What is a Bifurcated Divorce Judgment?
In an overwhelming majority of cases, divorces are handled in one long proceeding. However, there are rare circumstances in which a case may be settled in parts. Bifurcated judgments are handed down by a court when there are obstacles to a single judgment that may not be resolved in the time available. Illinois courts do consider them, but the stakes must be high.
When is Bifurcation Appropriate?
Bifurcation is permitted under 750 ILCS 401(b), and is generally granted when “appropriate circumstances” exist. While this is, understandably, a nebulous term, it has somewhat been clarified by Illinois case law. Several different court cases have created non-exhaustive lists, but the general rule of thumb is that bifurcation is on the proverbial table when one spouse has a reason to want proceedings concluded quickly, and the reason does not unduly inconvenience or prejudice their soon-to-be ex-spouse.
The most common incidences of bifurcation in Illinois courts usually involve illness or other medical-related reasons: for example, a spouse wanting a divorce decree finalized while reserving questions of child custody, so that he or she can plan their estate accordingly if diagnosed with a terminal illness. Another common situation is when a wife is pregnant with her future fiance’s child and wishes to marry to ensure her child is born in wedlock. A well known case in Illinois is In re Marriage of Blount, 197 Ill. App. 3d 816 (1990), in which a wife was granted a bifurcated divorce judgment due to severe mental and emotional instability.
Pros and Cons of Bifurcation
There are positives and negatives to obtaining a bifurcated divorce decree, though a lot of them are somewhat individualized. It depends on your situation. The primary positive is obvious: the parties may get on with the next stage of their lives without being shackled to their ex-spouse any longer than necessary. The negatives have more to do with judicial issues. Bifurcation does contribute to judicial inefficiency, requiring two hearings instead of one. Also, historically, bifurcation can remove the impetus to negotiate on difficult issues for many people. If they are already divorced, a spouse with ill intentions may drag out proceedings on child custody and asset division solely to cause harm.
The negative with perhaps the most far-reaching complications is that certain marital rights are no longer available to the ex-spouse after a divorce decree is final. For example, the right to the spouse’s share of a deceased person’s assets is null and void after a divorce decree, even if bifurcated. Therefore, if a husband wishes to ensure his wife does not receive any of his assets after his passing, he can request bifurcation if he is shown to be near death. Another common marital right that one spouse may wish to cut off is the accumulation of marital property. In In re Marriage of Mathis, 2012 IL 113496 (2012), the Illinois Supreme Court held that on the date a bifurcated judgment for divorce is entered, marital property stops accruing.
A Smart Divorce Attorney Can Help
Since bifurcated judgments are difficult to obtain and can cause significant confusion, it can be helpful to seek the help of an experienced divorce lawyer. The dedicated DuPage County family law attorneys at our firm understand that your divorce matters, and will work hard to help you through the process. Contact our office today to discuss your options.