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Resolving all the issues that need to be determined in divorce isn’t easy. Even when spouses are amicable, property division, child support, custody, and alimony can be contentious matters. Importantly, California law allows for bifurcation in a divorce action — this can help spouses to legally end their marriages sooner while the outstanding issues are still being resolved.
Bifurcation allows spouses to terminate their marital status while they are still in the process of finalizing the other vital issues. Effectively, bifurcation in divorce allows the issue of marital status to be split from other matters so that the parties may return to single status more quickly. It can also help to prevent a spouse from prolonging a divorce action out of spite or due to contention.
There are many different reasons bifurcation might be requested. For instance, a spouse may wish to file their income taxes as “single,” rather than as a married person. It may also be because the divorce case has been pending for a significant period of time and a resolution to things like custody, support, and property division still has not yet been reached. Additionally, a spouse may wish to bifurcate the issues in their divorce so they can legally dissolve their marriage in order to marry someone else.
The California Rules of Court: Rule 5.390 permits a number of issues to be tried separately. In other words, a judge can grant a divorce by treating it as a separate matter from the other issues that must be decided. Spouses can request bifurcation immediately following California’s six-month waiting period.
Issues that may be bifurcated can include the following:
It’s critical to be aware that bifurcation can sometimes have unexpected consequences. For example, spouses must have been married for at least ten years to claim Social Security benefits based on the other’s employment history. There might also be tax ramifications. It’s best to discuss your specific circumstances with an experienced divorce attorney to ensure your rights and interests are protected.
The spouse requesting bifurcation must file a motion with the court asking a judge to restore the parties to single status. But before this motion can be filed, a preliminary Declaration of Disclosure must be served on the other party. This document includes a schedule of assets and discloses the nature of the property owned by each spouse, as well as their income. Within a few weeks after the Motion for Bifurcation has been filed in court and served on the other spouse, a hearing will be scheduled in court, at which time a judge will grant or deny the request.
The party who has been served a Motion for Bifurcation can file a response. This allows the opposing party to present their argument and be heard on the issues. In most cases, a court will grant a party’s request for status-only bifurcation — unless compelling evidence is presented by the opposing party demonstrating that it is not appropriate.
If the court grants a request for bifurcation, a spouse may still need to satisfy certain conditions. Significantly, if one spouse maintains medical insurance for the other, they must continue to maintain it for the other spouse. In cases where this is not possible, the spouse requesting bifurcation may be ordered to pay for health insurance that is comparable to the former policy or incur the expense of any medical bills.
The opposing party may also be reimbursed for any monetary losses connected with tax consequences resulting from bifurcation. In addition, if either spouse has a pension or retirement plan through their employer, the other spouse should be compensated for the loss of death benefits.
Bifurcation can help you move forward with your divorce case so you can begin the new chapter in your life. A diligent divorce attorney can help you determine whether bifurcation is right for your case and guide you through the legal process. Offering compassionate counsel and skillful advocacy, The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks has been helping clients throughout Fresno and the surrounding area with their divorce and family law matters for over 20 years. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559)222-4891.