When a couple decides to separate, many issues come up that must be decided. Formal family court decisions can take months or even years, and many issues can't wait that long. For example, child custody, child and spousal support, possession of the family car, and possession of the marital home are all issues that must be decided quickly, long before the formal divorce or legal separation hearings.
Temporary orders by family courts, covered in greater detail below, serve to address these urgent issues in a timely manner.
Temporary Orders in Family Court: The Basics
Temporary orders are made by family courts at a hearing when couples separate. In some states, a party can request a temporary order from the family court even before separation papers are filed. The hearing will then be scheduled within days or weeks.
Decisions on issues that must be resolved quickly are made, and given temporary effect, until family court decisions can be made in a formal divorce hearing or until the parties agree through mediation or negotiation. Despite their temporary legal effect, temporary orders are often considered when making formal family court decisions.
Temporary order hearings are far less formal and much shorter than formal family court hearings, so you should be sure that you know exactly what you want before the hearing. The hearing will proceed quickly, not giving you much time to tell the court what you want.
Issues Addressed in Temporary Orders
Since every situation is unique, there isn't a set list of issues that may be addressed. However, the following types of family court decisions are commonly made in temporary order hearings:
Remember that all of the decisions made through temporary orders are not permanent. They're intended to maintain the family's security and circumstances until more formal and steadfast family court decisions can be made.
Importance of Temporary Orders for Child Custody
Some spouses are able to agree on things on their own. If you find yourself in that situation, that's great and probably will save you some hassle. Just be sure you and your spouse write out the child custody and visitation agreement together and sign it so that there's no doubt about the agreement later.
If you and your spouse can't agree on these issues, like many couples facing separation, you should seek a temporary order immediately. This is especially important when it comes to child custody.
If you'll be maintaining custody of the child(ren), especially if you take them away from the home, it's important to at least file for custody as soon as possible. If you don't, your spouse could try to file a kidnapping claim against you. Not only will a judge and/or police take this claim seriously, but it could come up against you later in your divorce hearing. If you file for custody and your spouse files a claim of kidnapping against you, the judge will see your custody request and the kidnapping claim can be dropped.
The Temporary Order Hearing
The hearing is the place for the judge to:
Often, your temporary order hearing will be sent to what is called "probation." Probation is an opportunity for the separate parties to agree on as much as possible, before they go in front of the judge. This saves the court and judge a lot of time and allows more time to focus on the actual conflicts at hand.
The issues that can't be resolved in probation are presented before the judge, where each side present its argument. The hearing usually is no longer than 20 minutes and is held either in a courtroom or the judge's office. The judge will listen to both sides and the declarations of any witnesses. Some judges only accept written evidence.
Temporary Order Requests: How Decisions are Made
It's not common for the judge to make a decision right then and there from the bench, unless the issue is particularly time-sensitive (in which case the specific issue will be decided). The entire temporary order is made within a week of the initial hearing. If granted, the order you fashioned will either be granted in its entirety or modified by the judge as they deem appropriate.
Note: If you're seeking a request for temporary child support, you may be required to present income documents and an outline of your expenses. Some courts have you fill out pre-made forms before or when you file your request. Even if your state has no such requirements, it may be good to prepare these documents anyway to support your claims for financial support.
Sometimes, the judge decides that more information is needed to make an appropriate decision or that your spouse was not given appropriate notice before the hearing. In these cases, the judge might make a decision that's only effective until another temporary order hearing can be held.
The temporary order includes any agreements the parties were able to make before the hearing, including agreements made in probation. If the parties happen to come to a complete agreement during probation, then the judge will review that agreement. Usually, the judge finds these agreements satisfactory, and can order such agreement serve as the temporary order.
Temporary orders are only effective until your divorce settlement, or until you and your spouse reach a mutual agreement to settle the divorce. However, the decisions made in temporary order hearings can be influential in divorce proceedings.
How to Request a Temporary Order
Requesting a temporary order involves filing some paperwork with the family court. Many courts have these forms available online on their courts' websites. Check to see if your court has a self-help law center, where these forms would be available. Sometimes, courts even hire people to help you sort through the paperwork. States vary on when you can file for temporary orders. Some states require you to wait until divorce papers have been filed, while other states allow you to file upon separation.
The following are common requirements for filing a request for a temporary order.
Talk to an Attorney About Temporary Orders in Family Court Actions
Divorce, spousal support, child custody, and other family law issues typically arise at once, although finalization of these processes can take months or years. If you and your estranged spouse are unable to agree on terms while waiting finalization, you may need to use temporary orders. Have an experienced family law attorney review your case and give you some peace of mind.