Is Bifurcation an Option?
March 13, 2017Is there something I can do to move my divorce along?
This is a question asked frequently when a divorce is dragging on. Divorces can be drawn out because the parties are unable to reach agreement, because of prolonged litigation, because one party refuses to “come to the table,” or for numerous other reasons. When this happens it can feel very unfair for either or both parties. We have heard it described as “being held hostage in a dead marriage.” If the animosity between the parents continues unabated for a long period of time the prolonged process also can have a detrimental impact on children.
The Pennsylvania Divorce Code provides relief in such circumstances, allowing spouses to get divorced without final resolution of all property issues. The procedure is called a “bifurcated divorce.” The bifurcation process allows parties to get divorced, move on and re-marry if they wish, while the economic issues of the marriage are pending. Protections for the dependent spouse and minor children must be in place until the case is fully resolved.
Bifurcation is considered an unusual proceeding, and can be granted only upon Order of Court. A judge makes the final determination to grant a bifurcation, and does not have to agree even if both parties want the divorce before they distribute all of their assets and liabilities.
Under the most recent amendments to the Divorce Code, 23 Pa. C.S. Section 3323 (c) provides that when considering bifurcation, a court must consider whether:
- grounds have been established for divorce
- the moving party has demonstrated that compelling circumstances exist for entry of a divorce decree (or annulment) and
- sufficient economic protections have been provided for the other party and any minor children of the marriage during the pendency of the disposition of the continuing matter.
At the conclusion of a hearing, the Court issues an opinion outlining the specific facts that support its decision and Orders any protections that it deems necessary.
Bifurcation is appropriate only in special circumstances. In most cases it is not appropriate as it keeps parties bound to one another economically and can have other negative ramifications. To explore the full panoply of ramifications and/or if you are wondering about whether bifurcation is an option in your situation, we recommend that you consult with a competent divorce attorney.