What Is a Bifurcated Divorce?

In many states, bifurcation of a divorce allows spouses to become legally divorced before the details have been finalized. A typical bifurcation case is one in which one spouse wants to remarry before all other issues such as child custody, visitation, support, distribution of property, and attorney fees are resolved. In states that permit bifurcation, the court will handle the end of the marriage separately from the other issues. This permits the parties to remarry while providing them additional time to resolve the remaining issues. If the parties cannot negotiate matters themselves, the court retains the ability to resolve all remaining issues at trial.

States That Allow Bifurcation

Some states such as Texas, New York, Michigan, and Arizona do not allow bifurcation in divorce cases. This means that if you were married in these states, all issues of the divorce must be resolved before the divorce is finalized and the couple can claim legal single status. Other states such as Wisconsin and Washington discourage bifurcation of a divorce unless the circumstances are so hostile that the divorce will not move forward without immediate termination. Some states such as Kansas, Utah, and California will grant a bifurcation routinely so long as both parties agree, regardless of the circumstance.

Reasons for Bifurcation of a Divorce

The most common reason for bifurcation of a divorce is so that one or both parties can remarry sooner. While most states that offer bifurcation still require a six-month waiting period, this can be comparatively shorter than the two to three years that a contentious divorce remains in court. Some couples also wish to file their taxes as singles during the year the divorce was filed. Bifurcating the divorce and giving the couples single status enables this to happen.

A more complicated reason some couples seek a bifurcation is to determine whether certain property is marriage or pre-marriage property. Things such as businesses, real estate, and vehicles purchased near the time of the marriage, but where marriage money was used as payment, can go either way for ownership. By bifurcating the issues and asking the court to acknowledge the property’s status immediately, divorce proceedings often move much faster since there is a clear division of property.

How to Bifurcate a Divorce

The process of bifurcation of marital status is relatively simple in most cases and requires the filing of some legal documents. However, you should consult with an attorney before taking any action, since (particularly in some states) there are certain restrictions in place that affect the process in various ways. In many states, both parties must agree to a bifurcated divorce before a court will grant one.  It is possible to get an exception to this rule if the party requesting it shows good legal cause for it, and the court agrees that the interests of the other party would not be jeopardized by the action. In such a situation, should there be any arguments indicating that the action would affect the remaining division of property and/or other issues of the divorce in a substantial way, the court will likely not agree to the bifurcation. In other states, similar regulations apply, and it's often up to the discretion of the judge as to whether or not to grant such requests.

The amount of time from filing to granting depends on the state’s general waiting period for the divorce and what parts of the case are being bifurcated. After the bifurcation is granted, it is up to the couples to resolve the rest of their case as quickly as possible, otherwise the court reserves the right to make the decisions for the parties.

Alternatives to Bifurcation

As a general rule, the less contentious the divorce becomes, the faster the proceedings will progress. For those couples that want to streamline their divorce, but cannot bifurcate, the key will be getting along. Consider hiring a mediator to aid in reaching the agreement before you file in court. Once the filing is complete with all the details in place, the judge simply approves and doesn’t need to decide anything.

If mediation seems like too gentle an approach, hiring an arbitrator is another option. With arbitration, couples must agree that the arbitrator’s final decision will be the settlement they atcually use. Remember that both parties will lose something in the divorce. The goal is that neither party involved in the divorce suffers greater harm than the other.