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bifurcation in Chicago divorce

What is Bifurcation in a Divorce Proceeding?

Categorized as Illinois Divorce

Earlier this year, Kim Kardashian filed a motion to bifurcate her divorce. Kim and Kanye (now Ye), are not the only celebrities to seek a bifurcation in their divorce. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie also famously got a bifurcated divorce in 2019. In these cases, both pairs knew that their divorce would be a drawn-out process and that divorcing before entering another negotiation would be the best thing for them.

However, this leads to the general public having many questions. Such as what is bifurcation? Why do people do it? Are there any benefits, and what are the problems with the bifurcation? Is a bifurcated divorce right for me? 

What is Bifurcation? 

Bifurcation separates the divorce itself from the property and parenting issues. Typically, in divorce cases, finances and parenting issues are issued simultaneously with the dissolution of the marriage. 

By effect, a bifurcation reserves all issues other than the dissolution to be handled later and allows the pair to be legally divorced immediately.

Common Questions About Bifurcation

Why would someone want a bifurcated divorce?

Someone might seek bifurcation for several reasons. First, they know that the process will take a long time due to their financials and want to be objective when negotiating, i.e., Brad and Angelina. Someone may want it for the emotional catharsis before handling the other issues. Someone may like it because the other spouse ran off several years ago, and they have no hope of finding them.

My spouse and I agree that bifurcating is going for us. What should I do?

The best thing would be to file an agreed order and ask the judge to enter it in your case. However, depending on your jurisdiction, you might still need a bifurcation motion. Please talk to an attorney if you consider this.

My spouse does not want to bifurcate. What do I do?

Bifurcated divorces can be agreed on or argued. An argued bifurcation needs “appropriate reasons” to be granted. For example, one reason could be that one of the spouses is absent. Another reason someone might seek bifurcation is that the couple is not in a financial situation where they could solve other issues in the divorce.

How likely am I to be given a bifurcated divorce?

Illinois courts are not likely to grant bifurcations. The Illinois Supreme Court stated a public policy objection to a bifurcated divorce. The Court encourages courts and parties to exercise restraint in seeking bifurcation. 

That being said, if the courts have sufficient evidence of appropriate reasons, the court will grant a bifurcation. However, that being said, appropriate reasons take a lot of work to prove.

What are the Appropriate Reasons to Request a Bifurcation?

​In Illinois, bifurcation is allowed under statute 750 ILCS 401(b). The appropriate circumstances for bifurcating a judgment, as referenced in the statute 750 ILCS 401(b), are narrowly drawn. If trial courts were allowed unfettered discretion to bifurcate a judgment of dissolution, the inequities and complications could potentially prejudice one party over the other. Therefore, the circumstance must be appropriate to allow a bifurcation. 

Appropriate reasons are not formally defined, but case law in Illinois does illuminate several examples of what is considered appropriate reasons. Courts, like In re Marriage of Blount, have found that the benefit to the emotional status of the elderly, very ill wife was an “appropriate circumstance” for entry of bifurcated judgment of divorce, reserving issues of maintenance and disposition of property. 

Some Examples include:

  • Jurisdictional Issues: If there are jurisdictional issues with one of the spouses. For instance, say a spouse ran off, and the other spouse cannot find them. In that case, the court can grant the spouse a bifurcated divorce, and the absent spouse can seek to handle the reserved issues if they ever return.
  • Spouse Failed to Respond to Divorce Petition: It could also be that the other spouse never responded to your Petition for Dissolution and never filed an appearance. If that happens, you can request a default judgment, which is functionally the same as a bifurcated divorce since all the issues are reserved, and the divorce is granted.
  • Spouse Unable to Pay for Child Support: Bifurcated divorce can also be given if one spouse is in a situation where they cannot pay for child support. For instance, the court might allow the couple to bifurcate if one spouse is incarcerated.
  • High-Conflict Spouses: In cases involving children and a divorce between high-conflict people, bifurcated divorces have been granted to ease the tension between spouses. Again, the goal was to prevent them from negatively impacting their children.
  • Complex Estate Planning Concerns: There can also be a bifurcated divorce when serious estate planning concerns arise. In one case, a man sought to have a bifurcated divorce because he was terminally ill. The pair had separated for several years. The man wanted to marry his long-time girlfriend and add her to his estate as his wife.

There may need to be more than those concerns to grant a bifurcation. Still, if there is enough evidence, a court may use discretion to grant a bifurcated divorce.

What are the Benefits of Bifurcation? 

The first benefit is that you and your spouse are no longer legally married. This means that either person can file for taxes as a single person, remove their ex-partner from any pension or death benefits, and remarry. 

Also, suppose the divorcing pair has no joint property, no child, and agrees to a bifurcated divorce. In that case, it might be quicker and cheaper for them to bifurcate than to go through the process. 

Conversely, suppose the pair are incredibly wealthy and have a massive amount of marital property. In that case, the couple might benefit from finalizing the issue of divorce early.

Many also find that it is emotionally cathartic to no longer be married. Because of that, it allows the couple to look at the remaining issues objectively.

What are the Problems with Seeking a Bifurcated Divorce?

Illinois courts are hesitant to grant bifurcation. However, if the bifurcation is agreed on, it is more likely to be given. If not, then it is challenging to prove appropriate circumstances.

Also, in most cases, bifurcation expands the litigation time. This is because bifurcation separates into several issues and will necessitate multiple hearings, trials, and judgments. At the same time, a non-bifurcated divorce only has one judgment to handle all the financial and parenting issues that come from divorce. 

Even in situations like default judgments or absent spouses, it opens someone up to future litigation in the future, if the other spouse decides to contest the bifurcation or default judgment. 

Speak to a Chicago Divorce Lawyer About Bifurcation

Before considering a bifurcation of a divorce, research if the positives outweigh the negatives. Additionally, think about the mental anguish and emotional disadvantages that will continue as a result of the divorce not really being finished.  Before considering a bifurcation in an Illinois divorce, be sure to consult with an experienced divorce lawyer to discuss your options. At Anderson Boback & Marshall, schedule a consultation with one of our Chicago divorce attorneys, who can answer your questions about bifurcation and any other family law concerns.

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