During the divorce proceeding, the parties may bifurcate or sever various issues and allow an early judgment on those issues. The law actually encourages parties in a dissolution action to bifurcate trial whenever it might expedite settlement or ease the resolution of other contested issues. Marriage of Wolfe (1985) 173 CA3d 893-894.
One of the issues that may be bifurcated is the marital status. A “status only” dissolution allowing the parties to dissolve the marriage and return the parties marital status to single is favored by public policy and is appropriate where the parties want their marriage terminated ASAP but more time is needed to resolve the other issues such as dividing the community assets or debts. Family Code s.2337(a)(f). The court will simply reserve jurisdiction to determine the other issues at a later date.
Although the moving party (party requesting the bifurcation) carries the burden, the burden is low. The moving party must only show “slight evidence” in support of his or her request. The “slight evidence” is generally that reconciliation is not possible. On-the-other-hand, the opposing party’s burden to defeat the bifurcation is high and he or she must present “compelling reasons” to not bifurcate. There must be a showing of actual prejudice should the status only judgment occur. Procedural defects are not compelling reasons.
Although the “status only” judgment occurs earlier than resolution of the other issues, the jurisdictional requirements of residency must still be met and the parties’ preliminary disclosures must be exchanged prior to a “status only” judgment. The court will also place conditions on “status only” judgment that will protect the other party against losses that may occur. Some of these conditions are (1) tax liability indemnification, (2) continued health care coverage and indemnification, (3) indemnification regarding probate homestead and family allowance, (4) indemnification regarding retirement benefits, (5) indemnification regarding social security benefits, and (6) maintaining other party as beneficiary of nonprobate transfer.
What are the benefits of a early “status only” judgment? If a “status only” judgment occurs and a party dies, the court retains jurisdiction to resolve the remaining issues. In contrast, if the parties do not have a “status only” judgment and a party dies, the divorce proceedings are dismissed and no other issues are resolved, i.e., the case is over. If a party wants to marry a third party, they can do so with a “status only” judgment. Lastly, it can relieve tension and allow the case to proceed more easily. Sometimes, the fact that the parties are “single” allows the other issues to be resolved more smoothly.
DISCLAIMER: The information above is entitled for informational and educational use only and is not intended to be legal advice in any way. If legal advice is needed, one should seek the assistance of an attorney.