What is a temporary order hearing and why is it so important?

Temporary orders are almost always the first orders issued by a Judge in a divorce.  These orders establish each spouse’s financial and parental rights and responsibilities during the duration of the divorce and will often greatly affect how the divorce is ultimately decided through either settlement or trial.

New Jersey laws generally allow spouses to decide amongst themselves how they will interact and make decisions.  This means that, without a court order to say otherwise, either spouse can make almost any unilateral financial or parenting decisions they choose.  This can often lead to “divorce planning” where one spouse will take steps to better their situation before filing a divorce.  Some spouses have been known to take years to plan for their divorces while others have taken drastic steps only days before the divorce is filed.

For example, one spouse could do all of the following without even notifying the other spouse:

  • Sell the marital home if it is only in their name
  • Sell or take the family cars if they are only in their name
  • Sell or take any personal property or possessions from the marital home, including: furniture, electronics, house wares, or other valued or sentimental belongings
  • Withdrawal or transfer any money in their individual or joint financial accounts
  • Max out individual or joint credit cards
  • Stop paying any individual or household bills
  • Spend marital funds in their possession any way they desire
  • Take the children and move anywhere within New Jersey or even the country
  • Change the children’s schedules in any way they decide.

Filing a divorce complaint starts an automatic financial stay, however, this automatic stay is limited and does not require one spouse to support the other or the children, require one spouse to pay any bills, or limit one parent’s ability to unilaterally move the children or deny the other parent access.

The only way to protect your financial and parental rights is to have the court issue a temporary order outlining each spouse’s responsibilities during the duration of the divorce.  To do this, you must file a motion for temporary orders and attend a temporary order hearing.  This hearing is usually scheduled within 60 days; however, you can request an expedited hearing within a few days if your spouse is taking any of the extreme actions described above.

While temporary orders can technically be changed at any time during the divorce, it is much easier to get an initial temporary order than to change one.  This means that most temporary orders will stand unchanged throughout the duration of the divorce and can substantially affect the outcome of settlement negotiations or trial.

For example, it is highly likely that the final alimony or child support amounts in a divorce will be the same amounts set in temporary orders.  Further, the final parenting plan – which controls all aspects of how the children will be raised, where they will live, and who will make their decisions – is usually close to or identical to the one set in the temporary orders.

There are two reasons that temporary orders rarely change.  First, the family courts have very busy schedules, so you usually can’t get a new temporary order hearing for several months.  Second, once you do get a new temporary order hearing, the Judges try to take a hands-off approach and change as little as they have to in your current situation.  This means that unless you can show that there has been a substantial dramatic change since the last temporary order hearing, the original temporary order will stand as is.

Outside of the final trial, temporary order hearings are usually the most important appearance you will make in court before a Judge.  If you are considering filing for divorce or have an upcoming temporary order hearing already scheduled, it is important that you contact an attorney as soon as possible to make the best arguments during the hearing and help shape how your divorce will ultimately end.

We take temporary order hearings very seriously and are known for our preparation and advocacy.  Feel free to contact us today to schedule an initial consultation and learn how we can help you.

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