Nearly 43 years overdue. On February 1, 2023 the Newport News Public Library staff reported finding a book returned to one of its branches that was due back March 23, 1980. You never run out of time to do the right thing, right? But what if you miss your pendente lite hearing in a family law case? What can a Virginia man do?

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Pendente Lite Definition

A little Latin, please: pendente lite is a Latin term brought into the legal realm because it means “while the suit is pending,” or “pending litigation.” Your attorney might file for pendente lite child support, or ask for a pendente lite hearing on child custody, as examples.

In separation and divorce matters, pendente lite orders follow the rules of Code of Virginia § 20-103, cleverly titled “Court may make orders pending suit for divorce, custody or visitation, etc.”

That legal section allows a judge in either Circuit Court or Juvenile & Domestic Relations (J&DR) Court to deal with a host of family law issues:

  • To compel a spouse to pay any sums necessary for the maintenance and support of the petitioning spouse
  • To order the other spouse to provide health care coverage for the petitioning spouse
  • To order that a party pay secured or unsecured debts incurred jointly or by either party
  • To enable such spouse to carry on the suit
  • To prevent either spouse from imposing any restraint on the personal liberty of the other spouse
  • To provide for the custody and maintenance of the minor children of the parties
  • To order either party or both parties to provide health care coverage or cash medical support, or both, for the children
  • To provide support for any child of the parties to whom a duty of support is owed and to pay or continue to pay support for special needs children over the age of 18
  • To pay for the exclusive use and possession of the family residence during the pendency of the suit
  • To preserve the estate of either spouse, so that it be forthcoming to meet any decree which may be made in the suit
  • To compel either spouse to give security to abide such decree
  • To compel a party to maintain any existing policy owned by that party insuring the life of either party
  • To require a party to name as a beneficiary of the policy the other party or an appropriate person for the exclusive use and benefit of the minor children of the parties
  • To allocate the premium cost of such life insurance between the parties, provided that all premiums are billed to the policyholder
  • To require a party to vacate the family home as part of a protective order
  • In family law matters not involving divorce (as with unmarried parents), to compel child support, child custody, and parenting time (visitation)

We can simplify that list for those in the TLDR group:

  • A pendente lite hearing addresses child custody, child support, spousal support, protections from domestic abuse, and family finances while the suit for divorce unfolds or when two unmarried parents part ways

Pendente Lite Hearings in Virginia

Pendente lite hearings are not created out of whole cloth by the judges in Circuit or J&DR courts. An attorney for one of the two parties must bring motions to the judge for consideration.

Pendente lite hearings can last as briefly as a few minutes or as long as several hours. If you and the opposing party are in conflict, the hearing could drag on.

If the two parties are in basic agreement over the Fabulous Five aspects of family law — child support, child custody, spousal support, property settlement, and parenting time — the hearing may zip along.

You and your attorney may wish to file pendente lite motions to protect your financial assets, to outline your desire for ample visitation of your kids, or to request child custody during separation and divorce.

The opposing party (your spouse if married; your kids’ other parent if unmarried) may wish to file pendente lite motions for many of the same things, or to gain spousal support during separation, or to bring up some other concern.

The Interlocutory Appeal

At one time in our nation’s history lawyers did not need to go to law school. Abraham Lincoln, perhaps our greatest president, did not get a degree from a law school. He just read books and studied under an established lawyer.

That tradition may explain lawyers’ fascination with ten-dollar words like “interlocutory,” since you sound very educated when you say it. (We know. You’re saying it now.)

The word comes from a Latin word (where else?) meaning “to interrupt.” The adjective “interlocutory” means something — an appeal, provision, or judgment — that comes in the midst of other proceedings.

Interlocutory appeals are often used during law proceedings if either party feels the judge has made an erroneous ruling on some small issue before making a final ruling.

Can Pendente Lite Orders Be Appealed?

You may be tempted to toss the phrase, “interlocutory appeal,” around when chatting with your attorney about a family law matter or pendente lite ruling.


In April of 2023, the Virginia General Assembly (the folks who craft the Code of Virginia) cranked out § 17.1-405 that specifically prevents appellate courts from hearing interlocutory appeals for:

  • Affirmance or annulment of a marriage
  • Divorce
  • Custody of a minor child
  • Spousal or child support
  • Control or disposition of a minor child
  • Any other domestic relations matter arising under Title 16.1 or 20
  • Any protective order other than a final protective order issued by a circuit court

A family law attorney who does not keep up with changing Virginia law could make an expensive mistake and a meaningless promise. Your attorney could try to reassure you about a pendente lite ruling you actually cannot appeal by claiming an appeal can be made. One more reason to choose your attorney cautiously and wisely!

Missed PL Hearings

Pendente lite hearings are important parts of your legal proceedings. Do not be absent if you are required to be part of the hearing. But suppose you do miss a pendente lite hearing — what happens?

Assuming your attorney is present, you might not suffer much. You hired your attorney to handle the matter. You are not the legal eagle; your attorney is.

If you missed the hearing for a sincerely held belief — you had the wrong date, the wrong courtroom — you may get a break from the judge.

But the judge has complete discretion to:

  • Reschedule the hearing
  • Grant the opposing party’s pendente lite motion by default
  • Issue your attorney an order to show cause
  • Hold you in contempt of court

Recall that pendente lite judgments in family law matters cannot be appealed to the Appellate division. You get one chance up at bat, so at least get in there to swing and miss by presenting your side of any argument, even if you lose. Not showing up at the plate at all is, well, your failure.

Refiling Motions & Default Judgements

If the hearing was for a pendente lite motion you and your attorney filed, your attorney can refile the motion. You have done great damage to your case, however, so your attorney will probably not hold out a lot of hope for a favorable ruling.

You can throw yourself on the mercy of the court. You can present a valid reason for absence (out of the country, in the hospital, incarcerated) but even that may not sway the Circuit Court or J&DR judge.

If the pendente lite hearing was for a motion filed by your divorcing spouse or the other parent to your kids, a default judgment based on your failure to appear could end most of your legal arguments.

Virginia judges can and do make default rulings all the time. When one of the opposing parties shows so little interest in fighting the case they fail to appear, the decision comes easily: the one showing up wins.

Portmanteau or Omnibus?

Recall that many pendente lite hearings are to address one motion. But the hearings can also be portmanteau hearings, meaning everything including the kitchen sink is tossed in:

  • Temporary spousal support
  • Temporary residency
  • Temporary orders of protection
  • Temporary child custody
  • Temporary visiting schedules

Though not legal terms, portmanteau or omnibus aptly describe a hearing that tackles multiple issues. Efficiency helps move proceedings along, so a J&DR judge may wish to adjudicate on temporary child support, visitation, and custody in one fast hearing. Failing to appear for such an omnibus ruling could end all your arguments.

Hiring The Right Family Lawyer

Given everything at stake in your family law matter, selecting the right lawyer is a huge decision. You need an experienced lawyer who keeps up with changing laws.

You need someone who has vast knowledge of pendente lite hearings, judges in multiple levels of Virginia’s legal system, and someone who can keep track of your court calendar. You need The Firm For Men. Contact our offices today or call us at (757) 383-9184.