Bifurcated Divorce in California

When people want to end their marriage officially, they apply for a divorce. In the course of the process, they resolve all crucial issues, including child custody and support, division of assets and debts, alimony, etc. Sometimes, when a divorce is prolonged, and spouses want to obtain a single status before all legal matters are settled down, they may pursue a bifurcation divorce.

So, what is bifurcation, and when a couple may want to apply for it? What are the pros and cons of this option? Are there any specifics of a bifurcated divorce in California? How fast such a marriage dissolution can be finalized? What documents to prepare? As you can see, there are lots of questions to answer. And we are ready to share these answers with you in the article.  

By reading this comprehensible description of a bifurcated divorce in California, you can understand whether such an option is worth trying in your specific case.  

What Is a Bifurcated Divorce in California?

A bifurcated divorce is a legal process initiated to terminate the marital status of spouses in the first place and only after that deal with remaining divorce-related issues.

Spouses become officially recognized as single people, but topics such as property division, child custody, and support are still pending. These issues will be agreed upon later, and ex-spouses will understand their obligations and rights related to debatable issues only after a Final Divorce Decree is signed.

What does “bifurcated” mean in law? Simply put, this concept implies dividing a particular legal case or procedure into 2 distinctive stages. In the realm of marriage dissolution, these stages are:

  1. Alteration of marital status. The main idea of a bifurcated divorce is to change marital status from married to single. It means there is no legal bond between partners; they are no longer married in the eyes of the law and can marry other people. Some spouses may perceive bifurcation divorce as a fresh start for moving forward with their lives independently.
  2. Addressing the remaining aspects of a divorce. A bifurcated divorce isn’t an alternative to a standard divorce proceeding. It is more like a deviation from a traditional marriage dissolution with the core purpose of altering a spousal status. But all the important aspects of a legal breakup still have to be resolved. So, after acquiring a single status, spouses should concentrate on reaching an agreement on how joint property and debts will be divided, who will have legal and physical custody, who will pay child support, whether alimony is needed, etc. This phase typically lasts longer than the first stage, especially if the parties go through a highly contested marriage termination.

When trying to define bifurcation, remember that such a notion is recognized not by all US states. Currently, it is possible to start a bifurcated divorce in California, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, etc.

In these jurisdictions, there are specific statutes that regulate a bifurcated divorce. In other states, the practice of bifurcation may be permitted based on legal precedent established by previous court cases. If you consider this option, check in advance if it applies to your state of residency.

In the following section, you will find information about the main reasons for seeking a bifurcated divorce. But first, let’s define the main differences between a bifurcated and a traditional marriage termination.

ProcessAll issues are resolved concurrently.Divorce proceedings are divided into two distinct phases – alternation of a marital status and resolution of relevant issues.
FlexibilitySpouses have limited flexibility in timing and sequencing.Couples have the flexibility to prioritize the termination of marital status.
SpeedResolution of all issues may take long.Terminating marital status may occur relatively quickly, but resolution of unsettled issues may still take time.
Legal frameworkA divorcing couple has to stick to standard divorce procedures in the state.Parties need to adhere to specific statutes and procedures of California law, as well as follow traditional divorce regulations.

Reasons to Ask for a Bifurcated Divorce

Though getting a bifurcated divorce may be slightly quicker than a standard divorce process, some factors can still complicate the matter. The most crucial aspect is the grounds – a couple must have a serious reason to reach the court with a bifurcation request. Otherwise, the judge won’t approve it.  

The list of valid reasons includes:

  • Remarriage intentions. When either spouse plans to start a new marital relationship, a bifurcated divorce may be a practical solution. When a party asks for bifurcation of marital status in California officially and is eventually recognized as a single person, they are free to remarry.
  • The desire for clear financial boundaries. Sometimes, one spouse may seek financial independence or clarity with finances. By following the laws on bifurcated divorce in California and getting a desired divorced status, individuals get rid of the financial ties with their former partner. Therefore, they will manage their finances autonomously and plan for their future with greater certainty.
  • Tax considerations. People may also initiate a bifurcation divorce procedure because they want to have a filing status for income tax purposes as single or Head of Household. Thus, each party will file taxes individually, claim separate deductions, and access tax credits unavailable to married couples. By following this approach, spouses can optimize tax planning, especially regarding capital gains, alimony, and eligibility for tax benefits.
  • Deep need for closure. The major demand of some spouses is the emotional finality that a single marital status brings. Once there are no legal marital connections between ex-partners, they can focus on adjusting to new realities, reach out to psychologists for emotional healing if that is needed, etc. Of course, there may still be issues to sort out, but some people claim the task becomes easier when they are officially divorced.
  • Strategical planning. If a divorce lasts too long because spouses can’t reach an agreement on marriage termination issues, it may be a good idea to file a bifurcated divorce. Thus, a couple will be able to become officially divorced and then negotiate controversial issues. This approach may be beneficial for those whose key desire is to be single. For instance, if a woman is pregnant by another man, not her legal husband, and she plans to marry the biological father of a baby, she is more interested in breaking marital ties rather than settling disputes. And a bifurcated divorce is a good solution for her.

Pros and Cons of Bifurcated Divorce

A bifurcated divorce may seem like a great prospect, especially for people seeking a single status for any reason. However, like with any other matter, there are advantages and disadvantages to consider before filing your documents with the court. Have a look at the pros and cons to divorce bifurcation in California to come up with a well-considered decision.


  • Faster termination of a marital status

A bifurcated divorce is mainly associated with an expedited termination of marital status. It is the major stimulus for individuals who want to remarry or establish new legal relationships.

