In most states, divorce can only be completed once agreement has been reached on all the associated issues, such as division of property and child custody arrangements. Divorce bifurcation allows a judge to grant a divorce before an agreement on all outstanding issues has been reached. Divorce bifurcation is allowed under California Family Code §2337 and has some advantages, as long as certain conditions are met.
Divorce bifurcation is most common when one or both parties wants to remarry. In California, there is a mandatory six-month "cooling off' period between filing for divorce and the time the divorce can proceed to court. If a divorce is contested and there are complex issues involved, such as a property dispute, it can take years to finalize a divorce under normal circumstances. However, couples can apply for bifurcation immediately after the end of the six-month period, and can be granted a bifurcation as early as three weeks later, allowing remarriage less than a year after filing for divorce.
Another common reason for bifurcation is to allow one party to file his federal tax return as a single person. According to IRS rules, you are allowed to file as a single person as long as your divorce was granted by the last day of the calendar year. For a spouse who is paying child or spousal support, there is a tax advantage to filing as a single person. Support payments are 100 percent tax deductible if you file as single person, although the recipient must pay taxes on any support he receives. Filing as a single person also avoids having to share tax deductions.
California law favors bifurcation. A California judge is able to grant bifurcation for almost any reason, as long as there is no compelling and particular reason not to bifurcate. This allows couples to resolve their marital status before tackling contentious and expensive issues. This can prevent one party from holding the marriage hostage to effect a more favorable settlement. For example, if a man knows his wife wants to remarry, he may refuse to agree on property distribution or another issue, in order to prolong the negotiations and force his wife to give in. With bifurcation, the wife could get remarried before the property issue is resolved, removing the husband's leverage. This may speed up resolution of contentious issues in the long run.
In California, the court can also bifurcate certain issues in the divorce into two parts. Bifurcating particular issues in a divorce can end up saving both time and money, and the court may not need to go to the second part in some cases. For example, if spouses disagree on whether a family business is community property or separate property, the court can bifurcate the trial into two parts. In the first part, the court determines if the business is separate property or community property. If the business is found to be community property, then the court decides how to split the property in the second part. If the business were found to belong to only one spouse, there would be no need for a second part.