Understanding Pendente Lite Hearings in Virginia Divorce Proceedings

Hourglass with sand flowing, symbolizing the temporary duration of pendente lite orders in Virginia divorce proceedings

In Virginia, courts frequently conduct Pendente Lite hearings, essentially temporary hearings. These hearings address matters such as temporary custody, visitation, support, and injunctive rulings. Notably, some jurisdictions may only entertain temporary custody or visitation rulings in emergencies. With hearing durations often spanning a mere thirty minutes to a few hours, clients regularly question how courts manage to review all evidence and arrive at decisions in such limited timeframes.

A recent case spotlighted a husband's dissatisfaction with a trial court's Pendente Lite support ruling. He subsequently appealed to the Virginia Court of Appeals. Given that his divorce case remained unresolved, this became classified as an interlocutory appeal [1]. The Virginia Court of Appeals held that temporary support rulings are non-appealable, leading to the dismissal of the husband's appeal [2].

Intriguingly, the General Assembly had, at one point, modified the statute governing the jurisdiction of the Virginia Court of Appeals. This alteration expanded the appellate jurisdiction to include additional claims for equitable relief. The General Assembly had unknowingly created an ambiguity about whether this equitable relief jurisdiction extended to divorce cases. During the pendency of the husband’s appeal in the case noted above, the General Assembly revised the statute to bar the Court of Appeals from hearing interlocutory appeals on issues like custody, visitation, and support in amendment of Code § 17.1-405 effective April 12, 2023 [3].

There are many takeaways from this for a person considering a divorce. First and foremost, make sure you hire an attorney who is efficient and effective at navigating the pendente lite process. Second, make sure you give your attorney as much information and documentation as possible to prepare for any pendente lite hearing. Our attorneys are here to assist our clients with all of the nuances of family law negotiation and litigation.

If you would like assistance in navigating spousal or child support obligations, feel free to reach out to our Fairfax office at 703-691-4848, or simply use our online inquiry form to get in touch with us today.

[1] Wex Definitions Team. (March 2023). "interlocutory appeal." Wex Free Legal Dictionary. Cornell Law School. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/interlocutory_appeal.

[2] Choi v. Choi, Record No. 0727-22-4 (Va. Ct. App. Aug. 1, 2023)

[3] See Va. Code § 17.1-405. Appellate jurisdiction — Administrative agency, Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission, and civil matter appeals.

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