What Is a Petition for Special Relief in a Divorce?

By Kelly Mroz

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In a divorce, courts can grant special or extraordinary relief, which is relief beyond what the law typically provides for in a divorce. The court will typically only grant this special relief until the matter can be more permanently resolved through the final divorce decree. You might ask the court to freeze your spouse's assets, keep your name on a life insurance policy or maintain payment of the household bills. Some states have laws that specify what kinds of special relief are available. Other states allow you to seek the same kinds of relief in a divorce, but don't use the term special relief.

Types of Relief

The type of relief available varies by state and may not include all of the types of relief available in other states. You may be able to obtain injunctive relief; that is, to require your spouse to do something or refrain from doing something, such as freezing a bank account or preventing the removal of personal property from the marital home. If you need money to stay afloat temporarily, you may be able to get an order requiring payments on the mortgage, alimony or child support until a more permanent order can be issued. Some courts also consider temporary restraining orders or emergency custody provisions to be forms of special relief.

Other Common Terms

State courts use different terms to describe unusual relief in a divorce action. Some states, like New York and Pennsylvania, use the term "special relief." Your state may call it temporary, extraordinary or pendente lite relief. The Latin term "pendente lite" refers to relief that is granted temporarily, while the divorce action is pending.

State Variations

Special relief varies by state. For example, in Pennsylvania, the law specifically lists some relief the courts can provide, such as protecting assets, but also allows the court to provide any relief that is needed in the case. New York law uses the term 'special relief,' but in a much more limited way, relating only to insurance policies. Courts in New York can require one party to obtain or maintain health and life insurance for the benefit of his spouse or minor children. In Illinois, on the other hand, you can get a broad range of relief, such as freezing assets, exclusive possession of the marital home or division of household bills, but it is called 'temporary relief,' rather than 'special relief.'

Special Relief Petition

To get special relief, you have to file a petition and explain the reasons you need the court to grant your request. Some states will require that you attach additional proof of your allegations, such as sworn affidavits by witnesses. While the exact procedure and requirements will vary by state, generally you file your petition with the court where the divorce is pending and a hearing date is assigned. In most cases, you must notify the opposing party of your petition and hearing date, and provide proof to the court that you made the notification. After the hearing, the court will only approve the relief if it agrees that what you are asking for is fair and appropriate.

Ex Parte Special Relief

In true emergencies, you may be able to get the court to issue an order without your spouse being present. This kind of relief is called ex parte relief and is only granted temporarily to prevent irreparable harm before a hearing can be held. While ex parte relief is most commonly used in custody actions, it may also be issued in a divorce in which one spouse is at risk of severe financial harm due to the actions of the other, such as to prevent assets from disappearing or to restore insurance coverage.