Today, we are going to break down the basics of “bifurcated divorce.” Going through the “bifurcation” process in a Pennsylvania divorce allows the parties to obtain a divorce before other claims are resolved. The manner in which parties can have their divorce bifurcated depends on whether or not both parties are consenting to the bifurcation. The Pennsylvania statute on bifurcation has been amended recently to make a bifurcated divorce more difficult to obtain. This is because courts are hesitant to enter divorce decrees without all other matters resolved unless the parties are in agreement as to this arrangement or there are particular circumstances warranting bifurcation.
If the parties consent to bifurcation, the court may enter a decree of divorce or annulment prior to the final disposition of other matters related to the parties’ divorce matter. These “other matters” include the existing property rights and interests between the parties, custody, partial custody and visitation rights, child support, alimony, reasonable attorney fees, costs and expenses and any other related matters including the enforcement of agreements voluntarily entered into by the parties.
If both parties do not consent, the court may enter a divorce decree or annulment prior to the determination of the ancillary matters if the moving party demonstrates that compelling circumstances exist for the entry of the decree or annulment and sufficient economic protections have been provided for the other party during the pendency of the disposition of the “other matters.” Additionally, grounds for divorce must have been established. This means that under a 3301(a) divorce, or where “fault” grounds are alleged, divorce grounds are established if the court adopts a report of the master or the court makes its own findings that grounds for divorce exist. Under a 3301(c) divorce, where the parties mutually consent to the divorce, both parties must file affidavits of consent to establish the “grounds” to obtain a bifurcated divorce. Lastly, under a 3301(d) divorce, where the parties must have been separated for two years prior to the entry of a divorce decree and it is established that the marriage is irretrievably broken, “grounds” are established if an affidavit has been filed and no counter-affidavit is filed, or if a counter-affidavit is filed denying the averments in the affidavit, the court determines that the marriage is irretrievably broken and the parties have lived separate and apart for at least two years at the time of the filing of the affidavit.
However, there are advantages and disadvantages to seeking a bifurcated divorce. The advantages as defined by the Superior Court’s decision in the Wolk case are that the divorce is resolved quickly and the parties can then begin to restructure their lives, it encourages settlements, and there are tax advantages in the ex-spouses being able to remarry and file jointly on their tax returns with their new spouse.
Some disadvantages to bifurcating a divorce matter occur when one of the parties is in almost total control of the parties’ assets and finances. That party then has no incentive to resolve the economic claims in the divorce after-the-fact. Also, if one party should die after the divorce decree is entered but prior to the resolution of the economic claims, the deceased spouse’s estate is substituted as a party and the divorce action proceeds. This means that if one party dies prior to the resolution of economic claims in a bifurcated divorce, they lose the benefits that come with the Probate, Estate and Fiduciary Code.
Because bifurcation can at times be a slightly more complicated matter, you should contact an experienced Pittsburgh Divorce attorney today to discuss this process and whether it is beneficial in your divorce matter.