Pennsylvania Divorce Law & Injunctions

by Beverly Bird
An injunction prohibits spouses from taking certain actions during divorce litigation.

An injunction prohibits spouses from taking certain actions during divorce litigation.

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An injunction is a court order that stops the parties to a lawsuit from taking matters into their own hands. Injunctions can be useful in divorce situations when emotions run high and spouses might be inclined to act impulsively or out of character. In some states, injunctions automatically go into place when a spouse files for divorce, but this isn't the case in Pennsylvania.

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Petition for Interim Relief

After you file a divorce complaint in Pennsylvania, if you have special concerns, you can take steps to file for an injunction. This involves filing a petition for interim relief with the court. You must explain the situation in writing and ask the court for an order that governs the situation until your divorce is final. These petitions cover a wide range of issues; you can ask a judge to address virtually anything your spouse might be doing or threatening to do that puts you or your children at a legal disadvantage or in danger.

Property Issues

Interim orders commonly address financial issues. Spouses cannot sell or dissipate marital property during divorce in an effort to remove it from the marital estate so it can't be equitably divided. They can't place additional liens or mortgages against property without the consent of the other spouse or the court. They can’t cancel insurance policies that existed when the divorce was filed or change beneficiaries; the status quo must be maintained until the litigation is resolved. An interim order acts as an injunction against doing these things or anything else that changes assets or puts them in jeopardy.

Custody Issues

You can file a petition for interim relief to deal with custody matters as well. This could be as simple as asking the court to award temporary custody to one parent and visitation to the other until the divorce is final or as serious as an emergency filing to prevent your spouse from leaving the state with your children. If your spouse refuses to let you see your children, a Pennsylvania judge can order him to appear in court -- with the children -- and place bond, which he would lose if he violates the terms of the temporary custody order again.

Domestic Violence

Normally, you have two options if domestic violence, harassment or threats are a problem. You can contact law enforcement and file criminal charges against your spouse, particularly if physical violence is involved, or you can seek a civil restraining order, which is also a type of injunction. It's a separate case from your divorce, however. If you've filed for divorce, you have a third option in Pennsylvania. You can file a petition for interim relief, asking for a temporary protection order. This enjoins or stops your spouse from contacting you personally during your divorce litigation. If a temporary custody order is already in place, a protection order supersedes its terms and can give custody to one parent or the other, based on the situation. You also can file a petition asking for exclusive use of the marital home if you and your spouse are still living there. Such an order would require him to vacate the residence.

Considerations

Interim relief is not automatic, even after you file a petition. You would have the burden of proof to convince the judge that the injunction you're requesting is necessary. This usually involves a court hearing. If you find yourself in a serious situation, you might not want to attempt filing such a petition on your own. Consider conferring with an attorney before you proceed.