Alabama Divorce Law & Bifurcation

by Terry White
Splitting a divorce trial can either help or hinder the proceedings, depending on the case.

Splitting a divorce trial can either help or hinder the proceedings, depending on the case.

Jeffrey Hamilton/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Divorce can be a dreadful experience. Why, then, would anyone want to double the agony with two divorce trials instead of one? The simple answer is money and drama. Splitting a case into two trials can lead to a quicker divorce, leaving emotional issues for another day and another trial. Some states expressly permit bifurcation of divorce while others forbid it and some, like Alabama, have little to say about bifurcation altogether.

Dividing Divorce

Bifurcation is a fancy way of saying a court will decide a divorce case in two trials instead of one. Generally, when a divorce trial is bifurcated, the court quickly grants the divorce at the first trial. The judge then reserves flashpoint issues for a subsequent trial scheduled for a later date. The holdover issues are usually ones the couple approaches with emotion and hostility, such as property distribution, child custody and support, and alimony.

Reasons to Divide a Divorce Trial

There are many reasons to bifurcate a divorce trial. The most common is that one spouse wants to remarry in short order. Another justification is a potential tax advantage of filing as single rather than married. Sometimes, the couple’s assets can be so numerous and complex it may take months or years to review and analyze them. Finally, the psychological impact of legally ending the marriage may allow cooler heads to prevail as the second trial approaches.

Advantages & Disadvantages

Bifurcation can accelerate the end of a rotten marriage. That speed can be both an advantage and disadvantage. The speedy divorce track may add or remove incentives for settling the remaining issues. In especially bitter divorces, bifurcation can work to prevent one spouse from holding the other “hostage” to unresolved issues. On the down side, bifurcation means two trials rather than one. Final legal resolution will take longer to reach and cost more to get there. As a result, any emotional toll will likely be stretched. Also, working spouses are often required to pay for the health insurance of a nonworking spouse during the two-trial process, further increasing the costs spouses may incur.

Bifurcation in Alabama

Alabama is among the states whose statutes do not speak specifically to bifurcation of divorce. The state’s courts have had little to say on the subject as well. Bifurcation of a divorce trial in Alabama is governed not by the state’s divorce laws, but rather the rules and procedures that guide the operation of the courts and lawsuits. Alabama law states a judge “may order a separate trial of any claim, cross-claim, counterclaim, or third-party claim, or of any separate issue.” The Alabama Supreme Court noted recently that bifurcation of divorce is okay if the judge allows it. It is not something the judge is required to do. Bifurcating a divorce may be the right choice for some spouses, but wrong for others. Depending on the circumstances, it can help or hinder a divorce proceeding. Therefore, spouses considering this tactic should thoughtfully weigh the pros and cons.