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Common Divorce Terms and Definitions


Alimony:  Payment of support (not child support) from one spouse to another so that the spouse receiving the payment can maintain the lifestyle that he/she was accustomed to during the marriage. Also called spousal support or maintenance.

Annulment:  The legal ending of an 'Invalid Marriage'. To the law neither party was ever married, but all the children born of the annulled marriage remain legitimate.

Arrearages:  The difference between the amount of alimony or child support paid, if any, and the amount required under court order.

Child Support:  The amount of money that the non-custodial parent pays to the custodial parent to help pay for the every day needs of the child(ren) such as housing, food and clothing.

Child Support Guidelines:  The amount of child support to be paid, under normal circumstances, according to a schedule established by the state, based upon income. It is federally mandated that all states establish guidelines for child support.

Common Law Marriage:  A judicially-recognized marriage in some states, usually based on cohabitation.

Community Property:  A rule of property division which divides equally all property acquired during the term of the marriage, without regard to whose name it is held. Inheritances and gifts are excluded in some jurisdictions.

Complaint The formal document filed with the Court which states that the plaintiff wants a divorce and why.

Contested Divorce:  The party sued opposes the because either : she/he denies the asserted grounds or he/she does not agree with the suing party as to the terms of the divorce i.e. property, child custody, child support, alimony, assumption of marital debts etc.

Court Order:  A written instruction from the court carrying the weight of law. Orders must be in writing. Anyone who knowingly violates a court order can be held in contempt of court.

Custodial Parent The parent with whom the child(ren) live the majority of the time with.

Custody:  The legal right and responsibility awarded by the court for the care of a child. See Joint Custody and Sole Custody

Defendant The person (either husband or wife) who is being sued for divorce.

Deposition:  Where a party or witness is asked questions orally before a court reporter.

Emancipation:  An act by which a parent relinquishes their to custody and are relieved of their duty to support the child. The child is then no longer bound to the stipulations set forth in the divorce decree. Emancipation can occur when the child marries, is inducted into military service, by court order based upon the child's best interest or by when the child reaches an appropriate age.

Equitable Distribution The division of the property (marital assets) acquired during the marriage. Marital debts can also be part of the equitable distribution.

Grounds:  The reason(s) under state statute for granting a divorce.

Interrogatory Written questions asked by one party of an opposing party, who must answer them in writing under oath.

Joint Custody The children live with the residential custodian and visit with the non-residential parent. Both parents have an equal say in major decisions affecting the children can only be made with notice and consent. See Sole Custody

Maintenance See Alimony

Marital Assets All property acquired during the course of the marriage regardless of who owns or has title to it. It includes but is not limited to the following: house(s), other real estate, cash, stocks, bonds, motor vehicles, pensions, profit sharing plans and insurance.

Mediation Process by which you work with a neutral third party to prepare your divorce agreement. This process is voluntary and non-binding.

Motion:  A request for some type of action or decision to be made by the court.

Non-Custodial Parent:  The parent with whom the child(ren) do not live the majority of the time with.

Nuptial:  Pertaining to marriage.

Order See Court Order

Pendente Lite Support:  A temporary order of the Court which provides support until the divorce is finalized.

Physical Custody:  The home/parent in which the child(ren) will primarily reside in/with. See Custodial Parent

Plaintiff:  The person (husband or wife) who files the divorce complaint and sues the person for divorce.

Pro Se To represent yourself in court proceedings without an attorney.

QDRO:  Qualified Domestic Relations Order. A ruling by the court stating what portion of one spouse's pension is to be awarded to the other spouse.

Quid Pro Quo:  The giving of one valuable thing for another.

Restraining Order:  A court order prohibiting a party from certain activities. Issued in response to a motion. Restraining orders often are issued to protect marital assets and to protect against domestic violence. In many states, violating a "domestic restraining order" is a criminal offense.

Sole Custody:  The custodial parent has the power to make all decisions, including day-to-day decisions as well as major decisions, concerning the child(ren)'s health, education and welfare without notice to and consent from the non-custodial parent. See Joint Custody

Spousal Support:  See Alimony

Subpoena:  A court order to attend a legal proceeding such as a trial or deposition. If documents are also requested, the subpoena is called a subpoena duces tecum, Latin for "bring with you." Sometimes a subpoena duces tecum states that you must produce certain documents by a specific date without having to appear.

Visitation The right of the non custodial parent to see the children.



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