What is a Bifurcation Agreement?

In a previous post we mentioned a bifurcation agreement that had impacted a case, Middleton v. Middleton. It may not be a term that’s very familiar to you.

Bifurcation is an option when divorces drag on at length. Usually, divorces get stalled primarily by property issues. Meanwhile, one or both spouses might be ready to remarry, but cannot because they’re still not technically divorced yet.

Bifurcation allows one to get divorced while leaving those property issues on the table to settle at a later date. Issues of child custody, child support, and spousal support must be settled before a bifurcation agreement goes into effect.

It’s not a common option. It’s even less common these days, because Pennsylvania recently moved to make it a lot harder. Courts are uneasy about leaving any issues unresolved during the divorce process.

But, somewhat counterintuitively, bifurcation sometimes encourages settlements. The psychological shackles of the divorce are released, and emotionally spouses become ready to move on, even if they aren’t in love with the final division of property.

There are certainly some tax advantages as well, as spouses no longer have to file as a married couple.

However, bifurcation can also create messes, and make the process drag on all the more. If you’re in a situation where one spouse was the breadwinner and the other spouse was the homemaker the breadwinner suddenly has no incentive to move forward at all. He or she is likely to be in a stronger financial position so long as the division of property remains in legal limbo, at least temporarily.

As we’ve covered, legal limbo can come back to bite the breadwinning spouse later as well. If you’re eager to remarry it might be best to give in on one or two issues so you can simply resolve matters with a straightforward divorce.

Thus, bifurcation must be granted by a court order after a hearing. During the hearing, the judge examines both the grounds for bifurcation as well as the ways bifurcation might impact both spouses.

Obviously you should discuss bifurcation with your attorney at length so the implications become clear before anyone makes any moves.

Got questions? Getting ready to pursue a divorce here in Philadelphia? Contact us! We’ll be glad to offer you a free consultation. We’re some of Pennsylvania’s most experienced family lawyers, and we’re here to help you pursue the situation that’s right for you.

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