Summary: Bifurcation: Trial Court Properly Bifurcated Case Where Showing of Appropriate Circumstances Due to Impact of Protracted Litigation on Children
By Gunnar Gitlin (Illinois)
The appellate court first recited the black-letter law re bifurcation:
However, a court may only enter a judgment of dissolution while reserving resolution of the issues of child custody, child support, or maintenance upon agreement of the parties or a motion by either party and a finding that appropriate circumstances exist. 750 ILCS 5/401(b)
The trial court had first mentioned that the list provided in the seminal Cohen decision was non-exhaustive list. The trial court then stated that it felt the extended and protracted litigation was a problem and that it believed the highly contentious nature of the case was having a serious and detrimental impact on the mental health of the parties’ children. The court further stated that respondent had caused multiple delays by continually replacing her attorneys, reiterated that it was “very troubled and concerned about the impact that all of this has had upon the children,” and found that appropriate circumstances existed to grant petitioner’s motion to bifurcate. The court then explained that it did not think bifurcation would have a detrimental impact on the case because a custody trial had been scheduled and the financial issues were not going to be resolved anytime soon, due in part to the size of the marital estate. The appellate court stated:
Although the parties discuss numerous bases that the circuit court allegedly relied upon, or could have relied upon, to justify bifurcation in their briefs, it is clear from the court’s comments that it granted bifurcation because it was in the best interests of the parties’ children, and not because it wanted to punish respondent for repeatedly changing counsel or delaying the proceedings.
The appellate court next stated:
Having determined that bifurcation may be justified where necessary to alleviate the detrimental impact of the dissolution proceedings on the parties’ children, we now must decide whether the circuit court abused its discretion by finding that appropriate circumstances existed to justify bifurcation on that basis in this case.
The court then concluded:
The court was confronted with an unusually protracted and contentious litigation in this case, which it reasonably believed was having a detrimental impact on the mental and emotional health of the parties’ children. By granting a bifurcated judgment of dissolution, the court at least resolved one issue present in the proceedings and provided the parties and their children with certainty and finality regarding the parties’ marital status. Unlike in Cohn, 93 Ill. 2d at 200, where the circuit court did not give any consideration to the question of whether bifurcation was necessary, here the court acknowledged the general presumption against bifurcation and considered the relevant case law and the unique circumstances present in this case before concluding that bifurcation was justified.
© 2011, Gitlin Law Firm, P.C. For more articles by Gunnar J. Gitlin, go to www.gitlinlawfirm.com/writings.htm
Gunnar Gitlin has exclusively practiced in divorce and family law cases for the past two decades, having been a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers since 1996. He has created a state of the art database of Illinois family law cases — Gitlin on Divorce Online Research System and is a frequent lecturer to family lawyers both statewide and nationally.
Reprint with permission.