What You Need to Know About Bifurcation in Divorce

Divorce or dissolution of marriage is a complex legal process. The end result – a judgment of dissolution of marriage – addresses not just the termination of marital status (i.e., an order that the marriage has ended), but child custody and parenting issues, property division, child and spousal support issues, attorney fees, and other issues. This is one of the reasons that most divorces take, on average, 18 months to resolve. 

What is a Bifurcation and Termination of Marital Status? 

In some cases, we will recommend to our clients that they bifurcate and terminate legal status, while reserving the court’s jurisdiction over other issues. This legal procedure permits the parties to a divorce to legally end their marriage before the other issues have been resolved provided that the six-month waiting period and other statutory requirements have been met.

Bifurcation is almost always permitted in California. Courts in the state have repeatedly ruled that there is no benefit to forcing unhappy couples to remain legally bound to each other until the other issues in their case are resolved. See, for example, the Court of Appeal’s decision in Gionis v. Superior Court (1988) 202 Cal. App. 3d 786, 788: “Separating the termination of marriage from controversies over spousal support, child custody and division of marital property is not a new idea.”

The Court of Appeal, in Hull v. Superior Court (1960) 54 Cal. 2d 139, 147-148, explained the concept of divisible divorce as follows: “Severance of a personal relationship, which the law has found to be unworkable and, as a result, injurious to the public welfare is not dependent upon final settlement of property disputes. Society will be little concerned if the parties engage in property litigation of however long duration; it will be much concerned if two people are forced to remain legally bound to one another when this status can do nothing but engender additional bitterness and unhappiness.” 

A bifurcation and termination of marital status can be accomplished by stipulation or agreement of the parties. Alternatively, either party can request the bifurcation and termination of marital status by filing a request for order with the court.

Pursuant to Family Code section 2337(c), our family law judges may “impose upon a party… conditions on granting a severance of the issue of the dissolution of the status of the marriage, and in case of that party’s death, an order of … conditions continues to be binding upon that party’s estate.” These conditions are complex and preserve the rights and protections of married persons pending the resolution of the other property and financial issues in their case.

Conditions may include requiring the spouse who maintains health and medical insurance to continue maintaining the coverage for the other spouse and minor children or indemnifying and holding the other spouse harmless from any adverse consequences if the bifurcation results in the loss of the rights with respect to any retirement, survivor, or deferred compensation benefits. (See Family Code section 2337(c) for a list of the conditions that may be imposed by the court.)

There are many reasons why you may choose to pursue a bifurcated divorce. The simplest is that you no longer wish to be married, but you are involved in a contested divorce proceeding that has extended beyond the six-month waiting period. Other reasons may include:

  • You want to remarry.
  • You want to take the time pressure off resolving complex financial concerns. 
  • You anticipate tax benefits. 

Discuss Your Case With Madigan & Lewis, LLP 

If you want to end your marriage quickly, a bifurcation and termination of marital status may be the most efficient way to restore your single status. However, it is critical to understand the potential legal impacts of this procedure and the conditions that can be imposed by the court. Accordingly, we recommend that you consult with an attorney at Madigan & Lewis, LLP or another qualified family law attorney with experience in this area.