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Pre-Trial Written Motions in Divorce Cases

Any time before or during trial, either side may make a motion. For purposes of this article, only pre trial written motions will be discussed.

A motion is defined as a request for an order from the court, prior to the conclusion of the case. (Motions are available after trial as well, but those are beyond the scope of this article). Pre trial orders are sometimes necessary to compel a party to a lawsuit to do something. In a divorce, some of the more common pre trial motion are:

  • temporary custody of minor children,
  • temporary child support
  • temporary maintenance for a spouse,
  • temporary exclusive occupancy of the marital home,
  • temporary orders of protection,
  • interim awards of counsel fees,
  • interim awards of appraiser or expert fees
  • compel discovery requests,
  • punish one side for failure to comply with discovery requests.

These are only examples of common motions, and a motion can request virtually any non-frivolous relief. Note that the term "pendente lite" is often used instead of temporary.

There are two ways to file a motion, by Notice of Motion, or by Order to Show Cause, and either party can file either type.

Notice of Motion

Motions brought by notice of motion will generally consist of 3 sets of papers, the Notice of Motion, file by the moving party, the affirmation in opposition, field by the party opposing the motion, and the reply, filed by the moving party. Each of these are discussed below.

A motion made by notice of motion generally consists of:

  • a notice of motion which contains the caption of the case, the court where the motion will be made, the date and time of the motion, and what the motion is seeking,
  • the party's affidavit, which is a sworn statement which provides the factual reasons why the motion is required,
  • the attorney's affirmation
  • any exhibits in support of the motion.

At least 8 days notice is required, with an additional 5 days if the motion is served by mail.

The party opposing the motion prepares a set of papers called an affirmation in opposition, which consists of the party's sworn affidavit, and an attorney's affirmation, and any necessary exhibits.

The moving party then files a reply, which responds to the affirmation in opposition.

Order to Show Cause

An order to show cause is similar to a notice of motion, in that it can request the exact same relief as a notice of motion. It differs in that the party bringing the motion by order to show cause can submit the motion to the court before the motion is served on the other side. This is generally the only way one side can communicate with the court without the other side being present. In addition, an order to show cause can request that the court issue an temporary order before the other side responds. Order to show cause is often used when time is critical, such as when a child is in danger of being removed from the jurisdiction, or when a decision is needed faster than a notice of motion, such as temporary child support or temporary maintenance.

Motions brought by order to show cause will generally consist of two sets of papers, the order to show cause, filed by the moving party, and the affirmation in opposition, filed by the party opposing the motion. Each of these are discussed below.

A motion made by order to show cause generally consists of:

  • the order to show cause. Unlike a notice of motion, the court will set the return date and manner of service.
  • the party's affidavit, which is a sworn statement which provides the factual reasons why the motion is required,
  • the attorney's affirmation in support of the motion,
  • any exhibits in support of the motion.

The party opposing the motion will generally prepare a set of papers called an affirmation in opposition, which consists of the party's sworn affidavit, and an attorney's affirmation, and any necessary exhibits.

Deciding the Motion

Upon the submission of all papers, the court will make a decision, and issue an order in response to the motion. Some courts will require oral argument, but many courts will decide the motion based upon the papers alone. (This is called "on submission") The court can grant the motion in its entirety, deny it in its entirety, or grant some but not all of the relief requested.

Note: An affidavit locks that party into testimony, and any affidavits made for a motion are often used by opposing counsel during cross examination at trial. The decision what to include in a supporting affidavit, and what to leave out, is an art in itself, and should be made by the attorney representing the party.


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Fault grounds for divorce include adultery, constructive abandonment for at least one (1) year, cruel and inhuman treatment, and imprisonment of a spouse for three (3) or more years. Prior to October 2010, other than a legal separation agreement that was filed with the court, divorces were based on fault.
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