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The Bifurcated Divorce Action

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'Bifurcation' allows a party to receive a divorce decree prior to having all the economic claims determined by a court.

By Attorney Nichole A. Collins, Divorce Lawyer, Harrisburg, PA

Bifurcation is a legal mechanism under the Pennsylvania Divorce Code that permits parties to gain the entry of a final divorce decree even though there may be economic claims still pending.  This may be important to a party that wants finality so they can remarry and start a new family, clear up their credit, refinance an existing property without the other party's involvement, seek advantages to tax filing as unmarried, or simply move on with their life.  However, the Pennsylvania bifurcation statute provides that there must be proof of "compelling circumstances and sufficient economic protections" for the party that may be adversely affected by deferred resolution of economic claims.  There is a three-pronged test that must be met:

Three Pronged test for Bifurcation in Pennsylvania

1) The grounds for divorce must be established.  There are fault grounds that have been established; the parties have signed affidavits of consent; or the parties have lived separate and apart for two (2) or more years and the marriage is irretrievably broken.

2) Compelling circumstances exist for the entry of the divorce decree.  There must be convincing evidence that one or more of the above elements have been established.

AND

3) Sufficient economic claims must be provided to the other party while the other claims remain pending.  One party has been paying alimony, child support during a period of 2 or more years.  The spouse opposing the bifurcation has developed their own means of support independent of the party seeking bifurcation.  The party seeking bifurcation would not be opposed to an order that prohibits the disposition of any marital assets even though a final decree was entered.

As you can see, every case requires a factual analysis and a cookie cutter method of placing a case into this framework will not work.  However, the courts of Pennsylvania have certainly provided for a more relaxed review of the standards required for bifurcation over the past 10 years.  This signifies a substantial departure from the previous view on bifurcations.

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