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Bifurcated Divorce in California

Divorce can often be a long, drawn-out, emotionally taxing process. Part of that also comes from still having to be married to the person you are trying to divorce. Another reason is that the spouses are trying to work through many issues related to property and child custody. While a California divorce takes a minimum of six months, many California divorces end up taking longer than a year to finalize.

A bifurcated divorce in California is a way to fast-track the dissolution of the marriage while deferring the resolution of other issues like property division, child custody, and spousal support. It essentially terminates your marriage and restores you to the status of being single before figuring out the other issues involved.

In this article, we outline the advantages and disadvantages of bifurcating a divorce and how the process works. 

Bifurcated Divorce in California Defined

A bifurcated divorce is a way that the dissolution of the marriage can be fast-tracked ahead of resolving other marital issues. The California Family Code allows for the divorce to be split into two separate parts. 

The first part addresses the dissolution of marriage. The court can enter a status-only judgment returning you to the legal status of single. For this reason, a bifurcated divorce is also known as a status-only dissolution.

In the second part, the court addresses the issues of property division, spousal support, and child custody and visitation. 

California Rules of Court also allow a judge to bifurcate other issues if it will simplify the determination of the other issues. In addition to the termination of marriage or domestic partnership, some issues that may be appropriate to try separately include the validity of pre- or post-marital agreements, division of property, date of separation, attorney fees, and other matters relating to child custody and property.

Advantages of Bifurcated Divorce

There are several advantages to getting a California bifurcation of marital status. 

Desire to Remarry

One of the main reasons people seek bifurcation is because they want to remarry. Terminating their marital status as soon as possible is critical for them to move on and marry someone new. And even if they’re not getting remarried, they might want to start dating other people and not have to tell new partners they are still married. Once returned to single status, the parties are free to return to life as unmarried singles.

Emotional Freedom

For some, severing the legal marriage allows them to move on emotionally. Although the spouses still have to continue to resolve remaining marital issues, they can still largely live their lives independently. The parties can have closure on the marriage and begin healing.

Tax Benefits

A couple may choose a status-only dissolution of marriage for financial purposes. One or both spouses may want to file their taxes as single. Doing so might result in a lower tax rate. A party may file as “single” or “head of household” if the divorce is finalized within the year (up to December 31).

Survival of case

While not necessarily an advantage, or disadvantage, a bifurcated judgment ensures the survival of the case itself.

In a typical divorce, if one party dies before judgment is entered, the case is “abated,” or suspended, and the surviving party cannot continue.  Thus, any property that has not yet been divided will go into probate, or distributed according to previously executed estate plans.  The surviving spouse may lose rights to property they would have had pursuant to a divorce.  Conversely, the deceased party may be prevented from devising assets to individuals other than their spouse had the property been divided before their death.

If the issue of divorce is bifurcated, and judgment entered, however, the case is not abated upon the death of either party, and the estate can still be divided pursuant to California community property laws, before the deceased party’s share of the community estate is devised to their heirs.

Disadvantages of Bifurcating

While it may sound ideal to quickly return to your single life and wait for the rest to be resolved, there may be disadvantages to bifurcating a divorce. 

Health Insurance Coverage

When granting a bifurcated divorce, the court may impose certain conditions on the requesting party. One of the conditions they can impose is health insurance coverage. If the court imposes conditions related to continued health insurance and your health insurance covers your spouse and dependents, you may have to maintain coverage for them until the remaining issues are resolved.

Unfortunately, most insurance companies don’t provide coverage for ex-spouses. You might have to pay higher COBRA premiums or pay out-of-pocket for their continued health insurance or cover their medical bills. This condition is meant to be a way to protect a spouse by providing them with the same coverage they would have if the parties remained legally married until the court issued a final order for the divorce.

If you are the one requesting bifurcation and are covered by your spouse’s insurance coverage, you could lose your health coverage sooner due to the bifurcation. 

