Bifurcated Divorce in California: Ending Your Marriage Faster

by | Feb 16, 2024 | Divorce

Divorce can be a long and arduous process, especially in California. The standard process involves waiting periods, negotiations over property and child custody, and potentially lengthy court proceedings. But what if there was a way to expedite the process, allowing you to move on with your life sooner rather than later?

A bifurcated divorce is a legal option unique to California that can significantly shorten your divorce timeline.

What is a Bifurcated Divorce?

A bifurcated divorce, also known as a bifurcation of marital status, splits your divorce case into two separate parts. The first part solely addresses the dissolution of the marriage, where the Court enters a “status-only” Judgment and restores your legal single status. In the second part, the Court will address all other divorce-related issues, such as property division, child custody and visitation, child support, and spousal support.

Why Choose a Bifurcated Divorce?

There are several advantages to pursuing a bifurcated divorce in California:

Faster Process: Once the marital status is bifurcated, you are legally single and free to remarry, change your name, file taxes as a single person, and enjoy other benefits of being unmarried. This can be a significant emotional and practical relief, even while the remaining issues are finalized. Although California observes a mandatory six-month waiting period before a divorce can be finalized, a bifurcated divorce can be entered in less time than it may take to settle disputes over child custody, child support, spousal support, or property division.

Reduced Stress: Divorces can be emotionally draining, and the extended waiting period can exacerbate this. Bifurcation allows you to move on emotionally as soon as you are legally single, potentially reducing stress and improving your well-being during the rest of the proceedings. Sometimes a spouse is highly emotional, unwilling to compromise, and/or delays the proceedings because they want to delay their spouse’s remarriage or they simply don’t want the divorce to begin with. A bifurcated divorce prevents one party from being held back from the other spouse’s stubborn or manipulative behavior. A difficult spouse may also realize that divorce will happen whether they want it or not, and refrain from aggressive behavior.

Focus on Specific Issues: With the marital status terminated, you and your spouse can concentrate on resolving the remaining issues without the pressure of waiting for the official divorce decree. This can lead to more productive negotiations and potentially faster settlements.

A Spouse Files for Bankruptcy: If you or your spouse file for bankruptcy, you can file a request for bifurcation so the divorce can proceed while the bankruptcy issues are still being resolved.

What are the Conditions for a Bifurcated Divorce?

Under California Family Code 2337, the Court may impose conditions on the spouse asking for a bifurcated judgment and termination of marital status, including:

  • Indemnify and hold your spouse harmless from any taxes, reassessments, interest, and penalties payable by the other party in connection with the division of the community estate that would not have been payable if the parties were still married at the time the division was made.
  • Until Judgment has been entered on all remaining issues and is final, maintain all existing health and medical coverage for your spouse and the minor children as named dependents.
  • Indemnify and hold your spouse harmless from any adverse consequences to them if the bifurcation causes them to lose the right to a probate homestead in the residence in which they reside when the status-only bifurcation is granted
  • Indemnify the other party for any adverse consequences concerning any retirement, survivor, or deferred compensation benefits under any plan, fund or arrangement, or to any elections or options associated therewith, to the extent that your spouse would have been entitled to those benefits or elections as your spouse
  • Indemnify the other party for any adverse consequences in connection with social security benefits or elections to the extent that your spouse would have been entitled to those benefits or elections as your spouse
  • Maintain your spouse as beneficiary of non-probate transfer

Can Other Issues Be Bifurcated in a California Divorce?

You may want to be divorced as quickly as possible, but you and your spouse have not agreed on key terms of the divorce settlement agreement. While many people consider marital status as the only issue that can be bifurcated in a divorce, twelve other issues may be bifurcated during your divorce:

  • Postnuptial or premarital agreement’s validity
  • Date of Separation
  • Valuation date for assets
  • What constitutes separate versus community property
  • Allocation of an increase in the value of a business
  • Value or existence of business or professional goodwill
  • Child Custody and Visitation
  • Attorney’s Fees and Legal Costs
  • Property and Debt Division
  • Claims for Reimbursement
  • Family law issues specific to the case

Is Bifurcation Right for You?

While bifurcation offers numerous benefits, it’s not the right fit for every divorce case. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Complexity of Remaining Issues: If the remaining issues are complex or highly contested, bifurcation may not necessarily expedite the overall process.
  • Legal Advice: Consulting with a knowledgeable California divorce attorney is crucial to determine if bifurcation is the best option for your specific situation.

Making the Most of Bifurcation

If you decide to pursue a bifurcated divorce, here are some tips for success:

  • Work with an experienced attorney: A skilled lawyer can guide you through the bifurcation process, ensuring all legal requirements are met and your rights are protected.
  • Open communication: Maintain open communication with your spouse, especially regarding the remaining issues. Cooperation can lead to a smoother, more efficient resolution.
  • Patience and flexibility: Even with bifurcation, finalizing all divorce-related matters still takes time. Be patient and adaptable as you navigate the process.

Bifurcation can be a valuable tool for couples seeking a faster and less stressful divorce in California. By carefully considering its pros and cons and working with a competent attorney, you can leverage this option to move on with your life while ensuring a fair and equitable resolution to your divorce.