More often than not, divorcing spouses do not stand on equal financial footing, especially when one of them has been the principal income-earner of the family, while the other had focused mostly on raising the children, managing the household, and allowing the earning spouse the opportunity to do just that – earn. Time and time again, clients have shared that they never expected to ever face a divorce. Even when divorce is not a complete surprise, the spouse who was not the principal income earner is still unprepared to mount a vigorous case. By the time life presents them with the unmistakable path of a divorce, these individuals find themselves lost, scrambling for resources, and trying to keep a steady head in a devastating emotional and financial storm.
There are many tropes and bitter jokes around the American legal system, and especially its costs. We’ve all heard the cynical question: “How much justice can you afford?” To a certain extent, of course, this stems from a basic truth: if you can afford to pay legal fees without significant constraint, you will usually be better prepared, and may overpower the other party in a lawsuit. Resources are key in warfare – be it actual, or just in the courtroom.
But, in divorce cases, there is, thankfully, a legal device provided by the legislature, that can be a game-changer for less financially secure spouse. It has a fancy Latin name, and it is a remarkable opportunity. It is called pendente lite relief, and it is provided for in Virginia Code Ann. 20-103 (A). “Pendente lite” essentially means during the litigation. What it means for the financially deprived spouse, is this: while the lawsuit is pending, that party is entitled to request support and other temporary relief from his or her spouse, in order to enable him or her to survive financially, as well as to be able to vigorously litigate the case.