The difference between permanent alimony and pendente lite alimony is a difference of timing. Permanent alimony – which may not last permanently – is paid by a former spouse to another former spouse after the couple gets a divorce. Pendente lite alimony is paid by one spouse to the other while the couple is waiting to get divorced.
Pendente lite – pending litigation
Pendente lite, like so many legal terms, is Latin. Loosely translated, it means “pending litigation.” The phrase is used to refer to a party’s obligations after a legal case has been filed but before the case has been resolved.
A contested divorce case can take a long time work its way through the court system. Virtually nothing happens during the first month of the case, when the spouse who didn’t file for the divorce has to find a lawyer and determine what his or her legal rights are. Months are spent inventorying the property that the couple accumulated while they were married and valuing each item. A couple may participate in mediation or conciliation conferences. If they have children, they may also take parenting classes.
The purpose of pendente lite alimony
While the dissolution of marriage case inches forward, both spouses have to live. In most marriages, one spouse is the breadwinner who earns most of the income while the other spouse contributes to the marriage in other ways. Pendente lite alimony, also called spousal support, is a sum of money that one spouse pays to help support the other spouse during this limbo period before the parties get divorced. It is meant to keep one party, the breadwinner, from starving the other spouse out by withholding income.
How it happens
Pendente lite alimony can be paid voluntarily or involuntarily – under court order. If the couple can agree on how much alimony should be paid during this interim period, they sign a stipulation or agreement, that one spouse will pay the other spouse a certain sum of money, usually every month, until the judge enters a final divorce decree. The agreement is formalized in writing so it can be enforced if the paying party decides not to pay. There are also certain tax advantages for the paying party, if the couple’s divorce is final before the end of the tax year in which temporary alimony is being paid.
If the couple cannot agree, then the non-earning spouse files a motion for pendent lite spousal support. A family court judge holds a hearing and enters an order requiring the earning spouse to pay pendent lite alimony to the non-earning spouse.
A pendente lite alimony order automatically ends when a judgment of dissolution of marriage, or divorce decree, is entered by a judge. At that time, the order is converted to an order of alimony for a fixed period of time, or until the recipient of the alimony remarries.