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Bifurcation

Bifurcation is the process whereby a divorce decree may be granted prior to resolution of the economic rights of the parties. Where granted, the court retains jurisdiction over the parties' equitable distribution claims as well as support claims. Section 3323 (c)(1) of the Divorce Code discusses where bifurcation might be available. If both parties consent to bifurcation, the court can enter a divorce decree indicating that they are retaining jurisdiction over the unresolved issues. In the absence of an agreement for bifurcation, the party requesting it would have to demonstrate why it is necessary. Specifically, the statute states compelling circumstances must exist and there must be sufficient economic protection for the other party.

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The other requirement for bifurcation is that there are already grounds for divorce. In a no-fault divorce, this would refer to both parties having consented after 90 days or a two year period of separation having run. Whether there are compelling circumstances and sufficient economic protection is up to the court's discretion. The length of time the parties have been separated and/or litigating the divorce matter can be a relevant factor. Tax consequences have been considered as a factor given the potential benefit of filing as individuals versus filing married separately. Finally, the court may consider the assets already in each parties' possession as well as a support order to determine the appropriateness of a bifurcation request under the sufficient economic protection prong. Some of the policies behind allowing bifurcation is to let the parties move on with their lives and offer an incentive for prompt disposition of all issues.

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