Bifurcation refers to splitting of a main body into two parts or division into two branches. In a legal context it refers to the division of a trial or legal proceeding into two parts. California Family Code Section 2337 (a) states “In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, the court, upon noticed motion, may sever and grant an early and separate trial on the issue of the dissolution of the status of the marriage apart from other issues.”
In other words, you can get be legally divorced and take status as a single person without reaching agreement on all issues in your divorce proceedings. This is common in very long litigation that may last years due to complicated financial issues. It is also common when one party wishes to re-marry which they obviously cannot do if still legally married to another.
Caution must be taken as bifurcation has very great ramifications on finances including Retirement plans, Taxes, Social Security benefits, Estate Planning and Life and Health Insurance coverage. Significant financial rules and procedures are laid out in Family Code Section 2337 to protect the status quo. Interim orders and temporary agreements such as joinder of retirement plans and indemnification agreements protecting the other party from taxes and other adverse affects of the change in marital status are often required.