Glossary of Terms

Legal terms unscrambled

Divorce FormsAFFIDAVIT  –  A written statement of the facts, made under oath, sometimes notarized

ADR  –  Acronym for Alternative Dispute Resolution such a mediation employed to resolve differences

AGREEMENT  –  A signed written statement or one to be signed that resolves a couples dispute(s). Sometimes referred to as a stipulation (you both stipulate that an issue is not in dispute (you both agree).

ALIMONY  –  Court-ordered financial payments made to help support a spouse or former spouse during separation or following divorce. It is also called maintenance or support. See Maintenance.

ALIMONY PEN DENTE LITE  –   Spousal support to be paid by one marital partner to the other during the pre-trial period of separation.

ALLEGATION –  A statement usually found in the initial filing that one intends to prove.


  • Contributions to Social Security (FICA)
  • State and federal income taxes that accurately relate to the tax status of the parties
  • Child or spousal support that was paid
  • Health insurance premiums
  • Mandatory union dues
  • Necessary job related expenses

ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION  –  Methods of resolving legal disputes without going to trial, in a less adversarial manner, such as through arbitration or mediation.

ANSWER  –  The person who replies to an initial complaint responds to the other spouse’s allegation(s). To answer a petition for divorce, separation or annulment where the respondent admits or denies statements made by the other spouse.

APPEAL  –  The process where a higher court reviews a lower court’s ruling to determine if there were any reversible errors made.

APPEARANCE – The process where one notifies the court that they acknowledge the jurisdiction of the court. The word can also mean the physical presence of one or both of the litigants in court.

ARREARAGE  –  The amount of money that is past due for child or spousal support.

ASSIGNMENT OF WAGES  –  Any order for child support payments must include an order for the assignment of wages, unless it is agreed in writing that no wage assignment will be filed with an employer if the spouse is not in arrears by more than a specified time or is current on his/her payments.

AUTOMATIC RESTRAINING ORDER  –  Once a divorce petition has been served, neither spouse may take any children out of state, sell or borrow against any property, or borrow or sell insurance held for the other spouse. Typically these orders remain in effect until the final judgment is signed by the court.

CHANGE OF VENUE  –  Usually means a change to the location of a legal action, but can include the change of a judge hearing the case.

CHART CHILD SUPPORT METHOD  –  A method used in some legal jurisdictions to establish a base for determining child support. It takes into account the gross incomes of both parents, less special adjustments (such as support paid for children of previous marriage), and a figure for the amount of money (typically stated as a monthly amount) that will be required to be spent for the child. The court has the flexibility to deviate from the formula when necessary.

CHILD CUSTODY  –  Both parents must agree on the Child custodycustody of any minor children under the age of 18. Physical custody relates to living with and supervising the children. Legal custody refers to decisions relating to health, education, welfare and other significant decisions affecting the children. Both physical and legal custody can be sole or joint.

CHILD SUPPORT  –  Money that a non-custodial parent pays to the custodial parent for their child’s support.

COBRA  –  The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) is a federal law giving you and your covered dependents the right to continue group health coverage on a self-paid basis if eligibility for employer-sponsored group medical and dental insurance is lost through loss of employment or through divorce. COBRA eligibility is often for 18 or 36 months after the event.

COLA  –  Cost of Living Adjustment.

COMMON LAW MARRIAGE  –  A union of two people who never married but conduct themselves as married persons. Only a handful of  States recognize common law marriages. They are CO, IA, KS, NH, SC, TX, UT. States that do not prohibit common law marries and therefore leave the possibility open to consideration for a common law marriage include DE, MT. States that used to allow common law marriages but no longer do FL, GA, IN, OH, PA.

COMMUNITY PROPERTY / MARITAL PROPERTY  –  Everything a husband and wife own together. In most cases, it includes all property acquired during the marriage and is deemed to be owned jointly by wife and husband. It includes money and wages earned during the marriage as well as anything purchased with that money, regardless of who actually earned it. Community property is observed in the following states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

CONTEMPT OF COURT  –  The deliberate failure to comply with the orders or directives of the Court. A person held in contempt can be sanctioned, fined or jailed, and depending upon the judge, can mean being subject to a variety of punishments.

