Pendente Lite

Court cases are littered with Latin phrases. Understanding what they mean can help you decide what you should (and should not) do during your divorce. 

Pendente lite is a Latin term that means "pending the suit." Think of this as pressing the pause button on important decisions during a long divorce case. 

What is pendente lite?

Divorce cases can drag on for months, especially when couples don't agree or collaborate. But people can't place their lives on hold while they wait for judges to rule on their cases. Sometimes, they need decisions right now. Pendente lite can help.

Pendente lite orders allow courts to make rulings about contentious topics. The orders last until the case is complete and the judge makes final orders.

Sometimes, pendente lite and final rulings are very different. A judge might rule one way when the divorce begins but have a change of heart after seeing the evidence and hearing arguments. But sometimes, these rulings are exactly the same. 

Pendente lite vs. lis pendens: What's the difference?

Temporary rulings are common in complex divorce cases, and two types are available. 

Pendente lite involves all sorts of issues, including some involving children and others involving payments.

Lis pendens (meaning "suit pending") is almost exclusively applied to real estate. Judges use these orders to ensure one party doesn't sell or give shared assets (like the family home or a rental unit) away during the divorce process. A lis pendens order is attached to the property's title, and it notifies people like realtors that the property is part of a suit and can't be touched. 

Your case could have both orders, or you may need just one. 

When are pendente lite orders used?

Every divorce case is different, and couples can argue and litigate almost everything about their estate. Pendente lite orders could protect everything the couple is fighting over, but they're typically used in limited circumstances. 

In Virginia, for example, pendent lite orders can refer to the following:

  • Child custody
  • Child visitation
  • Child support
  • Spousal support (sometimes known colloquially as alimony)

You could also use these orders to do the following:

  • Maintain or repair the family home
  • Retain health insurance benefits
  • Pay shared bills (like medical expenses)
  • Retain access to shared vehicles 
  • Pay attorneys
  • Ask for supervised child visits 
  • Keep an abusive spouse away 

In general, if you need a judge to decide something right now as you work on your divorce case, a pendente lite order makes sense. 

How to prepare for a pendente lite hearing

Once you've filed for paperwork and asked for relief, the court sets a hearing date. You must appear for that appointment, and it's smart to bring a lawyer with you. 

Gather supporting documents to make your case, such as these:

  • Bank statements
  • Doctors’ reports
  • Outstanding bills 
  • Credit card statements
  • Teachers’ reports 

Your lawyer may ask witnesses, such as accountants or family members, to speak on your behalf in the hearing. And you may be asked to testify, too.

Keep your responses short, accurate, and technical. Ask your lawyer to role-play with you so you know just what to say in response to difficult questions. Remain calm while you're on the stand, and the experience will be relatively quick and painless. 

Sometimes, pendente lite cases never make it to the courtroom. Lawyers can trade responses and hammer out agreements between themselves. But the more documents you have, the more you can persuade the other side that your ideas are just. 

Can you change a pendente lite ruling?

Judges don’t make private rulings. When important decisions are made in your case, or when a court is considering the evidence, you have a right to respond. Typically, it’s best to state your case before the court makes a final ruling.

In Missouri, for example, couples can file paperwork opposing pendente lite orders. They can use one form that details why a suggested solution isn’t accurate, and they can attach proof that their side is right. They can also go to a hearing to argue their side. 

If you respond to pendente lite suggestions appropriately, you could persuade the judge to rule in your favor. But once the judge makes a formal decision, it’s very hard to make changes. 

What to consider when seeking pendente lite 

Temporary orders can be critical as you wait for your final divorce ruling. Make your case, and you could get the relief you need. But you should follow a few basic dos and don'ts.

You should do the following:

  • Gather all relevant information
  • Ask for what you need
  • Stick to the facts

You should not do these things:

  • Quit your job to make yourself seem needier than you are
  • Buy anything expensive if you're asking for spousal support 
  • Lie about anything 

Listen to your lawyer, and remain honest with the court. This will give you the best chance of the outcome you want.



Pendente Lite. Legal Information Institute. 
Lis Pendens. Legal Information Institute. 
Pendente Lite Support. Virginia Law. 
Court Rules. Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri.
Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.