During divorce litigation, you can have a lot of time on your hands. One way to pass the time is to take up the dead language Latin. Pendente lite, for example, is not a brand of Virginia beer. It’s Latin for “with the lawsuit pending,” and it is a temporary agreement setting down rules about spousal support, child support, child custody, parenting time, and possession of the family home. When the time comes for you and your divorce attorney (never go it alone!) to be part of a pendente lite hearing, be ready.
What is Pendente Lite?
Pendente lite is pronounced “pen-dent-ay leet-ay,” not “pendant light.” The one place you would expect pendente lite to show up, Code of Virginia, actually does not say pendente lite in § 20-109, on stipulations as to maintenance and support of a spouse.
Here the law goes to great lengths to tell you what looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and waddles like a duck, all while never saying it’s a duck:
16. In suits for divorce, annulment and separate maintenance, and in proceedings arising under subdivision A 3 or subsection L of § 16.1-241, if a stipulation or contract signed by the party to whom such relief might otherwise be awarded is filed before entry of a final decree, no decree or order directing the payment of support and maintenance for the spouse, suit money, or counsel fee or establishing or imposing any other condition or consideration, monetary or nonmonetary, shall be entered except in accordance with that stipulation or contract.
Hmm … you do not need to be a detective to pick up the clues: contract before a final decree; payment of support; imposing conditions … that is the essence of a pendente lite hearing. So if Virginia Code says you and your attorney can get such a temporary agreement (indeed, having one is a good idea), where does it actually say pendente lite?
On Temporary Orders
Reach for § 20-71, aptly titled Temporary orders for support (clever, isn’t it?):
At any time before the trial, upon motion of the complainant, with notice to the defendant, the court may enter such temporary order as seems just, providing for the support of the neglected spouse or children, or both, pendente lite, and may punish for violation of the order as for contempt.
Just what can the complainant (the party — you or your wife — who filed for divorce from the other party) ask for in a pendente lite hearing? A laundry list. Quae sub astra (everything under the stars).
What Does a Pendente Lite Hearing Cover?
Pendente lite hearings can be so thorough and exhaustive that the actual divorce decree is a rubber stamp of the pendente lite agreement. The goal is to grant temporary relief to the complainant, meaning anything that causes an immediate problem is addressed so that the complainant (let’s hope that’s you) does not have to wait for the divorce proceedings for a resolution.
Topics can include:
- Pendente lite child custody
- Parenting time schedules
- Child support
- Estoppels on liquidating marital assets (you cannot sell the family home)
- Alimony pendente lite, or temporary spousal support
- Maintenance of insurance premiums; payment of healthcare bills
- Payment of joint liabilities, such as debts and regularly scheduled bills
- Sole possession of joint home and vehicles
- Maintaining assets
- Legal counsel fees
You cannot casually prepare for what seems to be a temporary measure. The final property settlement agreement, the final divorce decree, and the final disposition of your children all have their foundations in the pendente lite hearing.
In Omnia Paratus
In omnia paratus; be prepared for anything. The single most important step in preparing for a pendente lite hearing is to ally yourself with a strong family law attorney. Your Virginia attorney will counsel you in what to expect, the scope of the pendente lite hearing, and the right things to say and do in the hearing.
The second important step is to know exactly what you want as a result of the hearing. Address every nook and cranny of your divorce: children, support, retirement plans. Having all your paperwork in order, doing all your research, and knowing your financial positions are all key to being ready for the pendente lite hearing.
The third important step is to know exactly what you are willing to give up. A pendente lite hearing is not designed to grant one party its endless wish list. Be reasonable. Be polite. Dare we say it? Be kind. Give her some of what she wants, and you will get some of what you want.
Please reach out to The Firm For Men when you have questions about your family legal issue. You can contact us online, visit our office at 4505 Columbus Street, Suite 200 in Virginia Beach, or telephone us at 757-383-9184.