Appeals Stemming From Bifurcated Issues

            In family law proceedings, parties have the option of bifurcating pivotal issues for an early trial.  Said trial would occur before all of the other remaining issues (i.e. custody, support, visitation) are decided.  Bifurcated trials are similar to regular trials except for at least one major difference.  Property rulings made during a bifurcated trial are NOT automatically appealable.  Thus, if you are unhappy with the trial court's decision, one must generally wait until the remainder of the case is tried before appealing the issue.  Sometimes this can be a very costly and inefficient.  Fortunately, statutory authority provides an exception to this rule.  

           Courts have the discretion and authority to certify a bifurcated ruling for early appeal.   Family Code Section 2025 provides, “[I]f the court has ordered an issue or issues bifurcated for separate trial or hearing in advance of the disposition of the entire case, a court of appeal may order an issue or issues transferred to it for hearing and decision when the court that heard the issue or issues certifies that the appeal is appropriate. Certification by the court shall be in accordance with rules promulgated by the Judicial Council.”  The judicial council outlines its requirements in the California Rules of Court, Rule 5.392. 

Rule 5.392 provides four different factors a court must consider when deciding whether or not to certify a ruling for an early appeal.  Per Rule 5.392, the factors include (a) whether the issue is pivotal to the case, (b) expenditure of judicial resources (c) the benefit to the parties (d) and whether resolution of the issue would lead to settlement.  An analysis of your facts in light of the above factors will help a court determine whether or not to certify a decision for early appeal.

When is it smart to engage in an early? The answer is when said appeal saves you time and money.  Occasionally, bifurcated decisions can have a significant trickledown effect to the remaining issues in the case.  For example, a decision regarding transmutation can trigger a potential violation of fiduciary duty.  If your client is hell bent on appealing it would make little sense to engage in a full blown trial on a violation of fiduciary duty while the issue of transmutation has yet to be decided by the Court of Appeals.    Bottom line, anytime you engage in an early (bifurcated) trial make sure you consult with an experienced family law attorney.  An experienced family law attorney must analyze the facts of your case and the potential trickledown effect of a bifurcated ruling.  Such an analysis will help narrow the issues, focus your attention and potentially save you time and money.


Patrick Baghdaserians, CFLS

Family Law Attorney and Expert Located in Pasadena, CA


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