The divorce process can take a considerable time from beginning to end. Often, it’s impractical or even impossible for a couple to wait until the end of the road to decide issues such as custody and support. All states have a system in place to allow spouses to petition the court for temporary orders to maintain the status quo until their divorces are final. In legalese, these are “pendente lite” orders, which means “pending a final decree.”
Issues Subject to Temporary Orders
Temporary or pendente lite divorce orders can only address issues the court can undo later, if necessary. For example, courts won’t order the sale of marital property in a temporary order, because after its sale, it can’t be brought back into the marital estate for distribution between spouses at the time of the divorce. Courts will usually allow the sale of a home pending divorce if both spouses are in agreement, rather than lose the buyer. However, a pendente lite order would direct that the proceeds of the sale be held in escrow until property distribution can be decided at trial. Some pendente lite orders, called injunctions or stays, prevent spouses from selling assets until a court can address their distribution. However, temporary orders usually address issues such as spousal support, child support and custody. They set rules in place until a divorce is final.
Duration of Temporary Orders
Temporary orders are applicable only while a divorce is pending. Their sole purpose is to preserve the status quo until the court reaches a final decision or the couple agrees to a settlement. The terms of a divorce decree supersede and terminate temporary orders. Pendente lite orders remain in effect from the date the court signs them until the date of the decree.
Effect on Final Judgment
The terms of temporary orders often carry over into a final decree. Although a pendente lite order officially ends when the judge signs the decree, its terms may be repeated in the decree. This is often the case with temporary child support orders. Courts base child support calculations on the incomes of both parents. Unless one parent has had a radical change of circumstance during the pendency of the divorce, there’s no need to recalculate support all over again. Temporary custody orders sometimes set a precedent and create a routine for children that judges are reluctant to disturb. Courts are more likely to adjust the terms of temporary alimony or spousal support orders in a final decree, because the value of property distributed to each spouse is sometimes a factor in alimony calculations.
Temporary orders are rarely subject to appeal or modification pending trial. By their very nature, a judge will address their issues again at trial anyway. When the terms of temporary orders carry over into a final divorce judgment, some are modifiable and others are not. Terms addressing marital property generally cannot be undone after they’re incorporated into a judgment. However, support and custody terms are always modifiable whenever there’s a change of circumstance.