Temporary Relief: The Band-Aid of Family Law

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Untying the Knot. An Expert Series on Divorce in PensacolaI want to talk about the phase of your divorce when you are really in a type of limbo and have no idea how to resolve the very immediate needs of your newly separated family. 

That is where the concept of temporary relief comes in. 

This time of the divorce is often the most difficult for women, especially if they are not the primary bread earner in the family, if she is a stay-at-home mother, or has no idea how she will make ends meet if her husband does not help financially.

Without a temporary order requiring one person to pay for or do certain things, very little is required of the spouse. This naturally causes a tremendous amount of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty.  

What is Temporary Relief?

Temporary relief refers to a procedure in Florida where either party can ask the court to do something on a temporary basis in the early phase of a case, acting as a “Band-Aid” until the final hearing or until an agreement can be reached. It is an order of the Court that temporarily determines some of the major issues in the case while the lawyers collect discovery and conduct depositions to get all the facts of the case.

The lawsuit’s discovery phase can take a long time, especially if you have a high asset case or a complex child custody case. You wouldn’t want to wait for the final resolution or determination of the judge to get an indication of what to do in the meantime.

How Does Temporary Relief Differ from a Standing Order?

I have referred to the Family Law Standing Order in some of my articles. These orders are issued in every divorce case, and they are the default way to handle temporary issues until your divorce can go in front of a judge. However, they are vague at best, and they cannot make your spouse do many of the things you might need while you’re waiting on a judge to act.

For example, while the Escambia County Standing Order says that the default on parenting time is 50/50, it doesn’t give specifics and doesn’t require the payment of child support. Standing Orders don’t provide for alimony or who must pay specific bills related to the marital home. Often one of the scariest things can be that it does not say who must leave the home, if anyone, and who should retain it until the divorce is complete. This can make high tensions even higher as even the most amicable couples will tire of residing together while going through a divorce.  

Basically, the Standing Order is there so that people don’t run off with marital money or assets, take a child and relocate them out of state, or do something equally extreme after the divorce is filed with the Court.

However, the standing order doesn’t help very much on a temporary basis to get the real stuff covered. Questions like:

“Who is going to pay the mortgage?”  

“Are we still splitting the utility bill in the house?”  

“Who will take and pick up our child from school each day?”

“Do I need to get childcare?”

“How am I going to make ends meet while this divorce is going on?”

And, very importantly, “Who will pay for the attorney’s fees to get this case going?”

These are all issues that will be handled on a temporary basis if you and your spouse cannot agree otherwise.

Temporary Relief Hearings

It is important for clients to understand that temporary relief hearings in our neck of the woods are usually very short. They are generally an hour and typically don’t exceed two hours unless there is an extreme situation.

Often, Motions for Temporary Relief also include a Motion for Exclusive Use and Possession of the Marital Home. If both parties reside in the home and neither party wants to move or is refusing to leave until the divorce is over, this can be an issue for the temporary relief hearing. Under Florida law, neither party can be forced to leave the home unless a Judge requires it or there is an agreement, so do not mistakenly believe that just filing for divorce will require your spouse to move out. 

Since the hearing is short, only the most critical issues will be heard. So, if you have a case with child and alimony issues, you can expect some of those issues to be resolved in a very brief hearing at the beginning of your case.

Remember, COVID is still impacting the speed of our Courts and, alongside increased filings in 2021, pushing back dates when hearings can be set. Especially in Santa Rosa County, you could wait on a temporary hearing, even though your temporary issues are important and time-sensitive. Currently, this is taking as long as eight to nine months. I realize there doesn’t seem to be very much temporary relief when a hearing doesn’t even occur until eight or nine months down the road. However, there are judges and magistrates in Escambia in Santa Rosa Counties getting those hearings in much more quickly.

What Can a Court Do on a Temporary Basis?

The most significant things that a court is going to do on a temporary basis are to make an award of temporary time-sharing, child support, and spousal support and order one party or the other to maintain specific debts or pay particular bills. 

Attorney’s fees are one of those things, as your attorney will tell you, that is quite a bit up in the air depending on which judge you have in our circuit. Generally speaking, attorney’s fees are awarded to the party that needs those fees to be paid on a temporary basis. However, it is an uphill battle in many of our courtrooms to get those fees paid. Therefore, I always tell people to make sure they have a way to pay their attorney’s fees on-going through the litigation if at all possible. You don’t have to wait on a temporary hearing to get that issue resolved.

Another thing that can be handled on a temporary basis is whether someone can be removed from insurance as a beneficiary on insurance policies and other logistics such as that. It can also determine who gets to drive a particular vehicle or who has control of a specific asset until the divorce is final.

Obviously, the support issues are the biggest ones and usually the most pressing. If there are things that you and your spouse can resolve without the need for a temporary hearing, try to do so to reduce the number of issues that are being heard at the temporary hearing. Judges sometimes do not have a lot of information when making their temporary decisions, which means that the rulings can feel unfair and uninformed. It is a mechanism of the time restraints that makes it feel like the court may be breezing over what you consider necessary facts. 

Remember, your lawyer is there to whittle down the facts and evidence to a very bare-bone amount so that the judge can make a decision that will act as a “band-aid” in your case. It is not intended to be the final ruling, even though it is often structured like a final hearing. There are opening arguments, witnesses, and evidence like a final hearing, but the proceedings and presentations are vastly abbreviated. 

In your temporary hearing, be brief, direct, and focus on the most important issues to resolve. Regardless of whether you like the result of the temporary hearing, the Order will provide the rules of the proceeding until the case is finalized.  

Emergency Issues

This is a good time to mention that there is a mechanism to get in front of a judge on an expedited basis for a true emergency. But, there are honestly very few true emergencies in family law. While clients feel that they have an emergency in their case, such as a spouse refusing to pay the mortgage or not providing any support that could cause them to be destitute, the Court does not consider these events emergencies. 

Emergencies exist only when there are specific criteria met. Generally, that means there is an imminent risk of bodily harm to the spouse or children, or a child is being removed permanently from the state. 

When your lawyer advises you that your issue is not an emergency, you can believe them. Judges do not look favorably on litigants and lawyers who file emergency motions to try to get the Court’s attention. It rarely works in getting in front of the judge any more quickly than in the normal course of business for your temporary hearing.

However, if you have a true emergency, or feel you do, always bring that up to your lawyer for some advice!

Autumn Beck Blackledge headshot

Autumn Beck Blackledge has been practicing law for over 20 years and started her own firm in 2014, practicing exclusively in Marital and Family law. She is a Pensacola native and graduate of Tate High School and Florida State University, and FSU College of Law.


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