The basic goal in a divorce case is to get from “before” to “after.” “Before” is married, and “after” is divorced. Divorced means having a final plan in place for child custody, co-parenting arrangements, spousal maintenance, disposition of the marital homestead, allocation of debts and the handling of each party’s attorney’s fees, among other issues.
But what about the “during?” If it takes six months to a year to get from “before” to “after,” then a temporary order is likely to be necessary. A temporary order would have provisions such as the parenting schedule pending completion of the case, or how cash flow should be handled while the matter is pending? For instance, making the house payment until the house is sold. Or, paying an attorney’s retainer fee for purposes of having representation on the case.
The Order for Temporary Relief provides the temporary custody, temporary parenting time, temporary support, temporary attorney’s fees, and any other relief that needs to be in place in a pending divorce case, up until the final decree is entered. Most of the time, the parties agree to the terms of the Temporary Order, although they may need a mediator, child custody neutral or financial neutral to assist in arriving at terms. But if the parties are unable to reach agreement, the family court will hear the matter and issue an order.
The temporary provisions are not precedent for purposes of the final order. At least, not formally. It is intended that the final terms are based on long-term considerations, while temporary provisions are based on shorter-term considerations.
But the parties may agree to adopt the temporary terms as final terms. For instance, the party paying support may be willing to continue the same amount, but not a higher amount. Or a parent may agree to continue the temporary parenting schedule, but not an adjusted schedule that requires them to make a concession. In each of these instances, the other party may agree to adopt the temporary terms as a final agreement rather than engage in a contested dispute over final terms. In essence, the temporary terms may end up serving as a kind of informal precedent, for purposes of reaching an agreement to final terms.
If the family court makes the decision on final terms, the family court will (or at least, should) not use the temporary order as precedent. If the family court’s final order matches the temporary order, it would necessarily require that the family court assesses the facts and circumstances, and makes findings, to support the order. That is, the family court cannot just adopt the temporary order as a final order without such findings, unless the parties expressly agree to those terms.