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The Importance of Pendente Lite Alimony

If you are a dependent spouse in an irretrievably broken marriage, you may feel like you’re being held hostage. How can you file for divorce, let alone litigate a contentious fight over property and custody, when your spouse controls the finances? Fortunately, there is a way for you to get temporary alimony, known in New York law as pendente lite maintenance, to support yourself and even pay your legal fees while the divorce is ongoing.

Historically, husbands held great sway over their wives who did not have the means to prosecute a divorce. The process then was much more complex and time-consuming, because the petitioner had to prove marital misconduct to establish grounds for divorce. A wife might quickly exhaust her limited means, giving the husband leverage to obtain a settlement that leaned heavily in his favor. However, the law then recognized a husband’s duty to support his wife and held that divorce did not terminate the husband’s duty. So, courts granted the wife temporary alimony, known as pendente lite, for support during the divorce process.  

Husbands still had an advantage, though, because they could usually afford better legal representation. To level the playing field, the law evolved to add the cost of prosecuting the divorce to the pendente lite award. The husband would finance the wife’s litigation, and when the divorce was finalized, the court would decide whether it was appropriate for the husband to bear the burden of those costs or for the wife to repay the husband out of her portion of marital property.

Today, dependent spouses in New York, regardless of gender, can receive pendente lite maintenance, which can include assistance with legal fees. Under certain circumstances, the court “may direct either spouse . . . to pay counsel fees and fees and expenses of experts directly to the attorney of the other spouse to enable the other party to carry on or defend the action or proceeding as, in the court's discretion, justice requires, having regard to the circumstances of the case and of the respective parties.” (New York Domestic Relations Law § 237)

However, when a dependent spouse seems to be running up counsel fees with impunity to punish the moneyed spouse, the court can require the dependent spouse to have “skin in the game,” and order that counsel fees come from the share of marital assets.

If you are a dependent spouse, you don’t have to think of yourself as an underdog. Bryan L. Salamone & Associates, P.C., Long Island’s largest and busiest divorce and family law firm, can deliver the aggressive representation you need to divorce on the best possible terms.

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