Pendente lite is Latin for “pending the litigation” and in the context of your divorce it can mean temporary relief while your divorce is finalized. It can take upwards of a year for a divorce to be final once a couple with children has separated. During that time there are often issues that need to be addressed promptly. For example, maybe you require support from your spouse, or perhaps they have removed you from their health insurance policy. Sometimes these issues can be resolved outside of court through discussions with your spouse, but in situations where that is not possible Virginia has recognized temporary relief from the court in the form of pendente lite orders.
Once you file for divorce you will be able to file a motion for a pendente lite hearing. At this hearing you and your attorney will present evidence, counter evidence presented by your spouse and a judge will make a temporary ruling that is binding on both parties. These hearings can take place at the circuit court where you filed for divorce or the local juvenile and domestic relations court depending on the type of relief sought.
For example, if you file for divorce and are seeking spousal support while you are separated, but before the divorce is final a pendente lite hearing would work as follows. First, you will be asked to collect documentation regarding your current income/expenses such as tax documents, bank statements, and pay stubs. That information would be exchanged with your spouse’s attorney. At the hearing your attorney will advocate on your behalf and you will be asked to confirm that their statements are accurate. Your attorney will also ask you a series of questions to elicit the pertinent information. Your spouse’s attorney will have an opportunity to question you as well.
Next, your spouse will have a chance to present their case and they will be cross-examined by your attorney. A judge will consider the testimony presented and the relevant financial documentation to make a ruling. In some cases the judge follows a formula, in others it is left to their discretion. The judge’s ruling will be turned into an order that lasts until the divorce is finalized. If one party fails to obey the order the court can hold them in contempt. It is important to remember that any terms from the temporary order have no bearing on the final terms of the divorce. In practice courts may continue the temporary support order and merge it into a final ruling with the term of support more specifically drawn. But there are no guarantees that the amount of spousal support received during the separation will be unchanged when the divorce is final.
While temporary spousal support is one reason you may choose to pursue a pendente lite order, they can be used to resolve a number of other issues as well. Child support, custody of children, visitation schedules, exclusive use of the marital residence, payment of debts, payment of attorney’s fees, health insurance coverage, and excluding a family member from the residence, are among the other scenarios that can be addressed with a pendente lite order for temporary relief.
It is possible that you and your spouse will be unable to agree on one of these important issues as you wait for your divorce to become final. In that case one of the experienced attorneys at Smith Strong, PLC can determine whether obtaining pendente lite relief is appropriate. Our attorneys routinely conduct pendente lite hearings and will be able to guide you through the process of obtaining the protection you need pending the outcome of your divorce. We welcome your call at 804-325-1245 (Richmond) or 757-941-4298 (Williamsburg).
References : Va. Code Ann. § 20-103