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Suddenly Single—What is a Bifurcated Divorce, and is it Right for You?

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By Debra Schoenberg

Early in March, after seven-plus years of marriage to Kanye West (now legally, “Ye”), Kim Kardashian West became Kim Kardashian again—legally single—when a judge granted her request for termination of their married status.

Their contentious celebrity split has played out publicly over the last year since Kim first filed in February 2021. You’ve probably heard about it, whether you wanted to or not. But you may be wondering how Kim became suddenly single again, amidst all the complications.

California law allows for “bifurcated divorce.” To bifurcate means to split or fork into two branches. In a divorce process, bifurcation enables the court to divide out specific issues for a separate trial and thereby grant the end of the marriage before all disagreements are resolved.

Why bifurcate?

Under Section 2339(a) of the California Family Code, six months must elapse from the date the Respondent is served a petition until the divorce is final. This ongoing entanglement can be emotionally draining and financially burdensome and make you feel like your life is on hold. But in reality, thorny issues surrounding custody, support, division of property, and more can make the process drag on much longer—a genuinely contentious divorce can take years.

It’s worth noting that California’s waiting period is more extended than in many states; it exists to ensure that the parties want to go through with the divorce and allows time for potential reconciliation. In the Kardashian-West case, Ye publicly pressed to get the family back together, but Kim was emphatic that there was no hope of patching things up.

Sometimes one or both spouses have good reason to want to officially end the marriage as quickly as possible, even with outstanding issues. A status-only dissolution is often sought because one or both partners want to remarry as soon as possible.  In some cases, it means you can be single within weeks of the end of the six-month waiting period—and are free to remarry earlier than a year after filing for divorce.

Beyond the desire to remarry quickly, there are other reasons why someone might wish to have their marriage declared over while still sorting through disagreements—for example, tax implications. If your married status is legally terminated before December 31, you can file as “single” for the tax year or “head of household” if you qualify.

Many of the issues that typically delay a divorce can be bifurcated. California Family Code article 5.390 allows for 13 family law issues to be tried separately:

  1. Validity of premarital/postnuptial agreements
  2. Date of separation
  3. Date of asset valuation
  4. Determining whether a property is community or separate
  5. Distribution of the increased value of a business
  6. Existence or value of business or professional goodwill
  7. Termination of marital/domestic partnership status
  8. Child custody and visitation
  9. Child/spousal support
  10. Attorneys’ fees
  11. Equitable distribution of community property/debt
  12. Claims for reimbursement
  13. Other case-specific family law issues

But bifurcation is not for everyone and is not advantageous in every situation. It’s important to know that bifurcation impacts pension/retirement and health insurance plans and has tax consequences; when a court grants bifurcation, the law requires that you meet certain conditions of compensation and reimbursement for losses. Additionally, dividing your divorce into separate trials can become more expensive if it results in more significant legal fees.

If you’ve made the difficult decision to end your marriage, and think you may have reason to bifurcate your divorce, you need a knowledgeable, experienced attorney to review all aspects of your case. The family law experts at SFLG can help you navigate the complexities of your divorce and determine the best course.

by Debra Schoenberg

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