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Can I get temporary support while we’re separated?

Separation and divorce can be not only emotionally devastating but financially as well. Unfortunately, many formal decisions from family court can take months and sometimes years. Despite this, the court realizes that there are important issues that can’t wait, including custody of children, spousal support, child support, and possession of the marital home. Temporary orders are used to address these important issues before a formal order can be issued.

One of the most common types of temporary orders in a separation or divorce is a support order. There is no waiting period after the date of separation to request or receive spousal support, but it can take some time in court if you cannot reach an agreement with your spouse.

How Temporary Support Orders Work
When a couple separates, important matters are typically resolved temporarily through a short hearing at court. To receive temporary support, you will need to request a temporary order from a judge. After making this formal request, a hearing will be scheduled within days or weeks to request spousal support, child support, establish custody and visiting arrangements, grant possession of a family car or home, and/or order that neither spouse sell valuable assets. It’s vital that you prepare your case and know what to ask for before you appear before a judge as you may have just moments to speak with the judge.

In most cases, the temporary order the judge grants will be valid until the court holds a new hearing or you reach a settlement with your spouse through mediation or negotiation. It’s possible to get before a judge within a few days if your case is an emergency, but most temporary order hearings are held a few weeks after your request is filed. You can expect your hearing to last 15-20 minutes with an immediate ruling.

Requesting Temporary Spousal Support
To get a court order for support, you will need to file paperwork with the court. Most courts offer free forms that you can fill out. In most states, the following documents need to be filed:

  • Request for court order. This simple legal form or document explains what you are asking for. It also orders your spouse to arrive at court at a specific date to present their side and show cause for why the court should not grant the request.
  • Supporting declaration. This document explains the facts to justify issuing your temporary support order. You will need to explain why you’re entitled to support and produce evidence such as bank statements, rent payments, utility bills, medical bills, and anything showing your current income and expenses.
  • Proof of service. This proves that all relevant documents and forms have been correctly delivered to your spouse according to state law.
  • Proposed temporary order. This order is signed by the judge if your request is granted.

Are You Eligible for Support?
During your hearing, the judge will listen to testimony from you, your spouse, and any other witnesses either of you bring. The judge may also consider written evidence, including the income and expense budget you prepared before filing. There are many factors that determine whether you are eligible for temporary spousal support and the judge will consider:

  • The paying spouse’s ability to pay
  • The requesting spouse’s need for support
  • The financial situation of each spouse
  • The age and health of each spouse
  • The employability and work experience of each spouse. This includes whether one spouse sacrificed a career and education to raise children.
  • The ability to work of each spouse
  • The potential fault for causing the separation or divorce (in some states)

If you are requesting temporary support during your separation, you will need to show that you can’t meet basic living expenses without help. Even if you do show financial need, a court will not necessarily issue a temporary order unless your spouse can afford to support you. Temporary support is only awarded when the paying spouse earns enough money to cover basic expenses and contribute additional funds to the requesting spouse.

What Happens After Divorce?
When your divorce becomes final, the temporary support order will end. A temporary order does not mean you are entitled to permanent spousal support after divorce as different factors are used to determine if alimony is necessary. A temporary support order is designed to help a spouse in need get back on his or her feet whereas a permanent support order is designed for cases with a great difference in wealth between spouses, a long-term marriage, or cases involving a spouse who is disabled or otherwise unable to work.