Loss of Social Security or Retirement Benefits

A spouse can sometimes claim portions of their spouse’s social security or retirement benefits. However, a spouse who might have been able to claim these benefits may lose their rights if they bifurcate the divorce. For example, spouses who are married for at least 10 years may be able to claim Social Security benefits based on the ex-spouse’s earnings record. A bifurcated divorce could interrupt the 10-year timeframe and impact the claim since the marriage would be shorter than the necessary threshold.

A spouse can also lose rights to some of the other spouse’s retirement benefits in a bifurcated divorce because they are terminating the marriage earlier.

Increased Costs

Bifurcation of marriage or other issues could increase your overall divorce costs. It may require additional court appearances and attorney time since the process becomes more piecemeal. The issues may also get more contentious following the status-only judgment. One spouse may not want to cooperate following the divorce and may prolong the resolution of outstanding issues. This can lead to increased legal fees.

How Do I Get a Bifurcated Divorce?

Below is the basic process for obtaining a bifurcated divorce. We recommend consulting a divorce attorney in Davis before proceeding with bifurcation since it can be challenging to navigate.

Waiting Period

Before you can file for a bifurcated dissolution of marriage in California, you must wait six months from the date the Petition of Dissolution of Marriage was served. The six-month waiting period allows the parties to reconsider their decision or potentially reconcile. It also gives them the opportunity to work out details of the potential divorce. 

If you file a request for bifurcation before the waiting period has ended, it will likely be denied or postponed until the six months have passed.

Filing a Motion

To start the process of bifurcating your divorce, you must file a motion with the court. (Before doing so, however, inquire whether the other party will agree to bifurcate.  If so, the bifurcation can be submitted as a stipulation, and no motion or court appearance are necessary.)  The motion is a request for the court to bifurcate the divorce to consider the status-only portion or other issues separately. The motion must also include a valid reason why the bifurcation is necessary. 

If the other party does not want the bifurcation, they can oppose the motion and explain their reasons.

Declaration of Disclosure

Before the court will consider a motion for bifurcation, you must file and serve a Declaration of Disclosure. Declarations of disclosure are required in all divorce cases. The disclosure lists the requesting party’s assets, debts, properties, income, expenses, and other financial information. Supporting documentation must also be attached.

Court Appearance

You and your attorney will appear in court once you have filed and served the Declaration of Disclosure and the motion for bifurcation. The court will consider your request and the other party’s opposition if one is filed. The court will either grant or deny the request based on the reasoning and information provided..

If the court grants your request, it may impose conditions on you (the requesting party). The conditions are to protect the responding spouse from adverse consequences of the bifurcation. Some conditions include maintaining health and medical coverage for your spouse and indemnifying or holding your spouse harmless if the bifurcation results in termination or loss of several different rights (e.g., social security benefits, probate homestead, retirement benefits, etc.).  

If you are working with a divorce attorney, they can advise you on what the conditions mean for you and your spouse.

Contact Pakpour Banks LLP Today to Determine If a Bifurcated Divorce Is Right for You

Bifurcation may be a valuable tool for your divorce. To understand whether California bifurcation of marital status is the right process for you, consult an experienced California divorce attorney. Pakpour Banks LLP has the experience and knowledge to help you through this complex process. We understand divorce can be an emotional time, and we want to help you get through it with ease.

Our firm’s small size allows us to get to know each of our clients and offer them personalized attention. We also have experience in all aspects of family law and divorce. With our deep understanding of California divorce law, we can fight for what you want and deserve in your divorce. Contact Pakpour Banks LLP today to speak with a talented divorce attorney about your potential bifurcated divorce.

Author Photo

Brian enters the family law profession with a refreshing approach to these proceedings: heal families; don’t destroy them. In some cases, this means the family is going to look different than it did before. In other cases, this means a new family is created where there was none before. Either way, individuals should leave family court knowing their voices were heard, and with healthy attitudes about themselves and those they love.

Read More Legal Blogs By Brian Pakpour

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