Wife Rights During Separation Before a Divorce
By Beverly Bird
All spouses have certain rights, but they’re usually not enforceable without court intervention. Before the court can act, you must initiate a lawsuit against your husband. After you've filed a petition for divorce or for legal separation, a judge can enter orders to protect you and your interests. You can ask the court to order your husband to do something while your divorce is pending or to make him stop doing something.
If your husband was the primary breadwinner during your marriage and you’re no longer living together, you may have a right to temporary or “pendente lite” financial support until your divorce is final. Pendente lite is a legal term that means the order is only good until the terms of your divorce decree take over. If a judge awards you temporary support, it does not necessary mean you’ll receive alimony beyond that point. However, it can help you make ends meet until then. You or your attorney can file a motion for pendente lite relief, asking for this.
If your husband has moved out and you remain living in the marital home, you have a right to help with paying the mortgage and other household expenses. Even if there’s not a great difference between your incomes, a judge might order him to pay half the mortgage and utilities on a pendente lite basis. This might be in lieu of temporary spousal support or in addition to it, depending on the disparity between your incomes. Courts often award this sort of help while your divorce is pending because it serves to keep assets, such as your home, intact until a judge can divide them in a final decree.
Your husband cannot sell property, such as real estate, while your divorce is in progress. A judge must have the opportunity to decide your share in a final decree. You generally do not have to file a motion to stop him. In some states, an automatic injunction against dissipating property goes into effect when you file for divorce. In others, you can file a “notice of lis pendens” against the property with your county clerk. A lis pendens is a notice to anyone thinking of buying the property that a lawsuit is pending against it. It prevents him from selling without petitioning the court first and asking for permission.
In all states, your right to financial support for your children is paramount. If they are living with you, a court will begin a child support order as soon as you ask for it. Most state legislatures allow you to ask for child support even before you officially file for legal separation or divorce. However, if you don't file for divorce or separation, you must file a separate petition, requesting it.
If your husband attempts to take your children out of state or do anything else radically opposed to their well-being, you can file an order to show cause to stop him in his tracks. Some states implement automatic stays against removing children from the state as soon as you file for divorce. These stays also usually address issues such as removing them or you from coverage on his health insurance policy. If your husband presents a physical danger to you, you can call the police and request a restraining order. This is a criminal suit and is usually separate from your divorce litigation.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.