What Is a Bifurcated Divorce in California?

What Is a Bifurcated Divorce in California?When two spouses seeking separation agree on all terms, the resulting uncontested divorce can be completed in just over six months. However, receiving a final divorce decree could take longer if the court has a heavy caseload. 

Other divorce cases can take more than a year or even multiple years to settle if many issues are contested.

Ultimately, most couples want to move on with their lives separately and apart from their spouse. While they might not be willing to settle issues related to the divorce, they agree they want to end the marriage.

If you are in this situation, you might consider petitioning the court for a bifurcated divorce.

What Is a Bifurcated Divorce in California?

What Is a Bifurcated Divorce in California? The court bifurcates a case by splitting the case into two stages. For example, in a bifurcated divorce, the court dissolves the marriage or domestic partnership while retaining jurisdiction for other matters. Bifurcation of divorce is governed by California Family Code §2337.

The judge dissolves the marriage while retaining jurisdiction over other issues, including:

Bifurcation only results in restoring the status of the parties to single as opposed to married. The remaining issues proceed through the stages of litigation until a final hearing.

In addition to the above issues, Rule 5.390 of the California Rules of Court allows a judge to bifurcate other issues if it is appropriate to try the issues separately before a final hearing. Those issues are:

  • The validity of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement
  • The parties’ date of separation
  • The date the parties use to value assets
  • Designation of property as community or separate property 
  • How to allocate an increase in the value of a business
  • Whether professional or business goodwill exists and how to value it
  • Attorney’s fees and costs
  • Reimbursement claims 
  • Other specific issues relevant to the family law case

The six-month waiting period for a divorce in California applies to a bifurcation. You must have filed the Petition for Dissolution at least six months before receiving a bifurcated divorce order.

Reasons for Requesting a Bifurcated Divorce

Some individuals might want a bifurcated divorce because they want to get married to someone as soon as possible. They could be expecting a child with that person. Other people might want to date other people and tell the people they date they are legally divorced.

Other reasons why a party might petition the court for a bifurcated divorce include:

  • A spouse refuses to agree to specific issues in an attempt to prolong the divorce.
  • Changing filing status for income tax purposes to single or head of household.
  • A woman wants to resume using her maiden name.
  • A spouse intends to file bankruptcy.
  • The parties can move on with their lives sooner.
  • A bifurcation can help speed up divorce litigation by isolating disputed issues.

There are numerous pros and cons for bifurcating a divorce action. An experienced Los Angeles divorce lawyer analyzes the specific facts and circumstances of your case. Then, the lawyer advises whether it is in your best interest to move forward with bifurcation. 

How Do I Ask for a Bifurcated Divorce?

The spouse seeking to bifurcate the divorce proceeding must petition the court after the six-month waiting period ends. 

Before the court grants a motion for bifurcation, the petitioning party must file a preliminary Declaration of Disclosure with the court. The party must serve a copy of their declaration to their spouse. The declaration includes information about income, expenses, assets, debts, and other financial details.

In most cases, the court grants the petition for bifurcation of marital status. An opposing spouse must present compelling evidence why the court should not grant the request. 

The court often includes conditions in its order granting bifurcation. The conditions protect the spouse who did not request the bifurcation from damages. Examples of conditions the court might impose include, but are not limited to:

  • A spouse who has maintained health insurance for the other spouse must continue paying for health insurance after the bifurcation.
  • The requesting spouse must reimburse the non-requesting spouse for any tax consequences.
  • The non-requesting spouse must be reimbursed for the loss of the right to claim a probate homestead allowance or probate family allowance. 
  • A spouse must receive indemnification for the loss of death benefits if either spouse has a pension plan through their employer.
  • A final domestic relations order or qualified domestic relations order for each retirement account. If a final order is not issued, the court must issue an interim order preserving the non-employee’s right to retirement plan benefits. 
  • The petitioning spouse must indemnify the other spouse from adverse consequences if the bifurcation results in the loss of rights to Social Security benefits. 

The conditions are meant to protect a spouse by providing them the same rights they would retain if the parties remained legally married until the court issued a final order in their case. A judge may include other conditions that the judge finds necessary to protect the non-petitioning spouse. 

Are There Downsides To Bifurcating a Divorce in California?

Returning to be single quickly sounds appealing, especially if the other issues in your divorce case could drag on for months or years. However, there could be downsides to petitioning the court for bifurcation.

For example, let’s assume you petition for bifurcation and provide medical insurance for your spouse. Unfortunately, most health insurance plans through employers do not allow you to cover an ex-spouse. If so, you would need to pay for health insurance for your spouse out of your pocket, which could be very expensive. 

The term of the marriage could impact spousal support and Social Security benefits. Therefore, it could be better for you to remain married until the court issues a final order. 

A divorce has many financial consequences for spouses. In addition, the timing of the divorce action can be significant. As a result, your attorney might advise you to wait to legally end the marriage to protect your long-term interests. 

Schedule a Consultation With Our Los Angeles Divorce Lawyers

Do you have questions about the divorce process in California? Our Los Angeles divorce attorneys offer a consultation to discuss your case. Contact our law firm to schedule a case review with an experienced family lawyer at (310) 271-6290.