Divorces can drag on for several months or more, particularly if the spouses cannot agree on the terms of the divorce. Since the court doesn’t issue a divorce decree until the end of the divorce process, Maryland allows its courts to enter temporary orders, called pendente lite, after the divorce is filed but before it is finalized. However, courts do not automatically grant pendente lite relief, so the spouse who wants these temporary orders must make a special request to the court.
Pendente lite can cover nearly any of the topics typically addressed in a divorce decree, including alimony, use of the family home, child support and custody. Since pendente lite is temporary, any relief granted by the court is only valid until the divorce decree is final. Once the decree is in place, its terms govern the spouses’ conduct and the temporary orders are no longer enforceable, but courts often incorporate the temporary orders into the divorce decree. For example, if the court determined in a pendente lite proceeding that one spouse should pay a certain amount of child support while the divorce is pending, the court could incorporate that same amount of support into the terms of the divorce decree, particularly if neither spouse's circumstances have changed since the temporary order was issued.
Requesting Pendente Lite
After a spouse files for divorce in Maryland, she has the opportunity to request pendente lite relief and schedule a hearing at which she can present her evidence and arguments supporting the request. Requests are typically made, and hearings scheduled, at the time of the scheduling conference between the parties, which occurs early in the divorce proceedings. However, Maryland also allows divorcing spouses to file a motion to request a pendente lite hearing after the conference if problems develop later.
Under some circumstances, spouses can request pendente lite orders before the scheduling conference, but such requests are limited to situations in which a lack of court intervention would cause ongoing hardship. For example, if a spouse plans to relocate the couple’s child in a way that would keep the other parent from regular access to the child, the court can intervene before the scheduling conference.
Proving a Need for Pendente Lite
At a pendente lite hearing, the spouse requesting relief must prove the relief is appropriate under Maryland law. She will likely need to provide witness testimony, documents and other evidence to prove her case.
The exact standards vary depending on the type of relief requested. For instance, the court will consider different standards when a spouse requests child support than when she requests possession of the marital home. This is because Maryland’s pendente lite alimony standards require a requesting spouse to show that her need for alimony outweighs the ability of her spouse to pay it.
Pendente Lite Hearings
Maryland allows court-appointed masters to hear pendente lite issues, so a spouse’s pendente lite hearing may be in front of a master rather than a judge. However, only judges can issue orders, so a master makes written recommendations to the judge after the pendente lite hearing and the judge issues an order based on that recommendation. The process is similar regardless of whether a master or judge hears a case and the legal standards are the same. For example, hearings are recorded and witnesses can be subpoenaed, or forced to attend, when either a master or judge presides over the hearing.
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