A key step in every contested divorce case in Virginia is the pendente lite hearing, where the court puts in place a number of ground rules to govern the parties until the divorce is final. “Pendente lite” is a Latin term which essentially means “pending the litigation” or in this context, “pending the final divorce.” In many cases these pendente lite ground rules include an order for temporary child and spousal support.
Each county has their own set of procedures regarding these hearings. For example, pendente lite hearings in Fairfax follow a very rigid structure, including a strictly-enforced 30 minute time limit. Stafford County also follows a schedule with most all hearings being 30 minutes, but Stafford is unique in its near universal drive to have parties attempt mediation before their temporary hearings.
The Virginia Code authorizes courts to refer any contested civil matter (such as a divorce case) to an orientation session. According to Virginia Code § 8.01-576.5, this referral is done to “encourage the early resolution of disputes.” In Stafford, parties that appear for their scheduled pendente lite hearing will first meet with one of the court’s mediators to evaluate their case’s suitability for mediation and potentially mediate a resolution prior to the actual hearing. There is no requirement to actually mediate the issues, but Stafford County does require that the parties speak with the mediator and hear about the mediation process.
In Stafford, after a pendente lite hearing is scheduled, the court will typically send out a written order requiring the parties to attend the mediation orientation and evaluation session. In some cases, however, the court will elect not to send written orders. If you have scheduled a pendente lite hearing in Stafford County, I strongly encourage you to arrive at the courthouse an hour before the hearing. That will leave ample time for the mediator to conduct the orientation and, if you and the opposing party are willing, attempt to settle the issues without the need for litigation.
If you are facing a divorce in Stafford County, consult with an experienced attorney before attending any pendente lite hearing or mediation session. The Fredericksburg divorce lawyers at Livesay & Myers, P.C. represent clients in Stafford County and throughout Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.