Bifurcation (California Family Code 2337)
Are you currently going through a divorce in California, but your case is taking too long to finalize and get a judgment? A bifurcation can help move your divorce case forward and change your status from married to single while you continue to fight over the other issues in your divorce.
What is Bifurcation?
Bifurcation allows the parties in a divorce to be restored to the status of single persons while all other pending issues in the divorce remain unresolved. The word bifurcate is synonymous with the words “split” and “divide.” Thus, a bifurcation in a divorce case takes the issue of marital status and splits it from all of the other divorce issues, such as the issues of spousal support, child custody and visitation, child support, and property division. A bifurcation will only result in the termination of marital status, and hence restore the parties to single person status.
The spouse who wants to terminate marital status, while still maintaining the other issues to be resolved, must ask the court for a separate trial solely on the issue of marital status. The spouse requesting the separate trial on the issue of marital status is asking for a bifurcation. It is important to note that the court will not grant a request for bifurcation of marital status if six months has not passed since the date the Respondent—the spouse who did not first file for divorce—was served. This is a mandatory requirement for all divorce cases.
The spouse asking for a bifurcation must have an especially good reason as to why the court should terminate the marriage. Based on that reason, the court will either grant or deny the request for bifurcation.
Additionally, before you can file a motion for bifurcation, at minimum, you must have completed and served your Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure on the other party. A Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure consists of serving a completed Schedule of Assets and Debts and Income and Expense Declaration on your spouse. These documents are essential to the California divorce proceedings as they disclose to each spouse the nature of the property and the income of each spouse. This way, both spouses should know the full nature and extent of all of the property of the marriage.
The requirement of disclosure of the marital property to each spouse can raise complex property division issues. If your spouse is attempting to hide his or her income, or claim that community property is actually his or her separate property, you will have to show that your spouse has additional income or evidence that the property is community property. These issues can be very complex and you should hire an experienced family law attorney in California to assure that your property rights are protected while requesting a bifurcation.
Reasons for Bifurcation
There are a few different reasons that you may want to request a bifurcation of marital status. Along with these reasons come several benefits, for one or both spouses. You will want to evaluate the benefits and consequences before requesting a bifurcation. If one of the following reasons applies to you, you may want to consider requesting a bifurcation of marital status:
1) You want to file your income taxes as “Single” or “Head of Household,” rather than as a married person.
2) Your divorce case has been open for a significant period of time and there does not appear to be a resolution to the child custody, child visitation, support, and/or property division issues of your case. Filing for a bifurcation of marital status will not eliminate these issues, but will allow you be return to your status as a single person.
3) You or your current spouse would like to marry another person. You cannot enter into a valid marriage with another person if you are still legally married to the other party in the divorce. A bifurcation is necessary in order for either party of your divorce to marry another person.
Effects of a Bifurcation
If a motion for bifurcation on the issue of marital status has been filed in your case, it is important to note a few of the effects a bifurcation can have on you and the other party in your divorce. These effects include:
1) Your marital status will be terminated. You and your spouse will be restored to the status of a single person.
2) You can remarry without having to wait for a final judgment on the remaining issues.
3) If you took on your husband’s last name, your name can be restored to your maiden name.
4) You will be able to file your income tax returns as “Single or “Head of Household,” not “Married.”
5) Under California Law and Federal Tax Law, as long as the bifurcation of marital status is completed before the end of the tax year, you will be able to file as “Single” or “Head of Household” in the same year as the bifurcation.
Conditions That Must be Met for Bifurcation
Even if your request for bifurcation is granted, you and the other party to the divorce will still need to comply with the following laws:
1) If either spouse has a pension or retirement plan through their employer, the other spouse should receive an amount of money as compensation for loss of death benefits through the divorce
2) The opposing party may be reimbursed for any tax consequences as a result of the bifurcation; AND
3) If one spouse maintains medical/health insurance for the other spouse, he or she must continue to maintain the insurance for the other spouse. However, sometimes this is not possible. When one spouse cannot maintain the other spouse on the insurance plan, the court can order that the spouse who has requested the bifurcation pay for the other spouse’s comparable insurance or pay for medical bills incurred by the other spouse.
