Should I Bifurcate My Divorce?

Some famous names have brought bifurcated divorce to the forefront. Kim Kardashian successfully argued in 2022 to have her divorce from Kanye West (now known as Ye) bifurcated. Angelina Jolie did the same in 2019 with her divorce from Brad Pitt.

Bifurcation allowed these former couples to be declared single while they continue to battle over various elements of their divorce, such as child custody and asset division.

Separating the divorce issues can be particularly advantageous for high-net-worth divorces, which can take exponentially longer because of the extensive assets and business interests that often must be evaluated.

If you are thinking about a bifurcated divorce, there are pros and cons no matter the size of your financial portfolio.

Bifurcated Divorce Across the U.S.

Not every state in the union allows bifurcation. Arizona, Iowa, Montana, Michigan, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington are among the states that don’t offer bifurcation for any reason. Bifurcation also isn’t possible in the District of Columbia.

One reason for not allowing bifurcation is the assumption that the two parties will work together on their divorce issues if they know they won’t be declared single and divorced until they do.

California has a statute that specifically allows for bifurcated divorce. Other states with this right outlined in statute include the following:

  • Alaska
  • Colorado
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Maryland
  • New Mexico
  • Virginia

Other states allow parties to file a motion for bifurcation, but the concept isn’t codified in statute. In many states, the practice is allowed by case law precedent. Other states such as Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia have allowed bifurcation but only in unusual circumstances.

Bifurcated Divorce in California

California Rules of Court allow for elements in a divorce judgment to be tried separately. To do so, however, requires a formal request from the court. If bifurcation is likely to simplify the other issues, the court will often agree.

There are 13 issues that can be tried separately in a bifurcated divorce:

  1. Validity of a postnuptial or premarital agreement
  2. Date of separation
  3. Date to use for valuation of assets
  4. Whether property is separate or community
  5. How to apportion an increase in value of a business
  6. Existence or value of business or professional goodwill
  7. Termination of the status of a marriage or domestic partnership
  8. Child custody and visitation
  9. Child, spousal, or domestic partner support
  10. Attorney's fees and costs
  11. Division of property and debts
  12. Reimbursement claims
  13. Other issues specific to a family law case

A judge may schedule the trial of subsequent issues before issuing a decision on previously tried issues. This authority is important because one element potentially affects other aspects of the case.

California requires a minimum six-month waiting period between the time a divorce action is filed and when the divorce can be granted. This waiting period means that anyone wanting to ask for a bifurcated process should wait at least six months before filing the request.

Benefits of Bifurcated Divorce

If most California cases, one party requests to be declared single (and returned to their maiden name, if desired) while everything else gets hashed out. A common motive is that one or both parties in the divorce want to remarry.

Once someone is declared single, they are free to remarry. The remarriage should not impact what rights are available to them in the ongoing divorce matters.

Many couples also simply wish to move forward emotionally, even if no other person is waiting in the wings for them to be single.

In addition to the ability to remarry, there are other advantages to a bifurcated divorce:

  • Filing as single or head of household when filing income taxes
  • Divorce proceedings can proceed while bankruptcy issues are resolved
  • Isolating disputed issues in the divorce can potentially save time and money

Drawbacks of Bifurcated Divorce

Bifurcated divorce can also mean that the process can be dragged out and could be more costly. Depending on the personalities and goals of the involved parties, one spouse can drag out the remaining aspects. If the incentive to be single is removed, some former spouses can dig in their heels over custody or financial disputes.

The former spouses must stay in communication until eventually the matters are resolved. This forced connection can be emotionally draining and make it challenging for either person to truly move forward.

ADR for Outstanding Divorce Issues in a Bifurcated Divorce

Once spouses are declared single, they do not necessarily have to take the remaining elements to court. By using alternative dispute resolution (ADR), they can choose either mediation or arbitration to reach an agreement. These techniques can help former spouses come to compromises and settle their disputes without going before a judge.

In mediation, a neutral third party guides a constructive discussion that confirms areas of mutual agreement and identifies areas of dispute. The mediator does not serve the interests of either party. The mediator helps the two sides reach a compromise. An arbitrator acts similarly to a judge. After hearing testimony and reviewing evidence, the arbitrator makes a decision this is binding.

Both ADR methods are generally faster and provide more privacy than litigation.

Discuss Your Divorce Options with an Experienced Lawyer

At Palmer Rodak & Associates, we do not make assumptions about any divorce case. Each marriage and divorce is unique. The people involved have personal goals and fears. We listen carefully to our clients to develop a tailored approach to move them past the divorce and into the next chapter of their lives. We can put our six decades of collective family law experience to work for you.

Let’s discuss your divorce options in a confidential consultation. Schedule an appointment by reaching us online or by calling (760) 573-2223.