A bifurcated divorce is a divorce separated into two parts: marital status and other issues.
The status of the marriage is resolved first. The court terminates the marriage. Both spouses are single again. Other issues will be resolved later.

Darla cheats on Ted, for example. Ted discovers the affair. He wants a divorce. He will get the divorce he desires with a bifurcation.

The dissolution of a marriage is not the only issue involved in a divorce. Divorce proceedings typically involve community property, assets, debts, attorneys’ fees, and most importantly, child custody. Often, a divorce is not considered finalized until these details have been addressed, and depending on the variables involved, this can be a lengthy process. On the other hand, slow divorce proceedings can sometimes affect one spouse’s future plans.

In a bifurcated divorce, the marriage is dissolved before the other aspects of the divorce are addressed. As a result, a former spouse who wishes to remarry can do so without any legal obligations to their former spouse. However, Arizona, New York, Michigan, and Texas do not allow bifurcated divorces. If you are planning a divorce shortly, you should familiarize yourself with your state’s divorce laws, so you know what to expect and what options are available to you.

What Are the Other Issues Resolved Later?

Later, the court will determine the following issues:

There is an option for the couple to settle some or all of their issues out of court. For instance, Ted and Darla agree on child custody and child support. However, they cannot agree on alimony and property division. This issue is resolved in court.

Child support and custody decisions will not be delayed in states like Florida.

Why Would a Couple Choose a Two-Part Divorce?

Couples pursue bifurcation divorce for different reasons. Among them are:

  • Having a desire to remarry
  • Problems with finances
  • The tax implications. A spouse may want to file as single rather than married filing separately.
  • Issues like infidelity and domestic violence
  • Discouraging a spouse from stalling the divorce

What Are the Practical Reasons for “Status Only” Bifurcation?

There are some practical reasons to file for a bifurcation. A common motive for a status-only bifurcation, which effectively restores the parties to a “single” status, is that one or both of them wish to remarry as soon as possible. Another less common typical reason is to protect the best interests of the children.

Financially, there are a few reasons:

  • Tax Incentives: Per IRS rules, a party may file as a single taxpayer or “Head of Household” if they had a divorce finalized anytime that year, even on December 31st. Spousal support payments are deductible by the payer. The party who gets spousal support has to claim the money as income.
  • Bankruptcy: If one spouse files for bankruptcy, couples may want a bifurcation so the divorce proceedings can move forward while bankruptcy issues are still being settled.
  • Time is Money: One party refusing to agree to specific issues to prolong the proceedings just leads to more legal fees. An ex-spouse may want to put off the remarriage of their spouse, or one party may be highly emotional and unwilling to compromise, delaying proceedings as long as possible.

How to Bifurcate a Divorce

Consult your attorney before committing to any action if you’re considering a bifurcated divorce. State laws vary greatly, and some restrictions may impede the process in several ways. The first step is to decide whether or not a bifurcation is an option in your area. Discuss with your attorney how your state’s bifurcation laws will affect the proceedings. Obtaining a bifurcated divorce is often as simple as obtaining consent from the other spouse and filing several legal documents with the court.

Bifurcation does not necessarily depend on the other spouse’s willingness to split. If you can prove that your request for bifurcation has a valid, legal basis and won’t jeopardize the other spouse’s interests, you may be able to secure an exception to this requirement. If your spouse challenges your request for bifurcation with a compelling argument, the court will likely deny your petition.

Seeking Resolutions

Divorces are often tense situations, and emotions tend to escalate during the process. Resentment may lead spouses to be uncooperative in an attempt to get back at one another for perceived or real slights, but an amicable divorce proceeds much more quickly. It is better for everyone if the divorcing spouses are willing to work together to reach a mutually satisfactory solution.

It is possible to agree to bifurcate, but if one spouse refuses to do so, there are alternative options. A mediator or arbitrator can help divorced couples reach a settlement much quicker than a court battle. The result is less time wasted and less money spent on attorney fees for all parties.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages?

A small contingent of individuals favors bifurcating the divorce proceedings rather than having everything done all at once. Bifurcation has been proposed for possible tax advantages, fewer restrictions in financial and social matters, a longer trial for property issues, and other possible benefits.

Additionally, some individuals believe that a bifurcation could further delay the process of sorting through financial assets. Also, some individuals are considering bifurcation as a way to remarry with a new spouse, delaying all of the financial decisions from the previous marriage. It negates the importance of finances to one’s future and puts the financial future of both spouses and children at risk.

What Are the Consequences?

Based on the timeline of events, bifurcation may set a dangerous precedent involving the possibility of bigamy being practiced. In light of its illegality, using bifurcation to remarry without finalizing the divorce of the previous marriage and sorting through the financial assets threatens not only one’s financial future but also one’s freedom.

Some oppose bifurcation based on the possibility that it could result in economic coercion. Since so much goes into decisions regarding marital assets, finances, alimony, and child support, delaying finalizing everything has too many economic implications. Moreover, even though the divorce has been bifurcated, the litigation for both parties still needs to be retained to protect the parties and their rights to the various assets left to be divided. It would be costly to drag this process out, and it could cause the parties to go bankrupt and further damage their futures.

Under the best of circumstances, ending a marriage can be a difficult process, but dragging out the financial aspect to finalize the legal status of a divorce only extends the process. In addition, it does not offer a healthy ending to a marriage, leaving both parties unable to make the clean break they might desire.

Do All States Offer Bifurcation in Divorce?

No. State laws vary. Among the states that permit this type of divorce are California, Kansas, and Alaska. Bifurcation is not allowed in Arizona, Michigan, New York, Texas, and Nebraska. Florida, for example, will allow a bifurcated divorce under certain conditions.

Do I Need an Attorney Specializing in Divorce Law?

There are different laws regarding a bifurcated divorce in every state. It is wise to consult with a divorce lawyer to understand your rights and possibly obtain a bifurcated divorce. In addition, a lawyer knowledgeable in divorce law will assist with navigating through complicated divorce laws.