You or your spouse have filed for a divorce, but a judgment of divorce may be a long time coming. It’s common that in many marriages, one spouse earns considerably more income than the other. During divorce proceedings, this can become problematic if the lower-earning spouse (also referred to as the income-dependent spouse) suddenly finds themselves unable to pay their bills and expenses, whether due to a sudden cessation of cohabitation or, as can sometimes happen, a deliberate withholding of funds by the higher-earning, or income-dominant, spouse.
The income-dependent spouse is not without recourse, as they can request that the Court enter an order for pendente lite support. When translated, “pendente lite” literally means “during the proceeding,” so pendente lite support is intended to be temporary support -- both for spouses and children -- pending pending the outcome of the divorce case. Practically speaking, the main purpose of pendente lite support is to try to keep each of the members of the family in as close to the same respective financial circumstances as they were in before the divorce proceeding began. While the preservation of the financial status quo is always the goal, it is not always achievable — for example, the expenses of maintaining two separate households instead of one may exceed the available resources of the parties. Pendente lite support is vital in family law cases, especially in contested divorce matters which have the potential to last a long time. In other words, sometimes a “temporary” support order will be in effect for several years.
However, an order for pendente lite support is not intended to be the final word. When the divorce litigation reaches its conclusion, the pendente lite order does not survive a final judgment of divorce unless the pendente lite order is expressly incorporated into the final judgment. Furthermore, the Court can consider the length and amount of pendente lite support when awarding support in a judgment of divorce and, in certain circumstances, the court can even require the payor spouse to be reimbursed or given a credit for anything that may be deemed an “overpayment” during the pendente lite period.
If you have questions about the critical role of pendente lite support in your divorce, contact a member of our matrimonial team at Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf LLP.