If your motion for a bifurcation divorce is granted, you may be required to agree to certain conditions meant to protect your spouse from damages if you die after the marriage is bifurcated but before the other matters are finalized. In California, those conditions include:

  • Health Insurance: If you maintain health insurance for your spouse, you must continue to do so. Should that not be possible, you must cover medical costs incurred or pay for insurance comparable to the former policy, which will likely be a lot more expensive.
  • Indemnification for Loss of Death Benefits: If one of you has an employer-sponsored pension or retirement plan, the other receives indemnification for the loss of death benefits.
  • Tax Consequence Reimbursement: The opposing spouse must be reimbursed for tax consequences or loss of the right to claim family allowance or probate homestead.

If you want to file for bifurcation, it’s critical to speak with an experienced California divorce lawyer who can explain your obligations and help you determine whether a bifurcation divorce is the best option for you. 

Are There Any Down-Sides to Bifurcating Your Divorce?

Terminating a marriage early can have unexpected consequences. For example, under federal law marriages must last for at least 10 years in order for one spouse to claim Social Security benefits based on the other spouse’s employment history. There may also be tax consequences depending on what your spouse did and/or how your children are seen through the tax liens. A divorce attorney at the Law Offices of Renkin & Associates can help you look at your divorce situation from all angles so that you make an informed decision.

Do You Have Questions About Divorce Bifurcation?

If you want to bifurcate your divorce, you’re probably eager to move on with your life as quickly as possible. At the Law Offices of Renkin & Associates, we have decades of combined experience in the California divorce process and can help you end your marriage as efficiently as possible. Our skilled attorneys have helped many clients use bifurcation to terminate their marital status and welcome the opportunity to do the same for you. To learn more or schedule a consultation, please contact us.

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