Absolute Divorce Proceedings

In states where a waiting period is required before filing for a final (or absolute) divorce, a Limited Divorce was created to provide a divorcing couple with an interim or temporary order. This interim order is frequently called a pendent lite order.[1] Divorcing couples cannot wait a year or longer to decide what to do about child custody and visitation, spousal support, or who should live in the marital home. A Limited Divorce or pendent lite hearing allows the court to decide these interim issues while the couple is awaiting a final divorce. However, because they are not divorced following a Limited Divorce, the court does not have authority to divide the parties’ marital assets. 

Jurisdiction & Filing for Final or Absolute Divorce:

A final or absolute divorce is an end to the marital relationship.  Before a state court can grant an order of divorce, the state must have jurisdiction over the controversy. Some states also require grounds or reasons for the divorce in addition to jurisdiction over the marriage.

Jurisdiction over the marriage allows the state court to decide (1) whether to grant a divorce; (2) which property is marital property (and which is non-marital) as well as the value of all marital property and how to divide the marital property. (It is important to know that a court cannot divide the parties’ marital property until there is a final divorce.)  In addition, (3) the state court can award alimony if it has jurisdiction over the marriage.

Jurisdiction to grant a divorce is distinct from jurisdiction over issues like child custody (which is usually decided in the child’s home state) and jurisdiction over child support (which is usually decided in the state where the person from whom child support is sought resides).  The matters are often decided at the same hearing.  However, military service members and their dependents often have complicated issues surrounding where to file for divorce, child support, custody and other relief due to their frequently changing locations.

States frequently require that a party seeking a divorce provide legal grounds (or reasons) for the divorce.  Other states are no-fault divorce states, which means that you don’t need any reason or grounds to get a divorce.  For example, in Maryland a person cannot file a Complaint for Divorce until you have been separated for over one year (with the intention of ending the marriage) unless you can prove adultery or cruelty (then you can file for divorce immediately).  In the District of Columbia and Virginia, the separation period is reduced to six months if both parties agree to end the marriage. 

In addition to legal grounds for a final divorce, all states require that the parties establish jurisdiction in the state.  In other words, states do not want litigants from other states using the court system.  Most states require that at least one of the parties live in that state for one year immediately prior to filing the Complaint for Divorce.  (However, a party may subsequently move out of the state after the case has been filed and continue the litigation.)  Also, if the grounds for the divorce (i.e. adultery) occurred in the state, then the state would likely have jurisdiction over the divorce.

Often, military service members are assigned outside their home state or out of the country and have a difficult time showing that they have lived in any one state for one continuous year.  States have three ways of determining jurisdiction in divorce cases involving military members

[1]  Pendente Lite is derived from a Latin term meaning pending further litigation.