What is a Bifurcated Divorce? 27

Splitting Your Dissolution Case into Parts

In some states, the court will allow a divorce case to be bifurcated or split into two parts. Generally, if a case is bifurcated, the first issue resolved is marital status. The court grants the couple a divorce – making them each legally single again – but reserves all remaining issues for trial at a later date. The remaining issues could include matters such as property distribution, child custody, child support, alimony or business valuation.

The reasons for bifurcation are many and vary from case to case. The most common reasons for bifurcation are spouses who wish to remarry, tax implications of filing income tax returns as a single person, complex financial matters which will take a substantial amount of time (months or even years) to review and analyze before any property settlement can be considered and the psychological impact of legally ending the marriage.

In especially bitter divorces, a bifurcation can prevent one spouse from trying to wield power over the other spouse’s personal life by delaying the ultimate resolution of the case. Some believe that a bifurcation in that instance takes a bit of wind out of the sails of the stalling party. The case may not be over but the parties are divorced and free to live their lives as single people. The breaking of that legal tie can also help spouses begin to move on emotionally from a troubled marriage- even if they are still hammering out details of a settlement or arguing over other issues. On the flip side, the actual divorce can be an excellent incentive to reach a settlement. In a bifurcated case, that incentive is taken away.

A couple can even settle some portions of their divorce case and just go to trial on the remaining unresolved issues. For example, if the couple agrees on a custody and visitation arrangement and a property distribution settlement but cannot agree on a child support and alimony plan, they could request bifurcation – asking the court to grant them a divorce (changing their marital status to single) and to approve their partial settlement while seeking a trial on the support issues.

Some states, like New York, Texas, Arizona and Michigan, do not generally allow bifurcation. Most other states disfavor bifurcation but may allow it in unusual situations or if certain considerations are made. A few states like California and Kansas routinely allow divorce cases to be bifurcated for almost any reason. To determine if bifurcation is available to you check the divorce laws in your own home state.



    can you bifurcate in washington state?

    • Linda Zeug

      I don’t see a reply to the original question ~ is the bifurcation of a marriage allowed in Washington State??

  • destiny

    I have few question around this bifurcation and would really appreciate any good feedback on the same . Applicable state jurisdiction is California
    1. If the the cout has given the single status decree ? are the two individuals allowed to re marry even though the property bifurcation process is still on ?
    2. in a bifyrcation case where one spouse in not contesting on any of the financials matters and has given away all the rights in the community property , but the other party is still not ready to attend court and clear the pending trial as formality , does the court pass ec partie decree?
    3. how many times the un cooperative spouse be given chance to postpone the hearing date ?
    4. is there any time limit set to complete the birfucation proceedings?
    5. as the wife does not want any thing from her separated husband , and she leaves the country for good and resettles what will be the legal implications as she does not have anything to lose or demand ?
    6. what is the best way to get things legally done if the husband is not cooperating and just delaying the trials/
    7. is there any right to appeal in this case ? where the wife really does not want any share and she does not have anything to give …?

  • Kelly Edwards

    My ex spouse filed for bifurcation, which I opposed since I wanted division of assets to be completed first. He has since passed away and we never finalized the division of assets. We both had life insurance policies in irrevocable trusts with pour-over wills. I was the the primary beneficiary for his insurance and he was/still is for mine. Does his death and our bifurcation status change the beneficiary status in any way? It doesn’t seem as though it should since the auto. restraining orders prohibited us from changing beneficiaries, which was fine with us.

  • Karen Boyd

    A guy who wanted to date me said he was divorced but when I asked when the divorce was final he told me it was bifurcated 4 1/2 years ago for intellectual property and other things. No children are involved. I told him I would not be witness/party to this and terminated the correspondence. This seems like a really long time to be bifurcated. He says it will all be over in 3-4 months. I think the guy is married. What is your thought on this?

    • It is possible to bifurcate and terminate marital status before the financial aspects of the divorce are final. Depending on the nature and complexity of the financial issues, this part of the process could take months or sometimes years.

      • Vince

        One of the main reasons for the bifarcation is to changeyour marital status from married to single. At which point you can move on with your life and even file your tax returns as single. It will also allow you to handle all of your other issues that surround the case in: child custody, property divisioin and other financial conditions you have to resolve.