CONTESTED CASE  – Any issue on which the petitioner and respondent cannot agree, which must then be decided by the court.

COURT HEARING  – A court hearing can be avoided in some divorce actions if the petitioner takes the necessary steps to complete an action by mail.

COURT ORDER – A written document by a court, requiring a person to act or refrain from acting in specific ways.

CROSS EXAMINATION  –  The process of questioning a person by the other side in a legal action to determine the voracity of one’s assertions.

CUSTODIAL PARENT  –  The parent who has physical custody of the child.

CUSTODY  –   Pertains to you having rights to your child. Custody can be either legal (you have the right to make important decisions about your child’s welfare), or physical (the child lives with and is raised by you).

DECREE  –  The court’s written order or decision finalizing the divorce, often issued in conjunction with the court’s judgment.

DEFAULT  –  When one fails to respond in the Divorce defaultprescribed manner and within a given period of time. The Respondent in a Petition for Dissolution (divorce) is said to be in default if he or she failed to respond within a set period of time, usually 30 days after the date of service (served with divorce papers).

DEFENDANT  –  The person against whom legal papers are filed. Respondent can also be used.

DEFERRED COMPENSATION PACKAGE  –  This includes all retirement assets, such as pension, IRAs, 401Ks, or any variation of saving or postponed income which has been earned during the marriage.

DEPOSITION  –  Part of the discovery process of a legal proceeding, in which the attorney for the other party asks you questions under oath, you answer with your attorney present, and a transcript of the proceedings is prepared.

DIRECT EXAMINATION  –  When a person is called to the stand for the first time to undergo questioning by either side.

DISCLOSURE  –  The law requires both spouses to provide the other with all details related to their property, assets, income and debts. Failure to fully disclose all relevant information or concealing information can have serious consequences.

DISCOVERY  –  Prior to trial, a process that uncovers all the pertinent facts and documents, including financial figures, by one or both parties. The information-exchanging process of a legal proceeding, including serving and answering interrogatories and requests for production of documents, and taking depositions.

DISSOLUTION  –  Another word for divorce. Either is defined as the legal termination of a marriage relationship.

DIVORCE  –  The legal termination of a marriage.

DIVORCE COMMUNITY DEBTS  –  Much like community property, all debts acquired during the marriage are community debts. Both husband and wife are equally liable for these debts. In most cases, this includes outstanding car loans, unpaid home mortgages and unpaid credit card balances.

DOCKET  –  The court’s calendar schedule.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE  –  Physical abuse or threats of abuse occurring between members of the same household.

EMANCIPATION  –  The point at a child becomes Emancipationfinancially independent, or reaches the age of 18 or 21, depending on the wording of a state’s laws.

EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION  –  The division of property that is fair in view of all of the circumstances. Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean equal distribution.

EX-PARTE  –  On or from one side or party only. Can refer to the absence of the opposing party. Refers to motions, hearings or orders granted on the request of and for the benefit of one party only. Does not require the presence of the other party. In some instances the opposing party is intentionally not told of the hearing.

GROSS INCOME  –  Income such as salaries, commissions, wages, bonuses, spousal support, royalties, rents, dividends, interest, trust income, annuities, pensions, worker’s comp benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, and disability benefits received are considered part of gross income. Gross income also includes gross receipts from a business, less deductions, which include business expenditures and employer benefits. Gross income does not include any received child support payments.

GROUNDS  –  The basis for an action or complaint, such as in grounds for divorce.

GUARDIAN AD LITEM – An attorney or mental health professional appointed by the court to represent a child.

HEARING  –  A court session where testimony or arguments are offered by involved parties or attorneys for the purpose of resolving a legal dispute.

HOLD HARMLESS  –  One party assumes all the obligation and liability of a debt and agrees in writing that they will not attempt to obligate the other partner at any time in the future.

