Some states allow couples to legally divorce prior to agreeing on property distribution and support. This is called “bifurcation.” Couples may want this type of divorce because they can change their marital status without waiting for their financial issues to be sorted out which could take months or years. However, many states prohibit or significantly limit bifurcation including New Jersey.
New Jersey Family Court Rules provide that “Bifurcation of trial of the marital dissolution or custody dispute from trial of disputes over support and equitable distribution shall be permitted only with the approval of the Family Presiding Judge, which approval shall be granted only in extraordinary circumstances and for good cause shown.” With bifurcation, there must be 2 court proceedings – one for the divorce and one for financial disputes.
When can a couple get bifurcation? Wanting to get a divorce to marry someone else is typically not a good enough reason by itself. Nor is a congested court calendar which will delay the case significantly. One case that allowed bifurcation involved a bankruptcy stay. Another possible scenario where a bifurcation application might be appropriate is where one party may be seriously ill and the threat of the party passing is imminent. Similarly, another possibility is where a party is very elderly and life expectancy may not be significant given his/her age.
Generally, in deciding whether to allow bifurcation, the court will look at whether bifurcation will simplify or reduce the prospect of further proceedings or whether it may be in the best interests of the parties or children. For example, a child custody hearing may be permitted prior to the final hearing of the whole action where the court finds that custody is a genuine and substantial issue. However, where the parties’ financial issues are complicated and there is no possibility of a settlement, bifurcation would likely only serve to prolong litigation and would not be granted absent extenuating circumstances.
If you are considering divorce or already filed, an experienced attorney can help you determine if bifurcated divorce is appropriate for you.
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