Divorce can be a lengthy process in Virginia. In no-fault cases, Virginia law requires parties to be separated for at least twelve months, or for at least six months with a separation agreement and no minor children, prior to even filing for divorce. And contested or fault-based divorces can take much longer than no-fault cases—sometimes dragging on for years, depending on the jurisdiction and issues involved. However, in many cases the parties have very real needs that must be addressed prior to the final hearing in their divorce. Thankfully, Virginia law allows courts to enter orders granting “pendente lite” (pending final resolution) relief to address those needs.
Virginia law grants the court the authority to issue pendente lite orders in any divorce case. Either or both parties may file a motion for pendente lite relief, either when the case is initially filed or at any time thereafter. A pendente lite order may: (a) award temporary spousal support and/or child support, (b) award one spouse temporary use of the marital home, (c) require a spouse to pay the bills associated with the home or other marital debts until the divorce is final, (d) award temporary custody and/or visitation of the parties’ minor children, (e) award attorney’s fees to one spouse enabling him or her to carry on the suit, (f) prevent the parties from harassing each another, and (g) prohibit either spouse from selling or otherwise disposing of any marital assets (e.g. withdrawing money from savings or retirement accounts).
It is important to note three things about pendent lite orders:
- A pendente lite hearing is not a full hearing. The court, depending on the jurisdiction, may only allow 30-60 minutes for the presentation of evidence. The court is seeking only to temporarily address the immediate needs of the family. Typically, any order entered maintains the status quo of the household, meaning that the court is unlikely to make drastic changes to the current family arrangements with regard to custody and support. If the court does institute change, it is likely to be the least amount possible in order to accomplish the court’s goal of temporary relief.
- A pendente lite order is temporary. The court will only be hearing limited evidence, and not making any final determinations, at the pendente lite stage. Any temporary support orders will be based on the resources currently available to the family until the final hearing. The higher-paid spouse often finds themselves being ordered to pay support in an amount determined very quickly by the court, without being able to present extensive evidence that might be relevant at the final hearing. However, the pendente lite order is not necessarily reflective of how much support will be awarded in the end. The same court that ordered a substantial amount of pendente lite spousal support may order far less support, or even no support, at the final hearing.
- A pendente lite order is an order of the court. Despite being a temporary order, a pendente lite order is still an enforceable court order. Either party’s failure to comply with the terms and conditions of a pendente lite order may result in a finding of contempt, and very likely will have a negative effect on the non-compliant party at the final hearing.
Given the limited time that you will have to present evidence during your pendente lite hearing, it is crucial that you are fully prepared to present the most relevant evidence possible. An experienced family law attorney is an invaluable asset in this process.
See also: Guide to Divorce in Virginia