If your divorce prevents you from moving on with your life, you have options.
Bifurcated divorce in California can be a valuable solution for couples who need to start living as legally single while their divorce outcome is still pending.
Here’s what you need to know about bifurcated divorce and how it can help you move forward.
What Is a Bifurcated Divorce in California?
A bifurcated divorce is a solution for couples wanting to obtain a single status earlier than in a traditional divorce.
A bifurcated divorce allows couples to legally declare themselves single and enjoy the benefits of their new status while their divorce case is still ongoing. It means you don’t need to wait for your divorce case to conclude to begin your life as a single person.
What Are Valid Reasons to Ask for a Bifurcated Divorce?
The judge will only grant your request for a bifurcated divorce if you have a valid reason to reclaim your single status before settling your divorce. The court will consider every request individually, but they tend to favor the following three reasons.
One of You Wants To Get Married
If your separation and divorce have taken a few years, one of you may have reached a point where you’re ready to marry someone else, but you can’t get remarried until you’re legally single.
The court can grant you a bifurcated divorce, which would allow you to marry another person before the conclusion of your divorce case.
You Need To Change Your Tax Status
If your living situation involves adult dependents or children you can claim as dependents, it’s advantageous to file as Head of Household. You can’t file as Head of Household while legally married.
The judge can grant you a bifurcated divorce before you file your taxes. In most cases, you can file with your new tax status the same year you get your bifurcated divorce.
Your Divorce Is Taking Too Long
If your complicated contested divorce case has taken a year or longer, the court usually won’t have a problem granting you a bifurcated divorce while other matters are being settled.
It won’t change your legal obligations to come to a resolution in your divorce case. You must still comply with the rest of the process and abide by what the judge says.
Pros and Cons of Bifurcated Divorce
At a glance, a bifurcated divorce looks like a helpful tool for some couples, especially those wanting a quick marital status change.
However, bifurcation may not suit spouses in all circumstances. So, let’s assess its main pros and cons in California.
- The way to remarry sooner
Even simple divorces may take up to a year. A bifurcated divorce can help couples get married sooner than if they wait to resolve all issues in their divorce.
- Better tax conditions
Filing taxes as a single person may be beneficial in some circumstances. For instance, if a spouse is eligible to file as a head of a household, they can file their taxes at a lower rate. But to do it, they must be single.
- Promotes emotional healing
Obtaining a single status may bring a sense of closure and promote healing. Thus, a bifurcated divorce allows one to move on before the divorce process is completely finalized.
- The unexpected loss of benefits
Terminating a marriage in California too soon may be detrimental to a spouse planning to get a portion of the other party’s Social Security and retirement benefits. For instance, one spouse can get a part of their ex-spouse’s social security benefits if their marriage was at least 10 years long.
- Low motivation to finalize a divorce
Getting single early in the process may cause a lack of motivation to go through the rest of the divorce issues. Sometimes, it may also affect the spouses’ willingness to resolve disputes peacefully.
- Increased divorce expenses
Couples with contested divorces will end up paying a few extra thousand dollars to the divorce attorney for assistance with bifurcation. However, spouses with uncontested cases will likely only cover court fees for starting a divorce, the largest of which is the $435 filing fee.
Bifurcated Divorce Requirements
California family law has strict requirements for spouses requesting bifurcation. Most of these conditions aim at protecting the rights and benefits that any party might lose because of early divorce.
Here is the list of requirements to get a bifurcated divorce in California:
- The party filing for bifurcation must complete and give the other spouse a Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140). The petitioner must also add the Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142) and Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150). Then, they must file the proof (form FL-141) that they served their spouse with these papers.
- The spouse filing for bifurcation must maintain the other party’s health insurance if the filing spouse’s employer has provided it.
- The spouse seeking status-only divorce must compensate for the non-requesting spouse’s tax consequences.
- If any spouse has a retirement plan or pension benefits, the court must ensure the other party won’t lose their rightful share. For instance, the judge may temporarily grant half of the benefits to each party before making final orders. If retirement is in question, the spouses must file additional paperwork, such as Pension Benefits-Attachment to Judgment (form FL-348).
Bifurcated Divorce Process in California
Getting a bifurcated divorce in California consists of several important stages, including filing the appropriate court forms and attending a hearing on bifurcation.
Note that it’s not a stand-alone process but a part of your divorce proceedings. So, even if divorcing parties want to ask for a status-only divorce (where they become legally single), they will still need to wait six months.
It’s the mandatory waiting period in California starting from the filing and serving the original Petition for Dissolution.
Here are the main steps you need to complete to get a bifurcated divorce.
File the Proof of Financial Disclosure
If you haven’t shared financial information with your spouse, you must do so before the judge can order bifurcation. The forms your spouse must receive from you are FL-142, FL-140, FL-150, and tax returns for two previous years.
Then, file the proof of service (FL-141) with the court.
File a Motion For Bifurcation
You’ll only need the second form if you want the court to resolve a complicated issue, such as child custody. Typically, it takes time and thus requires a separate hearing.
Submit Judgment Forms
A party requesting bifurcation must also prepare the Judgment form (FL-180) and Bifurcation of Status or Domestic Partnership (FL-347). The judge will review the bifurcated issues at the hearing and decide whether to grant the request.
If you asked for a bifurcation of marital status to become legally single, you could get married after the judge signs the order for bifurcation. However, you still need to finalize your divorce by dealing with all questions you skipped, such as child custody, alimony, property division, etc.
Opposing Bifurcation in California
Requesting a bifurcation is usually easier than opposing it because the courts generally support the termination of marital status earlier than resolving other issues.
In addition, the party filing a motion for status-only divorce must present just one valid reason, such as wanting to get remarried.
By contrast, the opposing party, who doesn’t want bifurcation, must provide convincing evidence of why this decision may be harmful to them or their children.
If your spouse files a motion to bifurcate your divorce, you can file a response where you oppose the request. Use the form FL-315 (Request or Response to Request for Separate Trial).
By completing and filing this response form, you will have the chance to explain to the judge the downsides of bifurcation and stop it from happening.
A bifurcated divorce may be an alternative worth considering if a couple is pursuing a divorce that drags on for a long time. In a bifurcated divorce, both spouses get to legally declare themselves single and live independently while the divorce process unfolds.
The most significant benefits of a bifurcated divorce are the greater degree of independence provided to spouses and the potential for a lower-stress divorce.
Consider getting a bifurcated divorce in California if these benefits make your divorce, and your life, easier.
What Is a Request For Bifurcation?
A request for a bifurcation in California means that divorcing parties ask the judge to resolve specific issues in a separate hearing rather than waiting to resolve these specific issues after the entire divorce process ends.
Usually, couples ask for things like granting the parties legal single status or deciding on child-related questions.
Is Bifurcation the Same as Divorce?
Bifurcation is only a part of divorce because it allows spouses to resolve one or a few issues separately from others. For instance, they can get their single status and marry other people. However, bifurcation does not allow the spouses to leave other issues unresolved.
How Do You Ask For Bifurcation?
A person requesting bifurcation in California must file a Request for Order (FL-300) and have a valid reason. Additional forms include a Request for a Separate Trial and proof of financial disclosures.