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What Is a Bifurcated Divorce in California?

If your divorce is taking too long to finalize because you have not reached an agreement on issues such as property division, alimony, or custody, California law gives you the option of splitting your divorce case into two sections. This is known as bifurcated divorce.

When you bifurcate a divorce, you can regain single status while you work to resolve the remaining issues. This process can be highly beneficial, but there are some factors you should be aware of before you embark on a bifurcated divorce.

How Bifurcated Divorce Works

In a typical divorce process, one spouse files for divorce and serves paperwork on the other spouse, that spouse then responds, and then parties are required to start providing financial information to each other. After sharing information, the parties try to negotiate agreements on how they will divide debts and assets, amounts for alimony and child support, and other issues. This can take considerable time, and when parties cannot reach agreement on their own, they ask the court to make decisions. This takes even more time. While all this time passes, the parties remain married. They remain married until all decision-making is complete and the court issues final orders.

In a bifurcated divorce, one party asks the court to hold a separate legal proceeding that focuses only on marital status. This simple, single-issue proceeding can be completed much more quickly than a divorce case with multiple issues, so you can change your marital status to single much more quickly. However, you will still need to complete the legal process to determine all other issues.

Benefits of Bifurcation

A bifurcated divorce can have significant emotional benefits, and sometimes financial benefits as well. Knowing that you are no longer married to an abusive, controlling spouse can enable you to move forward with more confidence. It can also stop a spouse from continuing to engage in delaying tactics with regard to finalizing the divorce.

If you want to remarry, a bifurcated divorce allows you to do so legally.

With regard to financial issues, a bifurcated divorce allows you to file your taxes as a single, rather than married taxpayer, and for some people, this is preferred. If either spouse files for bankruptcy, bifurcation can allow the divorce to continue at the same time that bankruptcy details are in progress.

Requirements for a Bifurcated Divorce

If you want to ask the court for a bifurcated divorce, you need to wait at least six months after the responding spouse (the spouse who did not file for divorce) was served with divorce papers. Generally, if you file a request sooner than that, it will likely be denied, and even if it is granted, it will not take effect until the six month waiting period has ended.

You must also demonstrate a good reason for asking the court for bifurcation. If your spouse is trying to prevent you from remarrying and is dragging out the process of resolving issues in your divorce, for example, your attorney should be able to argue effectively for a successful bifurcation.

Since other issues have not yet been resolved when a divorce is bifurcated, California law imposes some additional requirements. If one spouse has health insurance through the other spouse’s employer, the spouse providing insurance is obligated to continue to do so in some way. The spouse requesting bifurcation will need to reimburse the other spouse for tax consequences and losing the right to claim a probate homestead or family allowance. If either spouse has a pension plan or retirement account, one spouse may be entitled to receive compensation for the loss of death benefits and the court may need to issue an interim order to preserve one or both spouse’s rights to retirement plan benefits. Essentially, the court needs to ensure that each spouse retains the same rights as they would if the case had not been split, so a judge may order additional conditions if necessary to protect the spouse that did not request bifurcation.

An Experienced Divorce Attorney Can Help You Determine Whether Bifurcated Divorce is Your Best Option

With over 300 years of collective experience, the legal team at Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC has assessed the advisability of bifurcated divorce with many clients in California. We can help you determine if it is the right move in your situation, and if it is, we know how to successfully justify your rationale to the judge. If your spouse is requesting bifurcation, we can ensure your rights remain protected. To learn more about how bifurcation might work in your situation, just schedule a consultation.

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