After a couple decides to get a divorce, they are usually left in limbo with lengthy waiting periods that can last months, if not more than a year, before they are finally issued a decree. During this time, many significant issues that have a major impact on their daily lives are left hanging in the balance, such as who gets to stay in the home, whether spousal support is necessary or who keeps primary custody of any children.
Ideally, you and your spouse will be able to come to an arrangement on these sorts of issues amicably, which allows you to retain control over your own future. However, if you are unable to come to an agreement, you will have to set a temporary orders hearing and have the court render a decision, taking the control out of your hands.
This will remain in effect until a new order or the final decree is issued. While not necessarily indicative of exactly how the final agreement will turn out, the initial set of temporary orders can set the tone for the rest of your divorce proceedings and could have a major impact on the outcome of your decree.
Spending the time to formulate an action plan and organize the arguments for your side of the case will help you emerge from initial hearing much better than if you simply decide to wing it. Assembling pertinent documents, preparing witnesses, gathering relevant evidence and continually fighting for a fair arrangement will help ensure your rights are protected during the pendency of the divorce, and after.
There are several supporting documents you will want to prepare prior to the hearing, though some will depend on what issues are disputed. The major documents you should consider are:
- A Summary of Requests — this document should be organized in a simple, easy-to-read format that should be kept as brief as possible while still conveying exactly what you want.
- A Financial Information Statement — this offers the court a snapshot of your monthly expenses and income. It should be supplemented with supporting documentation, including W-2s from the past couple years and several of your most recent paycheck stubs. This is particularly important when issues like temporary spousal support and child support are on the table.
- An Anticipated Budget — along with your financial information, you should provide a detailed budget for your foreseeable future. This will help give the judge a better idea of your financial situation. You may not want to pay any support, but if there is a chance of it, you better come to the judge with concrete numbers to prove that your current income won’t allow for it. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt to look more responsible and better prepared.
- A Proposed Parenting Plan — If custody is going to be a stormy issue, you should prepare a parenting plan that will give the judge an idea of your availability and what you believe is best for the kids. Since that decision will ultimately be up to the court’s discretion, try and prepare one that is as fair and realistic as possible. Judge’s like to see parents who are flexible and willing to create a working relationship with their former spouse, so setting the tone for such a future relationship will be to your benefit.
The hearings are often very short, so you must ensure everything you have to say is concise while still carrying significant weight. You will need to prepare testimony for yourself, as well as potential witnesses, to support your position. How the evidence is presented to the judge can proceed in several different ways:
- An Evidentiary Hearing — witnesses, including both spouses, will take the stand and answer questions by both attorneys;
- A Hearing by Proffer — witnesses prepare written affidavits of their testimony, which is presented by the attorneys; or
- A combination of the two — testimony is accepted both orally and by sworn written testimony.
It is important to emphasize how little time there is to present your case at these hearings — sometimes as little as 20 minutes or less. Because of the brevity, you must ensure every witness and piece of evidence you present counts. You will not have time to call a parade of witnesses to the stand, so each should provide a unique and persuasive perspective. Additionally, you should work as hard as you can with the other party before you ever reach the judge to try to reduce the number of .
Disputing disagreeable orders
By definition, the orders are “temporary” and should not affect the final outcome of the case. In practice, however, they set the tone by determining where the parties live, what parenting time they have, how much support to pay, etc. If the orders are issued and there is little or no complaint throughout the entire divorce process, it can be difficult to provide a valid objection moving forward with a similar arrangement after the divorce.
In other words, if you have a temporary order and do not like it, work to change it early. It will be a hard sell (and often an impossible one) to tell the judge you want to change something that has turned out to work over several months.
Temporary orders are possible to modify, though the specific standards for modification will vary by state. Some may require a significant “change in circumstances” to request a change, while others may have lower “for good cause” standards, which simply require coming up with a valid reason.
If you are unhappy with the outcome of temporary orders and feel there is just cause to have them changed, do not wait too long to bring it to the court’s attention — the longer the order is in effect, the more difficult it becomes to convince the court a change is necessary.
Because the hearing for initial temporary orders is not as formal as going to trial later in the divorce, many people do not spend enough time preparing. This can become problematic when they are stuck with a permanent arrangement they do not feel is fair. Understand that the initial orders can play a significant role when the judge drafts your final decree, and be prepared to fight for a fair settlement from the very beginning.