What is a bifurcation in a divorce proceeding?

​Bifurcation by definition means the splitting of a main body into two parts. In a divorce proceeding, it is asking the court to divide the case into separate stages, one on the grounds for the divorce and one on the financial issues.

​The primary advantage of bifurcation is that it permits the court to divorce the parties immediately. This enable the client to start a new chapter of their life after a failed marriage. Unfortunately, bifurcation also has two main inherent disadvantages. First, it promotes judicial inefficiency by requiring the court to schedule two hearings rather than one. Second, the desire to end the case and obtain a divorce by settling the outstanding issues is a powerful incentive to settlement. However, bifurcation, removes this incentive to encourage the other party to settle, thus reducing the number of negotiated agreements. However, bifurcation cannot exist unless the state law allows for such.

​In Illinois, bifurcation is allowed under the 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. Courts like in in re Marriage of Blount, have found that the benefit to the emotional status of elderly, very ill wife was “appropriate circumstance” for entry of bifurcated judgment of divorce reserving issues of maintenance and disposition of property. In re Marriage of Blount, 197 Ill.App.3d 816, 555 N.E.2d 114, 144 Ill.Dec. 217 (Ill.App. 4 Dist.,1990).

​Therefore, before considering a bifurcation of a divorce, research if the positives outweigh the negatives and if state law allows for it. Additionally, think about the mental anguish and emotional disadvantages that will continue as a result of the divorce not really being finished. However, for some, bifurcation is a great choice.

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