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Status Quo

Status Quo

to the best of your ability, keep on keeping on.

{7 minutes to read}  Status quo has an important legal meaning for people going through a divorce.  Status quo, meaning “the existing state of affairs,” informs divorcing parties what they are expected to do while they are in the process of divorcing.  This interim time, the pendente lite period (pendency of the action), refers to the time after an action for divorce has commenced, with the filing of a complaint and before the action has concluded, with the granting of the Judgment of Divorce. Unless and until otherwise ordered by the court or determined by the parties' mutual agreement, the parties are expected to continue doing what they were doing during the marriage: i.e.maintain the status quo. 

The status quo can also apply as a useful default for people who are not literally in a pendente lite period, but are nevertheless in an in-between phase, a time when a change of marital status has been decided, but not yet actualized. Couples in mediation are in this sort of limbo. The guidelines of the marriage no longer fit, yet new rules have yet to be established.  This can be a confusing time, particularly when the decision is nascent and not yet disclosed to children or others impacted by it. 

Unless instructed or mutually decided otherwise, a good rule of thumb is, to the best of your ability, keep on keeping on.  

Some examples of maintaining the status quo follow:

  • If you currently are sharing parenting time with your spouse and have a structure for carpooling with other parents to soccer and gymnastics, keep that in place. 

  • Do not cancel or modify life insurance, or car insurance, or remove the other party from a policy;

  • Do not cancel a joint bank account or redirect auto-deposits from joint to separate accounts

  • Do not move the children to a different location

  • Do not interfere with the children’s regular school and extracurricular activities

  • Do not change/cancel or modify mobile phone plans or remove the other from an account

  • Do not change passwords or otherwise block a party's access to account information they need

  • Do not cancel credit cards

What can you do during this period?

  • Run a free credit report to start getting a sense of joint and individual credit cards, outstanding debt, etc.

  • Complete monthly expenses worksheet to determine household joint expenses (as well as collect the data necessary for determining post-divorce budgets and support, for NJ see Case Information Statement (CIS); for NY see NYS Networth Statement. (find one from Family Law)

  • Gather documents: mortgage statements, retirement statements, pension summaries, list of assets and liabilities

  • Start a notebook to jot down questions and concerns, issues, and whatever is keeping you up at night so you have a place to store things and can compile what you can later review with your attorney and/or mediator

  • Write down what is important to you regarding the children, what you want for them, and how you want them to feel about you during the process, five years later, etc.

  • Observe what is working well in the household and what needs attention

  • Start looking for options for a second residence if one or both parties will be moving

  • Have an appraisal or Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) performed on the marital residence and any other properties.  If you haven't had one for several months, you should have a current one performed.

Why the status quo? 

The status quo helps keep things from collapsing while they are in flux.  It creates scaffolding around the family structure while it is being renovated.

Maintaining the status quo minimizes disruption and helps parties avoid rushing into decisions that incite chaos, additional and unnecessary aggravation, and acrimony.  The status quo helps keep things from collapsing while they are in flux.  It creates scaffolding around the family structure while it is being renovated. It protects against multiple costly, disruptive course corrections before a new course has been thoughtfully charted.  To minimize instability for children, fewer changes are better.  Better to delay changes until there is more certainty about them so there are fewer adjustments needed.

Conversely, not maintaining the status quo causes problems. Sudden unilateral changes to the norm can shock the other party and create a distrust that will erode possibilities for later cooperation.  Until there is an agreed to process in place that provides guidance and information, couples usually have difficulty making good decisions.  Uninformed, premature decisions, particularly those that favor one party, can create discord when they are later rescinded.  

Even if the current way is not ideal, continuing with it for the short term can prevent laying mines in a field you will inevitably be walking through shortly.

Why is maintaining the status quo so challenging? 

Living in one household after deciding to divorce can feel like being tasked with holding your breath indeterminately.  It might be necessary for everyone’s health and happiness to live separately immediately. An additional household, of course, brings additional expenses. 

Living in one household after deciding to divorce can feel like being tasked with holding your breath indeterminately.

What to do?

Mediate soon

It is best to make minimal changes before getting into a mediation setting where decisions can be made conscientiously, thoughtfully, and inclusively; where both parties can appreciate the needs as well as the obligations of one another, and discuss how new expenditures will affect them both. Mediation provides maximum transparency and fosters agreement between the parties before big changes and considerable additional financial obligations are assumed. 

Emergent Situations

If, for the safety and well-being of one or all family members, parties need to establish separate households sooner than later, proceed in a way that minimally affects children and finances.

Some interim, temporary options: stay with a friend or family member if at all possible, choose a month-to-month rental, or a long-term residential hotel rather than signing up for a year lease. 

In mediation, we provide tools so you can map your course, both in sessions with the mediator and between sessions, with guideposts and timeframes.  Securing a process and professional help can help divorcing parties focus forward and reclaim command of their path. 


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