Alimony and Spousal Support: the Pendente Lite Hearing

Following the Pendente Lite hearing, the judge or family law magistrate issues a Pendente Lite Order which usually remains in effect and binding on the parties until the final divorce.  The Pendente Order is extremely important even though it is only a temporary order. The child custody, support and other relief awarded by the judge or magistrate at the pendente lite hearing often creates a status quo that affects the outcome of the final divorce hearing. 

Unless the parties’ circumstances change, it is unlikely that a judge at the final divorce hearing will change custody if the children have been living primarily with one parent since the Pendente Lite Order.  In effect, even though it is just a temporary order, the Pendente Lite Order creates a status quo which frequently becomes presumptive at the final divorce hearing.  This presumption also affects how the judge views child support and spousal support as well as the use and possession of the family home at the divorce hearing.  Judges are usually reluctant to disrupt the status quo (the current situation) when there are minor children involved unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

i. Use and Possession of the Marital Home and contribution to the Mortgage and Household Expenses:

At the Pendente Lite hearing, the judge (or magistrate) can award one party the right to use the family home and other property; including a car and household furnishings (if it is in the best interest of a minor child). This is called a “use and possession order”.  However, the judge cannot permanently divide or sell any marital property before the final divorce hearing (since the parties are married until then).  Maryland allows a parent to stay in the family home for up to three years after the date of divorce if it is in the best interest of a minor child.  Also, the judge can award contribution from the other parent toward the costs of living in the home (these costs include the mortgage, taxes, condo fees, insurance, utilities and necessary repairs) if child support is inadequate to allow the child to remain in the home.

Factors for determining Alimony Pendente Lite

Because the purpose of alimony Pendente Lite is to ensure the parties’ can maintain the status quo until the final divorce hearing, the only questions the judge (or magistrate) considers when awarding alimony Pendente Lite are:

(1)  what are the reasonable monthly financial needs of the party seeking pendente lite alimony (after considering his or her income), and

(2)  what is the ability of the other spouse to provide support while still meeting his or her own reasonable monthly living expenses.