Understanding Bifurcation in Divorce


  • Bifurcation allows parties to legally divorce without sorting through the assets or finances.
  • It is available depending on the state that you are in.
  • Many see advantages and disadvantages to its legal use.

"The ending of a marriage can be a difficult process under the best of circumstances, but dragging out the financial aspect, in favor of finalizing the legal status of a divorce, only prolongs the inevitable."

For many individuals in the middle of the divorce process, they do not necessarily feel that the process is moving at the speed that they are comfortable with. In addition, many look to change their marital status, from a legal perspective, before all of the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed.

This is where the concept of bifurcation comes from.

According to the American Bar Association Journal, a bifurcated divorce is granting the divorce first and deciding on the economic issues later. The marital status has changed, but all of the details regarding assets have yet to be finalized.

Varying opinions on bifurcation

This concept varies depending on the state, and some states prevent it from even happening. For example, the state of New Jersey prohibits bifurcation in family actions, except in the most unusual and extenuating circumstances, as of the 1979 state high court decision in Frankel v. Frankel.

In the state of Arizona, the state Supreme Court ruled that the use of separate judgments to resolve issues of marriage dissolution and property distribution is invalid, in the decision of Porter v. Estate of Pigg.

In the state of Nebraska, the deciding note stated that the practice of bifurcating a marriage dissolution case in any manner, and with any time lag, is expressly disapproved and that whatever personal convenience a court may confer on parties by granting an immediate dissolution while retaining property jurisdiction cannot be worth the difficulties and problems, to which the trial court is exposing the litigants, in the decision of Kimball v. Kimball.

However, a North Carolina appeals court decided that the severance of a divorce claim from an equitable distribution claim does not contravene the state’s equitable distribution statute or prejudice substantial rights, in the decision of Sharp v. Sharp. A Kansas court of appeals ruled that bifurcation is permitted in the discretion of the trial judge in the decision of Wade v. Wade.

Some states leave it up to the divorcing parties and whether they both consent to bifurcation. The Arkansas state Supreme Court agreed with the state trial court’s order for a “limited divorce,” despite statutory language mandating that the marital property be distributed at the time a divorce decree is entered.

Advantages and disadvantages

In the divorce process, there is a small contingency of individuals who approve of the split proceedings of bifurcation, rather than the particularized process of having everything done at once. This group believes that bifurcation could be granted for possible tax advantages, fewer constraints in financial and social matters, the fact that the property issues could require lengthier of a trial, and other possible conveniences, according to Divorce Source.

There also are groups of people that believe that bifurcation could result in further delays of sorting through financial assets. That was part of the ruling in Fiorella v. Fiorella in the New York State court system.

There also are individuals looking at bifurcation as a way for them to remarry with a new spouse, delaying all of the financial decision-making from the previous marriage. This type of behavior negates the importance of finances to one’s future and puts the financial future of both spouses and their children in jeopardy.

Dangerous consequences

This also creates a dangerous precedent, involving the possibility of bigamy being practiced, depending on the timeline of events. Given its illegality, the notion of using bifurcation in order to remarry, without finalizing the divorce of the previous marriage and sorting through the financial assets, is not only damaging to one’s financial future, but is dangerous for one’s freedom.

There also is a group who disfavors bifurcation, based on the possibility that it could lead to economic coercion. Given the fact of how much goes into the decisions regarding marital assets, finances, alimony, and child support, finalizing everything has too many economic implications to put off. Furthermore, even though the divorce has been bifurcated, the litigation for both parties still needs to be retained, in order to protect the parties and their rights to the various assets still on the table. Dragging out this process is an expensive task, that could potentially bankrupt the parties and cause further damage to both futures.

The ending of a marriage can be a difficult process under the best of circumstances, but dragging out the financial aspect, in favor of finalizing the legal status of a divorce, only prolongs the inevitable. It also does not provide the healthiest of endings to a marriage, leaving both parties unable to make the clean break that they may desire.

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