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bifurcate

v. the order or ruling of a judge that one issue in a case can be tried to a conclusion or a judgment given on one phase of the case without trying all aspects of the matter. A typical example is when the judge will grant a divorce judgment without hearing evidence or making a ruling on such issues as division of marital property, child custody or spousal support (alimony). Thus the parties can be free of each other promptly while still fighting over other issues at their leisure. In a negligence case when the question of responsibility (liability) is clearly in doubt or rests on some legal technicality, the court may bifurcate the issues and hear evidence on the defendant's liability and decide that issue before going ahead with a trial on the amount of damages. If the court rules there is no liability, then the amount of damages is meaningless and further trial is necessary.

See also: bifurcation 

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The People's Law Dictionary by Gerald and Kathleen Hill Publisher Fine Communications