California requires six months between the date that the Petition for Dissolution is filed and served upon the other party before the marital status can be dissolved. Completing a divorce in the minimum required time is rarely the case however as many issues in contested divorce cases can take anywhere from 11 months to several years to conclude. It is common for people going through this process to want their marital status terminated while the remaining issues are still pending.
In family law, a bifurcation allows the issues in a divorce to be divided. The marital status becomes one issue to be finalized and dissolved. The other remaining issues will remain pending before the court, these often include but are not limited to property division, spousal and/or child support, child custody, and division of debts.
There are a variety of reasons why a person may want to terminate their marital status before the remaining issues are resolved. People often want to remarry, or file taxes separately. Tax laws allow an individual to file as single provided that the marriage is dissolved before the end of the year. Sometimes the people want to find closure by terminating the marital status which helps them move on emotionally. Sometimes negotiation in a divorce comes to a halt without any agreements or settlement, a bifurcation allows the parties to terminate their marital status while the remaining issues are settled or potentially litigated.
Requirements for Bifurcation
As mentioned previously, six months must have passed from the date the non-petitioning spouse was served with the Petition for Dissolution.
Before an individual can file a motion for bifurcation they must file a Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure and serve it on the other party. The Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure requires completion of a Schedule of Assets and Debts and an Income and Expense Declaration.
Consequences of Bifurcation of Marital Status
There are some consequences that result from bifurcating a marital status. These can be beneficial or financially costly depending on the circumstances of the parties. Some examples are:
Derivative benefits for spouses such as Social Security, require 10 years of marriage which contemplates the date your status is terminated. If a couple has been married 8-9 years and wants to bifurcate their status prior to the 10 year mark then one can lose out on the benefits.
If one spouse has a pension plan the other spouse loses indemnification for loss of death benefits. One party will have to pay the other spouse a monetary amount to compensate for the loss of death benefits.
Termination of health benefits, a requesting party may be ordered to pay costs of maintaining health insurance, often at increased COBRA premiums until judgment is issued in the entire case.
These are just a few examples of potential consequences for terminating your marital status early from bifurcation while the remaining issues in your divorce are still pending before the court. It is important to speak with an attorney about your case prior to bifurcation to better understand many of these consequences.