What is a motion to bifurcate a divorce in Utah, and why should I care to know?
By Brian N. Godfrey, Legal Assistant
A motion to bifurcate to dissolve your marriage means that the court declares your marriage ended, but all the other remaining issues of your divorce action, such as child custody and division of marital assets and responsibility for marital debt remain to be resolved either by settlement or trial, if it comes to that.
Why would anyone want to dissolve the marriage first and leave the other issues to be resolved later? I’ll tell you why based upon my personal experience and the experience of others we’ve helped obtain a bifurcation.
I got a bifurcation in my divorce. My ex filed for divorce against me and I countersued her for divorce, so we both wanted to be divorced from each other, and the court knew that. In my motion to bifurcate I informed that court that my wife and I were separated a while and that I was ready to move on with my life as a single person again, without having any legal burdens and responsibilities of being married to a woman who didn’t want to be married to me either. People in that situation may want to start dating or maybe even have met someone new and want to get re-married. Luckily, my bifurcation was granted because my ex agreed with it. It’s hard to imagine how a bifurcation could harm anyone. Even if my ex-wife hadn’t wanted a bifurcation or didn’t care one way or the other, it was a relief to me. I’ve seen the same thing in the lives of our clients in the law office where I work.
A surprising number of people argue that a bifurcated divorce would “slow down the divorce case” although this is a patently ridiculous argument to make. “Why on earth would someone want to have a bifurcation and not just finish the entire thing all at once?” they say. I can think of many situations. In my own experience, getting out of my marriage was a real accomplishment that helped me know my divorce was moving forward, not stalling! It was a big and meaningful first step that encouraged me to continue efforts to finalize the rest of my divorce.
There is one good reason for opposing a bifurcation, but even that can be worked around. If you or your spouse receive medical or health insurance benefits due to your status as a spouse. Dissolving the marriage by bifurcation would strip you of your status as a spouse which would cause you to lose your insurance coverage. But unless you are someone who is hard to cover or cannot get affordable insurance on your own, bifurcation doesn’t mean you can never get replacement insurance. We’ve even worked around the insurance issue by having the party who requested the bifurcation offer to pay for his or her spouse’s new insurance coverage for a few months until new coverage is in place.
Claiming that a bifurcation will inevitably slow a divorce case down or unavoidably puts it at serious risk of slowing down or never being completed is bunk. And it’s obvious why: because if either spouse were to try to abandon the divorce case after bifurcation then the other spouse could pipe up to the court and complain and get the case moving. And if both you and your spouse were to try to abandon your divorce case after bifurcation the court can get the case moving.
So unless you know of a truly good reason against bifurcation that I don’t, it is impossible to convince me that a bifurcation that dissolves your marriage up front is “harmful” to anyone or “slows down the process” because for me, it did just the opposite.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277