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.