  • Strategical isolation of debatable matters

When applying for bifurcated divorce in California, it is possible to separate the termination of marital status from the resolution of other issues. Over time, spouses may become less hostile towards each other and may be able to reach an agreement on controversial topics easier. If they opt for mediation, they may cope with pressing issues even more efficiently.  

  • Emotional freedom

Divorce is undoubtedly a stressful period of life. Though a bifurcated divorce isn’t synonymous with traditional marriage dissolution, it still brings a specific feeling of finalization when ex-spouses are recognized as single people. Therefore, they can manage their lives separately while resolving the remaining issues step by step.

  • Financial independence

Divorced people can manage their finances independently. Each spouse is in full control over their financial deals and can make decisions that align with their goals and needs. Moreover, for some individuals, the end of a marriage opens up opportunities for new financial ventures or investments that weren’t feasible during marriage.


  • Incomplete resolution

When talking about divorce bifurcation pros and cons, people claim that unresolved disputes are the most disturbing disadvantage for them. In fact, some spouses may even disregard the possibility of bifurcated marriage termination due to this. While a change of marital status may provide the desired emotional closure, postponing the resolution of financial, property, and custody matters to a later date can prolong the overall divorce process and cause anxiety. Besides, if neither spouse is willing to compromise, such a divorce procedure will take much time.

  • Difficulties in co-parenting

When parents are officially divorced, but there are neither custody and visitation arrangements nor temporary orders, they may experience co-parenting challenges. Delaying the resolution of these issues may complicate the situation, eventually harming everybody involved. The most damaging effects will be on kids, who may feel insecure, emotionally unstable, and even unloved.

  • Loss of benefits

People who are married for at least 10 years may be eligible to claim Social Security benefits based on their ex-spouse’s earnings record. However, a bifurcated divorce can impact eligibility for such benefits if the marriage duration falls short of the established threshold.

A bifurcated divorce also affects the distribution of retirement bonuses accumulated during a marriage, such as pensions, 401(k) accounts, or IRAs. Without a Final Divorce Decree, where all these settlements are addressed, one spouse may lose a portion of the retirement benefits they would have otherwise been entitled to.

Requirements for Bifurcated Divorce in California

When starting a bifurcated process, you need to comply with certain regulations. First of all, you must have a serious reason to address the court with a request for a so-called “status only” divorce in California.

Besides, you can prepare and file the documents required for bifurcation only after a mandatory 6-month waiting period is over. It starts when the respondent is served with the initial divorce documents, such as the Petition for Divorce and Summons. Since a bifurcated divorce isn’t a replacement for a traditional divorce but rather its possible part, a predetermined waiting period can’t be avoided.

Once it expires, it is necessary to complete a set of forms for a bifurcated divorce:

  • Proof of Financial Disclosure

Both spouses must provide an overview of all financial details that will be studied by the court to end up with a fair decision. The Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140) is a preliminary disclosure form that contains financial details, namely, income, assets, debts, and expenses of both spouses.

By filling out the Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142), spouses elaborate on what they own and owe as a married couple. They can characterize the joint real estate, bank accounts, investments, vehicles, loans, credit card debts, and more. Another compulsory document is the Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150) form. It is usually an in-depth description of earnings, sources of income, monthly expenses, and any additional financial obligations of every partner. Judges require this document to understand each spouse’s financial situation at the moment of a divorce.

Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure and Income and Expense Declaration (FL-141) is a legal proof of proper service of financial disclosures between spouses. It typically includes information about when and how the financial disclosures were served. 

  • Motion for Bifurcation

The Motion for Bifurcation in California is a formal request submitted to the court to divide the proceeding into 2 separate stages. In other words, one or both spouses will ask the judge to terminate the marital or domestic partnership status before all other issues are resolved. Child custody and support, alimony, and all remaining topics will be decided on later during a traditional divorce process. Unfortunately, there is no sample motion to bifurcate divorce on the court’s official website, so it’s reasonable to address a lawyer to help complete one.

Spouses may also file the Request for Order (FL-300) along with the Motion for Bifurcation. This form is used to petition for temporary orders concerning matters relevant to a divorce case, including child custody, visitation rights, child support, alimony, exclusive property use, etc. Another document to prepare is the Application or Response to Application for Separate Trial (FL-315). This document is filed with the court to request or respond to a request for separate trials on particular issues. A petitioner or respondent needs to provide arguments and supporting evidence regarding why certain aspects of a divorce should be addressed separately from others.

  • Judgement Forms

This set includes the Judgment Form (FL-180) and Bifurcation of Status of Marriage or Domestic Partnership (FL-347). The FL-180 form is sometimes referred to as the Final Judgement Divorce form in California. It is issued after bifurcation is granted.

Once the Judgment of Divorce has been entered by the court, both partners are notified about it with the Notice of Entry of Judgment (form FL-190). With the signed Entry of Judgement, divorce is legally finalized.

When spouses are done with paperwork, they will have to attend a separate hearing. Based on the data submitted to the court by spouses, the judge will decide whether to grant or deny the request for bifurcation. If granted, the court will issue an order allowing the divorce to be bifurcated.

In the Final Judgment Divorce form, the court may specify particular conditions to protect the interests of the responding party. These conditions are aimed at mitigating potential damages caused by bifurcation and can be the following:

  • After the bifurcation, the spouse responsible for maintaining the other spouse’s health insurance coverage must continue to fulfill this obligation.
  • The spouse initiating a bifurcated divorce process may be obliged to compensate the other spouse for any tax implications arising from the decision.
  • If either party holds a pension plan through their employer, the other spouse must be compensated for any loss of death benefits.

The unique features of a divorce case are the main factor that impacts possible conditions defined in the FL-180 form.