A judge agreed Monday to put legal proceedings in the Department of Justice's antitrust case against AT&T's merger with T-Mobile USA on hold until Jan. 18 as the operator scrambles to salvage the deal.

The order gives AT&T until Jan. 12 to tell the court whether it plans to abandon the deal or try to pass an alternate proposal.

AT&T also will have to provide an update on its plans for getting the acquisition passed by the FCC, which must sign off on the deal before it can close.

Judge Ellen Huvelle granted the stay on the request of AT&T and the DOJ. The two sides will appear in court on Jan. 18 to determine how to proceed.

The DOJ was ordered on Friday to file a motion to stay the case or withdraw it by Tuesday, but today's order means the regulator won't be submitting its motion to the court tomorrow. The order also vacates a Thursday hearing on the DOJ's now-void motion.

During the status hearing last week, AT&T attempted to lay out a scenario to save the transaction. Attorney Michael Hansen said that "nothing had changed" in the wake of the withdrawal of AT&T's merger application from the FCC.

Hansen also said the company may be able to meet the deal's September 2012 drop-dead date if it is able to reach a settlement with the DOJ and get quick FCC approval.

Huvelle was skeptical of AT&T's claim that the status of the deal was unchanged and questioned whether it was still necessary to move forward with an expedited process.

AT&T pulled its FCC application for the transfer of T-Mobile's spectrum licenses last month in an attempt to avoid an administrative hearing on the deal and focus its efforts on reaching a settlement with the DOJ.

The move didn't go over well during the hearing on Friday, with the court questioning whether the deal was even still active without an application pending at the FCC. AT&T will have to re-file its merger application if it is able to reach a settlement for the deal.