bifurcationBifurcation is a legal word that means splitting a divorce case into two chunks to be considered separately by the court.

How does it apply to couples who want to work out their own divorce solutions, with or without the help of a mediator?  These couples usually want to avoid going to court.  Sometimes a bifurcation can be used to get divorced sooner than would otherwise be possible.

In California, the soonest a divorce can be final is six months from the date of service of the petition.  However, sometimes complex financial matters, difficult issues or simply the passage of time can make the process much longer.

Bifurcation as to Marital Status

California’s Family Code allows a spouse to request a bifurcation, which then allows the court to grant the divorce before other outstanding issues (such as the parenting plan, child support, spousal support and the division of assets and debts) are resolved.  This is called a bifurcation as to (marital) status only.  When granted, it restores each spouse to the status of being single again.

The request to the court needs to be in the form of a simple written motion asking the court to bifurcate as to status.  It can be prepared by an attorney, a Legal Document Assistant, a paralegal or by one of the spouses.

The spouse who files the motion will need to give one or more reasons for the bifurcation.  Common reasons include when a spouse wants to:

  • remarry soon;
  • file his/her tax returns as a single person;
  • file for bankruptcy;
  • motivate the other spouse to be more cooperative in resolving the divorce issues.

Requests for marital status bifurcation are normally granted.  The law indicates that a divorce should not be postponed merely because issues relating to property, support, attorney fees or child custody are unready for decision.  And spouses should not be forced to remain legally married when this status does not serve a good purpose and will result in additional unhappiness and bitterness.  Opposing a motion for marital status bifurcation is therefore usually unsuccessful.

Other Types of Bifurcation

Sometimes it makes sense for the court to have a trial to decide a particular key issue, to facilitate the overall resolution of the divorce.  The California Rules of Court: Rule 5.390 provides for this possibility for any following divorce-related issues: