A bifurcated divorce is a divorce that is split into two or more parts. A bifurcated divorce technically ends a marriage but delays the resolution of the issues in dispute until a later date, according to the American Bar Association Journal. This allows the parties to move on from the relationship, and possibly even marry someone else, while they wait to resolve issues like child custody or property division later. It is also sometimes used when the divorcing couple agrees on all except one major issue, allowing the other issues to be resolved while waiting for a trial on the remaining issue in dispute.
Bifurcated divorce is not available in all states. Furthermore, it may offer several advantages or disadvantages that may affect the properness of using it for your own case.
Should You Get A Bifurcated Divorce?
Whether you personally should get a bifurcated divorce depends on whether your state allows it and your particular situation. We discuss some of the pros and cons later that you might want to consider.
Some of the common reasons why people may get a bifurcated divorce include:
- One spouse wants to remarry but does not want to wait for the remaining financial issues to be sorted out first
- A spouse wants to emotionally move on from the divorce but knows that it may be months or years more before the divorce will be fully resolved
- One spouse wants to be free to date without being perceived as committing adultery
- A spouse fears that the other spouse will use the issues involved in the divorce to emotionally blackmail them and delay the divorce more
- A spouse wants to file as single or head of household for tax purposes
- A spouse is filing bankruptcy and an automatic stay is put on the divorce proceedings, which will further delay them
Some of the legal issues that can be bifurcated (resolved at a later date) include:
- Child custody
- Visitation issues
- Child support
- Spousal support
- The determination of the validity of a prenuptial agreement
- Valuation and ownership of a business
- Property division
Advantages of Bifurcation
If bifurcation is an option for you, it is important that you and your divorce attorney discuss the potential advantages of it. Some of the major advantages include:
Early Marriage Dissolution
A bifurcated divorce is often used in cases that involve more complex legal or financial issues. These issues may threaten to delay the divorce for months or even years. If a bifurcation is possible, the marriage will usually end the marriage sooner. This allows both of the spouses to move on romantically.
Dissolving the marriage early may also provide some additional benefits. The spouses can adapt to their new reality. They may not be interested in continuing conflict since their marriage is now over. This can establish an incentive to resolve the remaining divorce issues.
Bifurcation also removes a spouse’s leverage to unnecessarily delay divorce proceedings if they are doing this as a way to harm or manipulate the other spouse.
A bifurcation of divorce issues can also help establish a clear date for when to stop evaluating marital property. The property and earnings that a couple receives after their divorce is technically ended can be considered separate property and not subject to division during divorce proceedings.
Property division can be one of the most-time consuming aspects of a divorce. When bifurcating a divorce, the couple can ask the court to acknowledge and release the separate property they had before the marriage to the respective owners. This will help decrease the amount of time and resources that are used to divide the rest of the property.
If a couple is married for all of the year but then get divorced on Dec. 31 of that year, their marital status is divorced when they file taxes. Bifurcating a divorce allows a person to legally detach from another spouse, which may be relevant if they do not want to be lumped into a higher tax bracket with a spouse or believe they may be held liable for their spouse’s tax mistakes. Bifurcating a divorce may help a spouse list “single” or “head of household” on their tax returns.
Disadvantages Of Bifurcation
There are also some negative aspects of bifurcation that you should carefully consider before moving in this direction.
Longer Divorce Process
Because the case is split into two or more parts, it will take longer to resolve the entire case. Evaluating assets, calculating the amount of spousal support, and determining child custody are all issues that can cause a case to drag on and create a longer divorce process. In this way, the bifurcated process tends to be much longer than a standard divorce case.
The longer a case takes, the more expensive it usually is. Many divorce attorneys charge by the hour. Additionally, bifurcated divorces may involve multiple court appearances. This means that there is often an increased cost of bifurcating the divorce.
However, this is not always the case. The first trial to simply sever the marital relationship is often very short. Additionally, bifurcation may help reduce conflict, which in turn can help reduce the cost.
Other Issues to Consider
What does bifurcation mean in divorce and specifically as to how it will affect you depends largely on your personal situation. For example, you may not want to resolve your divorce yet if you are close to having been married for ten years, which is the minimum amount of time you must have been married to receive Social Security benefits based on your spouse’s employment history. Additionally, getting a divorce now could potentially jeopardize your health insurance if you are covered through your spouse’s employer’s plan.
Another serious consideration is whether a bifurcation is a legal divorce. This issue has not been resolved in all states. If a divorce court grants you a bifurcation but that is later reversed and you married someone else in the meantime, this could mean that your new marriage may not be valid.
Carefully consider these issues and other potential issues regarding bifurcation of divorce.
How To Start A Bifurcated Divorce
The process to bifurcate a divorce depends on the state where you live and where you are filing your divorce action. If you have a divorce attorney, you will first want to discuss whether bifurcation is an option and is recommended in your case. Your divorce attorney can look at the issues involved in your case, as well as the strengths and weaknesses when recommending a bifurcation or not. Your lawyer can also discuss the process to obtain a bifurcated divorce in your jurisdiction.
Generally, you will need to ask the court for permission to bifurcate your divorce. You will usually do this by submitting a written motion to bifurcate to the court after filing for divorce. You may have to prove to the court’s satisfaction that a bifurcation is necessary and appropriate for your particular case. The judge may schedule a hearing to determine whether or not to bifurcate your divorce.
Do All States Allow Bifurcation?
Not all states allow bifurcation. Some states only allow bifurcated divorces if both spouses agree. Others have specifically prohibited it as a matter of statute or case law. Still others have not held one way or another.
States with laws that expressly allow bifurcation are listed below. In these states, there are specific requirements that must be met before a judge will grant bifurcation. These states include:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
States that specifically prohibit bifurcation include:
Other states like Arkansas and Kansas have case law that addresses the legal issue of bifurcation.
How Common Are Bifurcated Divorces?
Bifurcated divorces are not too common. You usually hear about them in relationship to a celebrity or wealthy couple getting divorced. For this reason, you will want to hire a lawyer who has experience with bifurcated divorce when selecting your divorce lawyer.