In states like Maryland and the District of Columbia where there is often a waiting period before a person can file a petition for a Final (or Absolute) Divorce, a Limited Divorce was created to provide a divorcing couple with an interim or temporary order. Without an agreement between the parties (or other grounds for divorce like adultery or cruelty), a couple must live in separate homes for 12 consecutive months in Maryland before either party may file for a judgment of absolute divorce. In addition, there is often a six to 12 month wait between filing a petition for divorce and the final hearing before a judge.
A Limited Divorce allows the court to decide child custody, visitation, and support as well as the use of the marital home and even attorney’s fees even if the parties have not been separated for 12 continuous months – which is often required to file a petition for Absolute Divorce. A Limited Divorce is a full hearing on the issues of child custody, visitation, and support as well as the use of the marital home and attorney’s fees. However, the court does not have the authority to divide the parties’ marital assets as part of a Limited Divorce since the parties remain legally married following a Limited Divorce. A petition for Limited Divorce can be amended (or changed) to include a petition for Absolute Divorce if the parties remain separated for more than 12 months while awaiting a final hearing. Just like a petition for Absolute Divorce, a petition for Limited Divorce can take six to 12 months to reach a final hearing.
Many divorcing or separated couples cannot wait 18 months or longer to decide immediate issues arising from their separation; like, what to do about custody and visitation with their children, who should live in the marital home, and whether and how much should be awarded in child support or spousal support and attorney’s fees. These decisions are often urgent where one party controls the marital assets (or the family’s income), or where one party has influence over the children.
An interim order called a pendente lite order can provide a party with a preliminary order awarding custody, access, support or other relief which remains in effect until the court can hold a full hearing on the merits of the case. Often a court is able to hold a pendente lite hearing within a few months (usually before a Family Law Magistrate) to decide important interim issues. A pendente lite order is a preliminary order intended to preserve the status quo until a final hearing can occur. A pendente lite hearing may take place as part of a petition for Limited or Absolute Divorce.