A bifurcated divorce allows you to become legally single even if other aspects of your divorce aren’t resolved. In California, you can kickstart this process six months after filing and serving divorce papers.

Let’s dive into what bifurcation of marital status means in California and why it might be the right choice for you.

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What Does Bifurcation Mean?

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“Bifurcate” means splitting or dividing into two branches or parts.

In family law, bifurcation refers to the process of separating the issues within a divorce proceeding so the court can resolve them individually. These may include property division, child support, child custody, and marital status.

This is particularly useful in complex divorce cases where resolving all issues at once takes too much time and effort.

Regarding marital status, bifurcation allows you to take the “issue” of marital status (married or single) and ask the court to rule on it separately from other trial issues.

If the court rules in your favor, you’ll become legally single regardless of whether other elements of your divorce are resolved.

Reasons For Bifurcated Divorce

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Someone might pursue a bifurcated divorce to expedite the legal dissolution of their marriage, particularly when they anticipate divorce proceedings will be lengthy and complex.

Here are a few of the main reasons you might pursue a bifurcated divorce:

1. You Need to Address Urgent Financial or Legal Needs

Sometimes, an individual may need to be legally single to take advantage of tax benefits, qualify for certain loans or financial aid, or ensure their estate planning is up-to-date.

For example, one spouse might be nearing retirement age and need to secure benefits contingent on their marital status.

Bifurcation allows the dissolution of the marriage to be finalized without waiting for the often protracted negotiations and settlements of other divorce-related issues.

2. You’re Planning to Remarry

Simply put, you can’t legally be married to two people at the same time. If one spouse wishes to remarry before finalizing their divorce, bifurcation is the only way to ensure you’re legally single so you can carry on with a new marriage.

3. You’re Dealing With a Contentious Divorce

Bifurcation can be a strategic legal move in contentious divorces.

Suppose one party uses delays in the divorce process as a negotiation tactic. In that case, the other party might seek bifurcation to prevent further stalling and ensure prompt resolution of the marital status.

By separating the legal termination of the marriage from other disputes, the courts can streamline the proceedings and reduce the opportunity for either party to use the divorce process as leverage.

4. You Wish to Move On Emotionally

Emotional and psychological considerations can play a significant role in the decision to pursue a bifurcated divorce.

Prolonged divorce proceedings can be stressful and emotionally draining, and getting a legal divorce can provide a sense of closure and a fresh start. This is particularly relevant in cases involving high conflict or domestic abuse, where one party urgently needs to sever legal ties with the other.

Bifurcation offers a way to quickly achieve this separation, allowing individuals to move forward while still addressing unresolved matters through subsequent legal processes.

The Bifurcated Divorce Process

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There are a couple of things to keep in mind before considering the bifurcation process in California.

First, the State of California has a six-month “cooling off” period for divorce. This means you can’t request a motion for bifurcation until six months after receipt of the divorce papers.

Second, you must complete and serve a Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure before filing a motion for bifurcation. This document discloses all details relating to your assets, debts, income, and expenses.

The bifurcation process happens in five primary steps (after meeting the criteria above):

  1. Initial Filing: One spouse files a motion for bifurcation of the case. This includes submitting a Request for Order (FL-300) and an Application or Response to Application for Separate Trial (FL-315, used to resolve more complex issues like child custody.)
  2. Court Approval: The court must approve the request for bifurcation. Judges often consider the case’s complexity, the likelihood of delay, and whether bifurcation would benefit and/or prejudice the parties involved.
  3. Separate Trials: If the court approves bifurcation, the divorce case is split into separate trials or hearings. Typically, the court will address the dissolution of the marriage (legal divorce) first, while other issues, such as property division, child custody, and spousal support, are addressed later.
  4. Immediate Divorce: Once the bifurcation is granted, the court can issue a divorce decree, officially ending the marriage. This allows the parties to remarry if they choose to do so, even though other issues may still be pending.
  5. Resolution of Remaining Issues: The unresolved matters, such as property division or child custody, are then dealt with in subsequent proceedings. These issues are addressed based on the merits of each case, often involving further negotiations or court hearings.

How Likely Is the Court to Rule In Favor of Bifurcation?


In California, the court will rule in favor of bifurcation most of the time. However, there are certain instances where bifurcation can get tricky.

For example, the court may deny your bifurcation request if there’s proof that the determination will unduly prejudice one person.

This may happen in financial or health-related matters, such as if a person relies heavily on their spouse’s health insurance for critical treatment. In this case, becoming legally single may impact their ability to manage their illness.

Often, the court will include conditions in the bifurcation approval to address these issues.

These can include requiring one spouse to continue providing insurance, reimbursing a spouse for any tax-related consequences of the bifurcation, or other specifics to your divorce case where a single status will adversely impact finances or health.

So, while bifurcated divorce is commonly accepted in California courts, you’ll want to be aware of outside factors that may require additional legal attention.

Is Bifurcated Divorce a Good Option for You?

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Most people can resolve their divorce without going through the bifurcation process. However, it might be a good option if divorce proceedings are dragging on, you’re enduring emotional abuse from your ex, or you’re simply ready to move on with your life as a single person.

If you have more questions about bifurcation or the divorce process, book a consultation call with me today. I aim to remove the ambiguity from the legal process so you can confidently enter your next stage of life.

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