Responding to a Motion for Bifurcation
If your spouse has filed a motion for a separate trial requesting that the court bifurcate the issues and terminate your marital status, you can file a response. The response provides you with an opportunity to be heard on the issue of terminating your marital status. It is important that you have a skilled attorney who can complete and file your response properly.
If you believe a bifurcation applies to your current divorce case, or if you have been served with a motion for a separate trial requesting bifurcation on the issue of marital status, it is crucial that you speak with an experienced California divorce lawyer who can explain the process and effects of a bifurcation to you in detail.
Frequently Asked Questions about Bifurcation
1) How long do I have to wait before requesting a bifurcation of marital status in my divorce?
In California, you must wait a minimum of six months after the Petition for Dissolution was served in your case before your marital status can be changed from married to single. Because of this six month minimum, you should not request a bifurcation of marital status unless that six month waiting period has already passed. If you request a bifurcation prior to the six months, the court will likely deny your request, as the legal minimum period of time when you can be granted a divorce has not yet been reached. Even if the court grants your request for bifurcation, your status will not change prior to the conclusion of the waiting period.
As bifurcation is a very complex matter and the timing of your request can be essential to the court’s determination on the matter, you should consult with an experienced divorce lawyer in California before filing for a request to bifurcate.
2) What happens if my marital status is terminated before my child custody and property issues are resolved?
Requesting a bifurcation and obtaining a termination of your marital status will have little impact on most issues in your divorce. A termination of your marital status does not mean that your entire divorce case is over. Issues of child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, and most property division issues will continue as if the bifurcation never occurred. You will still be able to exercise your rights with regards to these other issues in your case.
There are a few property division issues that will be affected by the bifurcation. These include issues involving employee pension plans, medical insurance coverage and certain tax liability issues. These issues can be very complex and you should hire a Wallin & Klarich California family law attorney to ensure that your rights are protected in these property division matters.
3) My marital status was terminated in December. Will I still be able to file my income taxes as a single person for the year that my marital status was terminated?
Yes. For federal income tax purposes, as long as your marital status is terminated before midnight on the last day of the tax year (usually December 31), you will be able to file your income taxes as a single person for the entirety of that tax year. However, if you are able to obtain a bifurcation of your marital status during the six month waiting period, and the six month waiting period ends in the next tax year, you will not be able to file your income taxes as a single person. The marital status will not legally change before the six month waiting period has expired. Therefore, your marital status will have terminated in the new tax year. You will be able to file your taxes as a single person in the year that the marital status officially terminates.
4) If my marital status is terminated by bifurcation and I provide medical insurance for the other party to the divorce, will I have to maintain that health care coverage?
Generally, yes. 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.
Issues involving medical insurance and employee pensions can be very complex matters. In order to ensure that your rights are protected when a bifurcation is entered, you should contact an experienced California divorce attorney at Wallin & Klarich to guide you through every step of your divorce.
5) Where can I find an experienced Orange County Bifurcation Attorney?
Bifurcation cases contain complex legal issues for all parties involved. If you wish to seek a bifurcation, or a request for bifurcation has been served on you, it is important that you have an experienced Orange County bifurcation attorney to guide you through every step of this difficult process. The skilled Orange County bifurcation attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have represented clients in the bifurcation aspect of divorce cases for over 30 years. You can rely on our experience and knowledge to achieve the best possible outcome in your case.
With offices located in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Victorville, West Covina, Sherman Oaks, Torrance and Ventura , there is a Wallin & Klarich divorce attorney available wherever you happen to live. To speak with an Orange County Wallin & Klarich bifurcation attorney today, please call us at (888) 749-7428. We will get through this together.