INDEMNIFICATION – Similar to Hold Harmless in that one person guarantees reimbursement to the other partyin the event of a loss.

INJUNCTION –  A court order that prevents a person from certain behaviors. See Restraining Order.

INTERROGATORIES  –  Formal or written questions that must be answered under the direction of the court.

IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES  –  When marital difficulties cannot be resolved and have led to the permanent breakdown of the marriage. This determination is all that is required for a divorce in most states.

JOINT LEGAL CUSTODY  –  Condition in which both parents make joint decisions for their child’s education, medical care, religious training, or any other day to day matters. Intended to allow both parents to share in the right to make important decisions about a child’s welfare.

JOINT PHYSICAL CUSTODY  –  A condition where the child spends overnights in both parents’ homes. The sharing, by both parents, of the actual physical care and custody of a child.

JUDGEMENT DOCUMENT This document is Judgment docthe most important one of your divorce. It is the final resolution of all your legal issues. Every part of your judgment is finalized when it is signed by the court.

JURISDICTION –  The legal authority of a court to rule on issues that arise surrounding the parties, their children, or property.

LEGAL CUSTODY  –  The right to make important decisions about the raising of your child, on issues such as health care, education, religious instruction, etc.

LEGAL SEPARATION – The process whereby a couple lives separate and apart after application by petition to the court. Legal separations often require specific paperwork to be submitted to the court. In States that provide for Legal Separation, a judge must grant the legal separation or it does not qualify as one.

LUMP-SUM ALIMONY  –  Alimony (a.k.a. spousal support, maintenance) money is granted and paid in a single lump-sum payment.

MAINTENANCE  –  See alimony or spousal support. Monies paid on a schedule from one partner to another

MARITAL PROPERTY  –  In general, all property acquired during the marriage.

MARITAL SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT An agreement where both spouses agree to and document the terms of the divorce, such as the division of property, child custody and spousal support.

MEDIATION  –  Two or more parties work through discussion and compromise in a non-adversarial manner toward agreement, with the aid of a neutral third party, or Mediator. Falls under the heading of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). The Mediator works with the divorcing spouses. Avoids going to trial by the parties attempting to reach a mutual agreement.

MOTION TO MODIFY  –  A motion put before the court requesting that changes be made in physical or legal custody, or in child support payments, thus modifying the existing arrangement.

MOTIONS  –  Written or verbal appeals to the court for some sort of temporary relief, such as maintenance, Child support, attorney’s fees, etc.

NON-CUSTODIAL PARENT  –   The parent who does not have physical custody of the child.

NON-MARITAL PROPERTY  –  In general, property owned by either spouse prior to marriage or acquired by them individually, such as by gift or inheritance, during the marriage.

NO-FAULT DIVORCE  –  A divorce in which No Fault divorceneither party has been accused of or found guilty of any misconduct.

PARENTING PLAN  – Typically part of the marital settlement agreement, it documents child-related issues like visitation and residency. Post divorce decree, this plan can be modified at anytime by one spouse filing a motion with the court and showing why the change would be in the child’s best interests.

PDL MOTION   –  pen dente lite (Latin phrase), which means pending in the litigation. Any motion filed before the Petition is presented in court. See Motions.

PERSONAL PROPERTY DIVORCE  –  Any property that is moveable, as opposed to land or attached to land. Cars, jewelry and furniture would all be defined as personal property. Personal property can be divided into community and separate property.

PETITION  –  The initial document filed in court and the one that starts the ball rolling on any required waiting periods. For the petition to be accepted by the court, it must include details about the marriage: husband, wife, and any children’s names. Depending on locale, separate or community property, child custody, child support and spousal support details may also be mandatory disclosures.

PETITION FOR DISSOLUTION  –  The wording used in some states for the legal petition for divorce.

PETITIONER  –  The spouse who files for divorce. Often, the person who initiates divorce or marriage dissolution proceedings, also called the plaintiff.