  • Lisa

    I am dating a man whose wife is delaying their divorce every chance she gets. They separated over 6 years ago. They have been “divorcing” for the last 2.5 years without much progress. She won’t get documents together, she won’t say what she wants, she reschedules meetings, etc. I may ask my honey to do a bifurcated divorce so at least she is no longer his wife. My question is, if my boyfriend seeks a bifurcated divorce, can he and his wife continue in mediation as they have been doing to resolve outstanding issues (they are using a mediator), or do they have to go with attorneys and settle it in court? Can they bifurcate the divorce and continue to use their mediator to come to an agreement about finances and custody, and then use their attorneys only to file the papers? We live in CA.

    • Trish

      I am having the same problem! What has happened with yours? here is my personal e-mail tink2972@yahoo.com, please let me know!!!


  • Tracy S

    Does it matter who files the bifurcation in the state of California? For some strange reason, my not quite ex husband, who has had a woman and her two children living in our home for about a year and a half, and is now expecting a baby, but will not file a bifurcation. He suggested last year that I file it, but I do not need it, and my attorney advised against it. Now, there is a baby coming, and I fully expected that he would want it done quickly so that they can marry, but it has been over a month since they sent out prenancy announcements, and I have not received anything. Is there a legal reason why that would occur?

  • Anna strenger

    I have been seperated for two years. Took Don to court for temporary spousal support. He is giving me his unemployment checks.
    If I go through this process will my spousal support amount change ?
    What are the proes and cons ?

    He keeps stalling. And I’m ready to move on with my 17 months old daughter.

  • Me

    How do I file a bifurcation in the state of Vermont?
    How do nI file an order to show cause in vermont?

  • Battlewise

    bifurcated mostly means the incentive to settle quickly is taken away. it can also mean the guy got someone pregnant and needs medical issurance for the kid and new wifey. know your rights, you and your kids get medical coverage until settement – and – you are the beneficiary of unemployment, disability or life insurance. make sure you have it all in your bifurcation docs. don’t sign unless you have a QDRO with the bifurcation docs. The QDRO needs to be approved by trustees (this is pension plan stuff) of your hubby’s pension plan -first! If you live in the liberal state of CA get ready for a long process. My parents divorce took 15 years in the court system, with one finally filing for bankruptcy-deadbeat dad-, which sends the whole mess off to yet another court. i have the unfortunate circumstance of being married to a loaded loser (multi-millionare) who took off with my best girlfriend. i’ve spent $170k fighting for my rights – but he who has the gold makes the rules. we head for bifurcation next week, meaning my global settlement is now on the back burner. he will never agree to the dollar amount the forensic accountants say our company is worth. and the war drum beats on.

  • Pensive over pension

    The judge signed the papers for my bifurcated divorce in December of 1996, so it’s been close to 15 years now. In the findings of fact portion it states “All issues regarding division of property, debts, child support by defendant, restraining orders, specifically against defendant, and attorney’s fees should be reserved for a further hearing or disposition of the second bifurcation.”

    I have just been informed that my ex-husband is retiring next month with what appears to be a lump sum. I was told at the time of divorce that I may have a right to part of his retirement. He began working for the company he is with shortly after we married. We were married for 14 1/2 years total, although we were separated for many years before I was finally able to get the divorce. He has remarried – possibly twice – and has been with his present wife for quite a few years (she has her own retirement). I am still single and have no retirement to speak of. I have been with my current job 4 1/2 years, and will have to be with the company for 10 years before I can retire – my health is not the best and I hope I can make it at least that far. I am 56 years old now, and he is 56 or 57. He did not allow me to work while we were married, and my first jobs were temporary positions without benefits because my only marketable skills at the time of separation were typing 35+ wpm and driving. I had to support all eight of my children – four before the marriage and the four we had together. Child support of $500 a month was granted in a protective order and garnished from his wages (my first husbands whereabouts were unknown until the youngest of his children was nearly 18). All of the children are now on their own, although I am supporting my youngest daughter and her son while she goes to college.

    I moved back to Alaska six years ago partly because of health issues, my ex is still in Utah. The marriage and divorce were in Utah.

    If I proceed with this, would I need to contact an attorney in Utah? I have flight benefits so flying to and from court proceedings is not out of the question. Could I do it from here?

    What is the second bifurcation? And what attorneys fees would they have been referring to?

    I feel totally in the dark concerning legal issues and any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  • Rachel

    My lawyer told me, the time limit to go to court and finish with the other issues after the bifurcation process is five years. So it sounds like he is telling the truth.

