Understanding Bifurcation of Marital Status under California Law
Some divorcing couples may want their divorce resolved as quickly as possible. In California, the legal minimum time requirement that a dissolution can be entered is six months from the date of service of the petition to the entered judgment. However oftentimes, complex financial matters or other contentious questions make the process much longer.
Given the number of issues that must be decided in a California divorce, like child support, child custody, spousal support, and division of assets, the divorce process can take a long time. Fortunately, California’s Family Code allows parties to request a bifurcation, which essentially gives the family court the leeway to grant a divorce before other outstanding issues are resolved. Bifurcation is the separation of one or more issues in a case.
This filing process can either be stipulated to (agreed to) by both parties, or it can be made by one party over the objection of the other.
If the court grants a motion for bifurcation, the court will separate certain issues of the divorce that can be easily finalized while leaving other issues to be tried separately later. Bifurcating the martial status issue while waiting to agree on other terms of the divorce can help expedite the overall divorce process, even potentially leading to a full resolution via marital settlement agreement.
California Rule of Court, Rule 5.390 allows for the separate trial of 13 different family law issues, if resolution of a particular issue in the case will help move proceedings along. Those issues are as follows:
- Validity of postnuptial or prenuptial agreements.
- Date of separation.
- Date of asset valuation.
- Characterization of property (i.e. community vs. separate property).
- Distribution of the value of a business.
- Termination of marital status or domestic partnership status.
- Child custody and visitation.
- Child support.
- Spousal support.
- Attorneys’ fees.
- Equitable distribution of community property.
- Claims for reimbursement.
- Other specific issues
Common Reasons to Bifurcate Divorce and Request “Status Only” Bifurcation
There are some practical reasons to submit a motion to bifurcate. In a status-only bifurcation, which restores the parties to “single” again, there are two common situations where a family court judge is likely to grant a motion for bifurcation: where one or both of the spouses wants to (1) remarry or (2) file as a single person on their taxes.
In most situations, the judge will grant a motion for bifurcation if one or both of the spouses are remarrying or if one or both of the spouses wants to file as a single person on their taxes. Tax laws are very clear in that they allow spouses to file using their single status as long as the marriage is dissolved before the end of the calendar year (December 31st).
Bifurcation also provides a number of other advantages. It can prevent one spouse from purposefully prolonging the divorce in order to obtain a better settlement by dragging on proceedings or to prevent the other spouse from remarrying out of spite.
Bifurcation removes this leverage, speeds up the resolution of highly contested issues, and allows the other spouse to move forward.
Requirements and Conditions for Bifurcation of Marital Status
Couples can apply for bifurcation immediately after California’s six-month waiting period has elapsed, and may have their request approved within weeks. However, before a motion for bifurcation can be considered, the party requesting bifurcation must file and serve a preliminary Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140). This preliminary disclosure includes information about assets, debts, income, expenses, and other financial details that must be disclosed in a divorce.
Almost all requests for bifurcation of marital status are granted, unless the opposing spouse can present compelling reasons for denial.
Once requested, the court has the power to require the requesting party to submit to certain conditions. These conditions are generally meant to maintain the “status quo” and to protect the non-requesting spouse from damages should the requesting spouse die after the marital status is bifurcated (terminated) but before the rest of the divorce is finalized. These conditions include:
- Medical Insurance. If one spouse maintains medical/health insurance for the other spouse, he or she must continue to maintain the insurance for the other spouse.
- Indemnification for Loss of Death Benefits. If either spouse has a pension plan through their employer, the other spouse receives indemnification for the loss of death benefits.
- Reimbursement for Tax Consequences. The non-requesting party must be reimbursed for any tax consequences or the loss of the right to claim probate homestead or family allowance.
Only Slight Evidence Required for Bifurcated Divorce
The legislature intends “that the dissolution of marriage should not be postponed merely because issues relating to property, support, attorney fees or child custody [are] unready for decision.’ [Citation.]” (Gionis v. Superior Court (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 786, 788.)
The court is more concerned that parties forced to remain legally bound to one another when this status can do nothing but engender additional bitterness and unhappiness.” (Hull v. Superior Court (1960) 54 Cal.2d 139, 147-148.) A decision dissolving the marital status is reviewed under the substantial evidence standard. No valid purpose is served by requiring the parties to stay married.
The Downside of Bifurcating Marital Status – Reasons to Oppose Bifurcation
It is important to consult an attorney about whether bifurcation this is the best option for your particular case, as early termination of a marriage may have unwanted consequences. For example, federal law requires that a marriage last at least 10 years in order for one spouse to claim Social Security benefits based on the employment history of the other spouse.
Another consideration to keep in mind when seeking to terminate marital status involves the termination of health coverage. If you requested the bifurcation and the other party to the divorce is covered under your medical insurance, you will be required to keep that person on your health insurance. However, many health insurance providers do not allow you to keep someone who is not your spouse on your health insurance plan. If this is the case, and you requested the bifurcation of marital status, then you may be required to pay for comparable health insurance for the other party to the divorce, or pay for the medical bills of the other party.
California’s divorce procedures are complex and trying to navigate them without help of a California family lawyer can be frustrating. If you have questions about bifurcated divorce, contact our accomplished and dedicated family law, divorce, and child custody lawyers by calling (844) 4-TALKOV (825568) or contact us online for a free consultation with our experienced family law attorney, Colleen Sparks, who can guide you through the court process in a prompt and clear manner.
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