Not all divorces are the same. Some divorces can take months to resolve while others can take years. It is entirely dependent on the nature of the case, especially the parties’ willingness to be cooperative and move towards potential settlement. For those parties who find themselves in a particularly contentious divorce, it is not uncommon for the case to drag out over the span of several years in some cases and in those cases, it is similarly not uncommon for either one or both of the parties to consider bifurcating issues.
To bifurcate an issue means to separate that issue from the rest of the dissolution. This allows the Court to essentially piecemeal issues, when appropriate. For example, the parties might own a house and over the course of several months one spouse may want to keep the house and the other spouse may want to sell. In that case, it may be that the parties are not at the point of being ready to resolve the other issues in their case, such as support or custody and visitation. So, rather than wait until the other issues are ready to be tried, one party might request that the Court bifurcate the issue of disposition of the home so that a decision can be made by the Court on whether the home will be sold, or whether one of the spouses gets to buy-out the other. If the Court does bifurcate the issue, then a trial will be held and a decision made such that the disposition of the family residence is no longer an issue in the parties’ divorce.
Another common issue often bifurcated is that of marital status. This allows the Court to address the legal termination of the parties’ marriage even though there remain other issues unresolved in the divorce. If the Court does bifurcate the issue of marital status, then the parties are restored to their status as single persons even though other issues remain unresolved in their divorce (for example, custody, support, property division, etc.). However, it is important to note that marital status cannot be terminated until 6 months and 1 day have passed since the filing of the Summon and Petition. Bifurcating marital status can be a great choice for parties who find themselves in a drawn-out divorce but who no longer wish to be labeled as “married.” Unlike bifurcating other issues in a divorce, however, bifurcating and terminating marital status can be slightly more confusing to those who do not have legal training. For example, when filing the Judgment for termination of marital status, there are statutory indemnities that must be provided for therein. For those familiar with the Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders set in place when a spouse files the Summons and Petition (see a separate article on our website regarding this), the statutory indemnities essentially provide the same protections. It ensures that no major changes are made in the disposition of assets or change in benefits prior to the case coming to a close.
Here at Mello & Pickering, LLP with 40 years combined experience, we know the ins and outs of the divorce process and can make sure that your divorce is resolved as easily and efficiently as possible. We have assisted many clients in bifurcating and terminating marital status successfully.