A temporary support order is simply a way of resolving a couple’s financial issues until a final decree is issued. Sounds simple, doesn’t it.
However, in my case, I was ordered to pay 90% of my net income to my spouse with no way to appeal the order. This went on for over a year. How did this situation arise?
First, a trial judge has almost complete discretion over temporary support orders – he or she can order virtually anything. There is no appeal until after the final decree is signed (which, in my case, is still unsigned at the time of writing – over 2.5 years since first filing for divorce).
Both parties typically file an affidavit of financial condition (an AFC) stating their income and assets. The judge must then determine what will best preserve the community assets while keeping the family as close as possible to their “accustomed” lifestyle. Any support orders are nominally based on “need and ability to pay”.
In my case, I left the house a few months after filing my complaint for divorce because her verbal abuse had become intolerable. Most men end up leaving either voluntarily or involuntarily (via a TRO or temporary restraining order – see this post).
This enabled my wife’s lawyer to file for “exclusive possession” basically making her a tenant and making it illegal for me to enter my own property (i.e. becoming a trespasser). This the judge granted.
I was then ordered to pay the mortgage and utilities on the house (amounting to $3000 per month) even though I was paying to rent a room somewhere else. Ironically, I was renting a room on my six figure salary to minimize expenses – the judge used my low rent to justify that I could pay more to support my previous household.
I was also ordered to pay $1400 in child support for my two children (even though child support was supposed to include a housing element- so what I was paying for the house should have been taken into account).
So basically, this took my support payments to 90% of my regular net income. The judge thought that two extra jobs that I did in the summer and winter should be added to my income when determining how much I could afford to pay. Nevermind that I only received two lump sum payments in the summer and winter and only IF I was offered the work – which was not guaranteed. Even with this extra income the support payments amounted to around 78% of my net income.
The judge also ordered my wife to list the house for sale but having all the bills paid gave her little incentive to sell. She repeatedly cancelled buyer appointments and kept the house is poor condition to deter buyers. She also refused to lower the price without a court order (which takes 1-2 months to obtain). Without the ability to enter the property I could not even tidy up before a buyer inspection.
Temporary support orders can be modified. All attempts to modify my support payments were rejected by the judge – even AFTER my wife got a full-time job!
If you plan to get divorced avoid earning extra income for three years prior (so your ability to pay is less).
Demand that your wife gets a job (so her need for support is less)
If possible, sell your house and start renting before the divorce – so you don’t get stuck with a house you can’t sell or get kicked out.
Assume you will be kicked out of your own home – move your possessions to a private storage before you file for divorce.
When you move out, rent a place at least equal in value to the one you left. Your obligations will reduce your “ability to pay”.
1. I had read about the hard ball tactics above before filing for divorce and assumed I didn’t need them because I had a signed and notarized separation agreement that outlined all settlement terms in case of divorce.
2. The judge has never ruled on the separation agreement nor did she base her temporary support orders on the agreement (which provided for support payments of $1800 and gave me possession of the house, cars, and all assets in exchange for a $100,000 lump sum payment). Thus, my agreement was completely useless.
Don’t assume it can’t happen to you and follow the lessons above!