PHYSICAL CUSTODY  –  Day-to-day rights and responsibilities associated with having your child in your home and being responsible for his or her care and upbringing.

PLAINTIFF  –  The party who initiates legal proceedings, often called the petitioner in family law matters.

PLEADING –  A formal request to the court (in writing) where a person asks for relief. Pleadings come in many forms e.g. petitions, answers to petitions, motions, replies, counterclaims, etc.

PREMARITAL AGREEMENT  –  An agreement entered into before marriage that sets forth each party’s rights and responsibilities should the marriage terminate by divorce or death. Also known as a prenup.

PRE-TRIAL MOTIONS  –   See PDL Motion and Motions.

PRO PER  –   “On one’s own behalf”. Usually means a participant in a divorce action foregoing legal representation. Also known as Pro per

QDRO  –  A Qualified Domestic Relations Order is a court order declaring that one spouse shall be entitled to a portion of the other spouse’s pension as a part of the marital assets.

QUIT CLAIM  –  Releases or relinquishes a Alt Textlegal claim. An example would be relinquishing claim to the marital house.

REBUTTAL  –  The act of rebutting or contradicting in a legal suit.

REQUEST FOR PRODUCTION  –  Part of the Discovery process in which one attorney asks for the other side to produce documents they deem necessary to the case, such as financial documents.

RESIDENCY  –  Most states require the spouse filing for divorce to have lived there for a minimum amount of time before filing an action. The required time frame varies by state, but six months is a typical average. As long as the residency requirement is satisfied, the state where you were married does not matter.

RESPONDENT  –  The spouse whom the Petitioner is seeking to divorce. The respondent receives the petition for divorce. Sometimes also referred to as the defendant.

RESPONSE  –  May be filed by the respondent to agree with or dispute the facts set forth in the petition.

RESTRAINING ORDER  –  An order issued by the court requiring the subject of the order to refrain from doing something, often issued in conjunction with domestic violence or custody disputes.

RETAINER  –  A fee paid to an attorney or other professional for their services, sometimes representing advance payment for anticipated future services.

RULES OF EVIDENCE – The rules of the court that pertain to the admissibility and presentation of oral and physical evidence at court proceedings and depositions.

SEPARATE DEBTS  –  All debts incurred before marriage that remain the obligation of only one spouse. Educational or job training loans acquired before marriage would be separate debts.

SERVICE  –  The act of serving the respondent with legal papers, such as the Notice of Petition for Dissolution.

SETTLEMENT CONFERENCE  –  A meeting at which the parties and their lawyers attempt to settle the case before trial, often ordered by the court.

SPLIT OR SHARED CUSTODY  –  A form of custody (generally not looked upon favorably) in which some or one of the parties’ children is/are in the custody of one parent and the remaining child is/are in the custody of the other parent.

SPOUSAL SUPPORT OR MAINTENANCE  –  Financial Spousal supportpayments made to help support a spouse or former spouse during separation or following divorce. Also called alimony.

STIPULATION  –  An agreement entered into by the divorcing spouses that settles the issues between them. This can be added into the court’s final order or judgment and decree.

SUBPOENA  –  A legal summons requiring that one appear in court as a witness to give testimony. Failure to obey a subpoena can result in punishment by the court.

SUMMONS  –  Written notice to appear in court either as a defendant or a witness. A message the court provides to the non-petitioning spouse (also known as the respondent) stating that a divorce petition has been filed. It also states that if a response is not filed within 30 days, the court can grant the petitioner’s request.

TRIAL  –  The formal legal process in which the court (judge) receives evidence and testimony to enable him or her to decide in a dispute between two parties.

UNCONTESTED DIVORCE  –  When all issues have been resolved in a manner acceptable to both parties, without going to trial.

VISITATION  –  The legal right of a non-custodial parent to see his or her child. The time that a noncustodial parent spends with his or her child.

WAIVER  –  The legal document with which one relinquishes a known right, claim, or privilege.

share this page with friends on social media

Site AdminGlossary of Terms