What is a pendente lite order in divorce?

Temporary orders may bring you some relief while you go through the process of your divorce.

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What's Inside

A divorce can take months or even years, and you may not have the resources to afford housing, child care and other daily expenses while your divorce is ongoing. This is why a pendente lite order may be necessary immediately after you file for divorce.

Pendente lite means “pending the suit”, and many family courts hand down pendente lite (or temporary) orders regarding rights to assets and child custody before they enter their final divorce decrees

This article explains what a temporary order may do for you and what some courts need before granting a motion for a temporary order in a divorce.

Issues that may arise while the divorce is pending

While you go through the steps of your divorce, you and your spouse might have financial stresses or concerns regarding child custody that need to be addressed right away. These issues could include questions regarding: 

  • Who gets to stay in the marital home while the divorce is pending and how the other spouse will pay for alternative housing
  • Who pays for your child’s extraordinary medical, education or other needs before the divorce becomes final
  • Who has custody of your child or can make decisions for them while the divorce is pending
  • If you share a vehicle, who gets to use the vehicle and how the other spouse will pay for alternative transportation
  • How a spouse who isn’t gainfully employed will pay for everyday expenses while awaiting the court’s final decree

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Additionally, while the court weighs the evidence and makes its final determinations for a divorce decree, you and your spouse might be temporarily barred from transferring property or making significant financial or custody decisions. For example, neither of you may be able to:

  • Take the children you share out of the state without the consent of the other spouse or permission from the court.
  • Dispose of, conceal, transfer or encumber marital property without the consent of the other spouse or permission from the court. 
  • Cancel, terminate, modify or neglect to pay insurance premiums for policies that cover the other spouse or any shared children.

Pendente lite divorce orders can address these concerns and help you move forward with your life amid court proceedings. However, these orders don’t necessarily affect the decisions the judge will make in your final divorce decree. 

What are pendente lite divorce orders?

After divorce proceedings begin, many states allow either spouse to file for temporary orders that cover the following: 

  • Spousal support (also called spousal maintenance or alimony)
  • Legal costs and attorney fees 
  • The amount of marital assets each spouse may use to pay for living expenses
  • The payment of healthcare expenses
  • Restraining one spouse from contacting any shared children or the other spouse 
  • Child custody and parenting time 
  • The payment of marital debts
  • Use and possession of a family car, a family home or household goods 

These orders typically last until the court finalizes your divorce but may terminate earlier if you or your spouse can prove that the orders are no longer necessary. In many cases, the court uses the same criteria to grant temporary orders and to make final decisions on these issues.

Pendente lite custody orders

If you’re a parent, your first concerns in the wake of a divorce petition may be about where your child will live and who will make decisions about their life. If you have a preference, you may ask the court to hand down temporary custody orders. The court bases its decision on what’s in the child’s best interests. To do so, it may consider some or all of the following: 

  • The health of each parent
  • The reasonable preferences of the child (depending on their age)
  • Any history of domestic abuse in either parent’s household
  • The emotional, physical, spiritual, mental, cultural, education, medical and other needs of the child
  • The history of how each parent has participated in the child’s life
  • The ability of each parent to encourage contact between the child and the other parent
  • The ability of the parents to cooperate regarding raising the child 
  • The potential changes to the child’s well-being and development with regard to changes in their home life, school life or community life 
  • Each parent’s ability to address the child’s needs
  • The effect that limiting or maximizing parenting time could have on the child

Pendente lite support orders

If you and your spouse have a minor child together, one of you will likely have a child support obligation by the time the court makes its final order. And if you or your spouse has significantly fewer assets or employment opportunities than the other, one of you may be entitled to alimony (or spousal support).

Depending on your circumstances, you may also be able to receive support to keep yourself or your family afloat until the judge finalizes your case. 

Pendente lite child support orders

In general, child support is a must in a divorce involving minor children. Depending on your state’s law, your entitlement to a temporary child support order could be based on factors such as the following: 

  • Your gross income
  • Your spouse’s gross income
  • The amount of custody you have
  • The amount of custody your spouse has
  • Whether you or your spouse pays all healthcare insurance expenses or childcare expenses

Pendente lite alimony orders

Spousal support or alimony isn’t a given in every divorce case, so it may be more difficult to convince a family law judge that you should receive a pendente lite alimony order. You may be entitled to temporary spousal support if you can prove that:

  • You lack assets to provide for your reasonable needs in light of the standard of living you enjoyed during your marriage
  • You’re unable to adequately support yourself through employment
  • Your spouse has the financial ability to help support you

Although these are common criteria courts use to determine permanent and temporary alimony orders, standards may differ by state, so check the laws in your area.

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When may I request temporary orders in my divorce?

Generally, you may request temporary orders any time before your divorce becomes final. As long as you can prove that the orders are necessary, there’s a chance your family court will grant them. 

To prove your right to a temporary order, you might need to provide documentation such as:

  • Affidavits
  • Healthcare records
  • Financial statements
  • Witness testimony about your circumstances
  • Police reports 
  • Criminal history records
  • Education reports
  • School records
  • Leases or property titles 

How do I request temporary orders?

You likely have to file a motion with the court to request temporary orders in your case. In the request, you may have to provide several details about your family life, your child’s needs and your finances, such as the history of your marriage, financial statements, statements from professionals, police reports, medical records and school records. Once you submit this motion, you might need to have your spouse served with the paperwork and then attend a hearing.

During a hearing, the parties typically need to submit testimony and other evidence regarding their position. If there is a motion for custody and there are concerns about your child’s safety, the judge may request an investigation of the matter. After hearing, the judge enters their decision on your request. Every case is different, and every state is different, but this process could take around a month. 

How an attorney may help

Pursuing temporary orders doesn’t always require attorney assistance, but having the guidance of experienced counsel may make getting what you need easier. When you hire an attorney to handle your divorce case, they can analyze your financial needs and your parenting concerns to see if any temporary orders would relieve some of your divorce-related pressures. An attorney may also gather the appropriate evidence and make the necessary arguments to convince a judge that the temporary orders you seek are warranted.

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Frequently asked questions

Who needs temporary divorce orders?

Other life pressures, such as living costs, childcare needs and employment obligations, don’t stop while you’re working out the details of your divorce. Some of these obligations can be more burdensome when you no longer share them with your spouse. In light of this, a temporary divorce order may be necessary to help you pay your bills and ensure that your child has what they need while you potentially wait months (or, in some cases, years) for the court to make a final decision about your share of the marital property or your custody rights.

When do temporary divorce orders go into effect?

Because many spouses who request temporary orders must attend a hearing before the judge can grant them, receiving a temporary order could take close to a month. But once a judge hands down a temporary order, that order might go into effect immediately. Carefully reading the order you receive is crucial for understanding when it goes into effect.

How long do temporary orders last?

Typically, temporary orders last until the court enters its final divorce decree (or may end sooner if a spouse can prove that the orders are no longer needed).

How do temporary orders affect the final divorce decree?

In general, temporary orders don’t affect the final divorce decree, but a court might take temporary spousal maintenance into consideration when making a final decision about spousal maintenance.

Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

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