What is Pendente Lite?

N. Madison
N. Madison

A Latin term, pendente lite means during litigation or while lawsuits are pending. A judge may place such an order into effect while a legal proceeding is still pending. Likewise, parties in a case may sign a legal agreement that is effective until final judgment is made in a lawsuit. If, for example, a couple is divorcing, one of the spouse's may request spousal support. In some cases, a judge may then create a support order to ensure that the spouse’s living expenses can be met while the divorce process continues.

Pending the outcome of a child custody suit, a judge may create a pendente lite child support order.
Pending the outcome of a child custody suit, a judge may create a pendente lite child support order.

The easiest way to think of the term pendente lite is to consider it in terms of temporary and long-term legal agreements and court orders; the order is only temporary. In some cases, however, a judge’s order may be transformed into a permanent order once the legal proceedings end. For example, a judge may create a pendente lite child support order, pending the outcome of a child custody suit. Once the child custody suit is decided, the judge creates a final order for child support, which may greatly resemble the temporary order. When the permanent order takes effect, the temporary order is no longer valid.

A judge may put a pendente lite into effect while a legal proceeding is still pending.
A judge may put a pendente lite into effect while a legal proceeding is still pending.

In many jurisdictions, special hearings are scheduled to provide temporary relief until a legal proceeding is finalized. For example, divorcing spouses may attend pendente lite hearings to determine which spouse will receive temporary custody, child support, and visitation. This type of hearing may also be used to determine who will live in the family home during the divorce and who will be responsible for the costs of divorce litigation. Often, these hearings also decide such things as who will be responsible for maintaining a couple’s medical insurance or paying joint bills.

Typically, parties in a legal proceeding have the right to request certain inclusions for their pendente lite orders or raise objections to others. Once the judge has ruled, however, the order usually remains in place until the case is settled either in court or by the agreement of the parties involved. If a party ignores or fails to meet the requirements set forth by a pendente lite order, he may face the penalties allowed in his jurisdiction. In some places, ignoring a court order is considered contempt of court and may carry such penalties as jail time or fines. Additionally, the person who ignored the court order may be less likely to win his court case.

N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


It sounds like a pendente lite reflects what the outcome of a case will usually be. If a judge has enough information to make the initial decision, it seems likely to become permanent.

Probably the only factors that could cause a final outcome different from the pendente lite would be the people involved changing their minds or statuses during its term of effectiveness. If the husband and wife decided to get back together, for example, or if one of them decided that they didn’t want the children around after all, then the outcome of the trial would be different than the decision made in the pendente lite.


When my sister’s husband left her and tried to take their two small children, she filed for sole custody. Since he was the one who decided to end the marriage, and since he had taken the children without telling her, the judge issued a pendente lite order granting temporary custody to my sister and requiring her estranged husband to pay child support.

During the period of the pendente lite, he failed to make these payments. This fueled the judge’s permanent decision to award sole custody to my sister. He had to pay a large fine for missing the payments, and if he did it again, he would have to serve time.


After my friend caught her husband cheating on her, she took him to divorce court. She did not have a job, so he had been the solitary provider.

She was seeking alimony. Knowing that divorce proceedings can be long and drawn out, the judge signed a pendente lite order so that she could survive in the meantime.

She took advantage of this time to look for a job. She found a good one, so by the time the case went to trial, she could provide for herself if the case did not go in her favor. She ended up getting alimony after all, but she felt good knowing that she did not need it to survive.


My college roommate became pregnant by her boyfriend at age 19. After the baby was born, he broke up with her. He didn’t want anything to do with her or the baby.

She took him to court seeking child support. The judge signed a pendente lite order demanding that he provide for the baby. He had a steady job as a mechanic, so he had the means of supporting them. Since his only defense was that he didn’t want to, he had no choice.

The pendente lite hearing helped my roommate get the money she needed until the actual trial could take place. She was grateful that such an order existed.

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