    • Kerry

      So if I just had the paperwork sent yesterday, it isn’t too late to have this removed?

  • Kelly

    My advise, coming from the receiving end of a bifurcated divorce in California, DON’T DO IT! Although this is often times easier said than done, as I opposed the bifurcation because my ex was continually stalling at his end and I knew this would make matters even worse, the court ordered it anyway. My ex had filed for bankruptcy during our divorce which then allowed the Federal Court to control ALL ASSETS after his death. Unless you are sure the other spouse won’t die, don’t do it in a community property state – it is a nightmare and you have no control over anything!!

  • Kelly

    Dear Battlewise,
    I feel your pain – your ex sounds alot like mine (now deceased). I agree, once they get that bifurcation there is absolutely no incentive for them to get the assets divided. They go on in a new relationship, spend as they wish, don’t pay for their children and we get to spend all our time and energy fighting for what one would think is “the obvious and moral” solution. Courts don’t care about morality or justice, just law – that’s been the hardest lesson for me throughout all of this. I believed that being honest and forthright would eventually pay off, not so, not by a longshot.

    • deb

      my ex deceased husband bifurcated my divorce to 5 years prior now he has screwed me out of 1600. per mo widows benefits from soc sec or his pension , I am disabled and despondent

      • Kerry

        So sorry about your situation. I signed the papers, too. I wish I would have found this website 2 days ago! I hope you are doing better. Did anything change?

  • Pressured Shock

    I was told by my attny in 2006 that I should fire him and Bifurcate with my X. I was so freaked out with financial issues and my X pressured me to do the same. I was married 20 years and with him 24 years. I felt like I was tricked as he wrote the form for 10 years of payments to me then it ends. Yes, I signed. I know in California over 10 years or more married (2 kids) you get alimony for life. I felt as if I was pushed because the minute I did it at HIS office and HIS office witness’ and all, I found out our attnys were good friends. As Well, he cancelled my credit cards, AAA, and stopped helping with car payments. I lost my car and he bought new cars, he inherited Millions and now says my alimony ends soon. I feel as if I was taken advantage of because I was scared. I had to claim Bankrupsy and rent a room! I also had to get a backing through family to lease a car. He always claimed he had no $$, yet I found papers with his accounts with his family names on them so that wouldn’t be brought into a court. He made a great “Poor Him” case and by the way in 2 years of divorce my attny never went to court and we had only one court date! It was awful and I was in shock. We always owned our homes, then we built a great home and sold it…..I worked and was totally vested, and at the top of my gameI I gave him my 401k and Pension as he told me we had no $$ and he needed it to put into the house, (I totally trusted that). While we were still married but separated I was packing and in the attic I found a $900k offer to buy a corner of townhomes with his family member for investment…..I don’t know if anything can be done now, I always worked and was a 10 year sports mom to my kids. I always did all that I could to keep it together. I volunteered at the schools and was on PTA. Everyone says that I caved and he owes me……..I think I just was in shock with all happening and he telling me that it was “the way”!….I realize I was in shock and didn’t believe he would ever hurt me as he did. Life is very hard, he is living a high life (as we did together) and we stay in touch for our kids. He just bought a Million $ home last year and another $80k car…..WOW! I apologize for typos, just so bothered!

  • Pressured Shock


  • Amy

    Once you Bifurcate, can it be extended? I was tricked as well into 10 years and after a very long marriage it should be for life unless I marry……. I am overwhelmed as he was so ready and wrote it up!!
    I signed…ugh

    • Kerry

      I think I was tricked as well. Is there anything that can be done? The paperwork was just sent over to the other attorney yesterday! I feel so upset. I can’t even think straight.

  • Kerry

    I wish I would have read this before I signed the papers. Am I totally screwed over? I’m in California. And now I’m really scared. My soon-to-be X talked me into this as well. He was being such a jerk that my lawyer told me I should just do it to get him off my back. The paperwork was just sent to his lawyer yesterday.

  • Kerry

    Can I revoke my paperwork of the bifurcate by sending a certified letter to both lawyers? I just signed and sent it.

  • Susan

    Is there a time limit on the bifurcation? Or does it go on and on until you finally settle. I’m divorced but we did the bifurcation because he wanted to remarry. Now he wants to come after half of my 401K 3 years later. Can he do that?