What is a Rule Nisi in a Divorce Case?

In most Georgia counties, a Rule Nisi is issued prior to a temporary hearing for issues arising from divorce and many family law cases. The temporary hearing may be in regards to child support, alimony, custody, or visitation. Rule nisi means an order “to show cause”. The purpose of the Rule Nisi is to give the opposing party notice of the hearing in order to give both parties an opportunity to be heard by the court. Generally, the Rule Nisi order requires the subsequent hearing to have any legal effect.

Why would one party request a temporary hearing?

The temporary hearing is usually the first appearance that both parties will make before the judge. A temporary hearing is needed when the parties cannot agree on important decisions that must be resolved in the interim before the divorce is finalized. Such issues will most commonly involve custody and support of the children. Temporary decisions will be issued based on what the court finds to be in the best interest of the children. Sometimes a temporary hearing on alimony may be warranted if one party is unemployed and needs financial support.

How do I serve my spouse with a Rule Nisi?

A party requesting a temporary hearing in the divorce proceeding can serve the other party with the Rule Nisi and the divorce papers at the same time. The hearing is usually scheduled at the time the divorce is filed. Court calendars vary from county to county but forty-five days from the time of filing is common. A sample of the Georgia Rule Nisi form and instructions for service can be found at O.C.G.A. § 19-6-28.

What happens if I am served with a Rule Nisi?

A Rule Nisi is a court order to appear that notifies the receiver of the date and time of the scheduled hearing. A party who receives a Rule Nisi, should immediately contact his or her attorney. The turnaround time to file an answer to the plaintiff’s complaint is often very quick. Failure to appear at the hearing after being served notice, will most likely result in the judge issuing a ruling despite the absence of one party. The impact of such a decision will likely have a negative effect on the case of the absent party. Likewise, appearing unprepared before the court is similarly detrimental. In Georgia, parties to a divorce proceeding can expect to have the same judge throughout the entire proceeding. Therefore, failing to appear, or being ill- prepared, at the first hearing is likely to set a negative precedent that will carry over throughout the proceeding. Although the ruling is temporary, it generally stays in effect until the final divorce decree is issued, which could be months or, in some cases, even years.

Will a temporary order be made permanent after the final divorce decree?

A temporary order will not necessarily be the same as the final order. This is particularly true in cases of alimony where the receiver of the support may later be expected to procure employment or reduce living expenses. Temporary orders regarding children are more likely to be made permanent, especially when the divorce proceeding becomes an extraordinarily long process. This is because the court follows the best interest of the children standard to guide decisions and disruption of a child’s routine is always a factor to be considered in this determination. The issuance of the temporary order may give both parties a better idea of where they stand with the case. The time following a temporary hearing is a good time to discuss negotiations, and possibly a settlement, with your attorney.

Can a Rule Nisi be filed in family court in the absence of a divorce proceeding?

Yes, a Rule Nisi may be filed in cases of paternal legitimization. A child born to an unmarried couple is in the sole custody of the mother until paternity is proven. A father may, in the interim, request a temporary hearing for custody or visitation by filing a Rule Nisi at the time of filing the petition for legitimization. Additionally, a third party, such as a grandparent, or even a representative of the state, may file for a temporary custody hearing of a child. Such a request would only be made in cases of abuse or neglect but may result in temporary placement of the child if the court finds the custodial parent to be unfit.

Conclusion

Whether you request the temporary hearing or are served with the Rule Nisi, an attorney is integral to your case at a temporary hearing. The quick turnaround time and burdensome requirements of trial preparation demand the attention of a legal professional. The importance of making a good first impression on the judge cannot be overstated and your attorney will help ensure that you are well prepared and ready to present your case to the court.

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