Action: Lawsuit or Proceeding in a court of law.

Affidavit: A written statement which is signed under oath.

Agreement: A verbal or written resolution of disputed issues.

Answer: the written response to a complaint, petition, or motion.

Alimony: A payment of financial support provided by one spouse to the other- also called spousal support and maintenance.

Alias Summons: another summons, used when the original is not served on the defendant.

Annulment: A marriage can be dissolved in a legal proceeding in which the marriage is declared void, as though it never took place. In the eyes of the law, the parties were never married. It is available under limited circumstances.

Appeal: A legal action where the losing party requests that a higher court review the decision.

Best Interest of the Child: the legal standard used to determine child custody, visitation, and support.

Collusion: An agreement between two or more people that one of the parties bring false charges against the other. In a divorce case, the husband and wife may agree to use adultery as a ground in order to obtain a divorce more quickly, knowing full well that adultery was not committed. Collusion is illegal.

Complainant: The one who files the lawsuit. Can also be called the petitioner or plaintiff.

Common Law Marriage: A common law marriage comes about when a man and a woman who are free to marry agree to live together as husband and wife without the formal ceremony to be common law married,, both spouses must have intended to be husband and wife.

Community Property: A method of dividing marital property between spouses, which is based on an equal or 50/50 division. Courts will generally only divide property bought or acquired by one or both spouses during the marriage.

Complaint: also called a “bill of complaint” or “petition” and is the legal paper that starts a case.

Condonation: The act of forgiving one’s spouse who has committed an act of wrongdoing that would constitute a ground for divorce. Condonation generally is proven by living and cohabitating with the spouse after learning that the wrongdoing was committed.

Contempt: Failure to follow a court order. One side can request the court to determine that the other side is in contempt and issue a punishment, which can include monetary fines, jail time, or both.

Corroborative Witness: A person who testifies for you and backs up your story. If you are asking the court to grant a divorce based on a fault or separation, you may have to bring a witness to work.

Custodial Parent: the parent who has physical custody of the child or children.

Custody, Sole & Joint: refers to the legal arrangements for whom a child will live with and how decisions about the child will be made. Custody has two parts: legal and physical. Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make decisions about the child’s health, safety, and welfare. Physical custody refers to where the child lives on a regular basis. The standard for deciding custody is what arrangement will be in the “best interest of the child”.

Default: after a party’s failure to answer a complaint, motion, or petition, a court can grant a plaintiff’s divorce via default and give the plaintiff everything he or she requested. (This is not always true as you will see in future blogs)

Defendant: the person the case is brought against

Discovery: A way of getting information from the other side or other people. Examples of discovery are interrogatories (written questions) and in person recorded depositions.

Dissolution: the legal end to a marriage.

Equitable Distribution: A method of dividing marital property between spouses which is based on fair division.

Filing: Giving the clerk your paperwork.

Fault-based Divorce: divorce action where one spouse claims that the other spouse’s marital misconduct caused the marriage to end.

Fault Grounds: marital misconduct giving one spouse a legal reason to sue for divorces, such as abuse, abandonment, and adultery.

Grounds for Divorce: the legal basis for a divorce; the law sets out specific reasons for a divorce which have to be proven before the court grant a divorce.

Home State: the state where a child or children of the marriage lived with a parent for at least six months before a child custody, support, or visitation actions was filed in court.

Innocent Spouse Rules: IRS rules that protect one spouse from the other spouse’s tax fraud or other tax-related misconduct.

Irreconcilable Differences: the legal grounds for no-fault divorces.

Irretrievable breakdown: the legal grounds for a no-fault divorce.

Judgment: A court’s decision

Jurisdiction: the authority of the court to hear a case.

Legal Separation: A court order allowing spouses to live separate and apart while remaining legally married.

Maintenance: also called alimony or spousal support, this is one spouse’s financial support payment to the other.

Marital Property: Includes all property acquired during the marriage.

Master: hears cases like a judge- a master’s decision is reviewed by a judge before becoming final.

Motion: Request made in writing to the court.

Non-Custodial Parent: the spouse who doesn’t have physical custody of the spouse’s child or children.

No-Fault Divorce: A divorce that doesn’t require one spouse to prove the other spouse has fault or misconduct before being entitled a divorce.

Non-Marital Property: Property acquired before the marriage.

Notice: the formal legal process of informing one spouse about the legal action or proceeding involving the spouse.

Order: a court’s ruling or decision on a certain matter or legal issue, usually a decision on a motion filed by one spouse.

Paternity Test: proving the identity of a child’s biological father through scientific methods.

Pendente Lite: temporary arrangements for dealing with certain divorce-related issues such as custody, child support, child visitation, alimony, and use and possession of the family. These orders stay in place until an agreement or after the hearing.

Petition: a legal paper that starts a case.

Petitioner: the spouse who filed the divorce petition also called the plaintiff.

Plaintiff: the person who started the case

Prenuptial Agreement: a contract signed by the spouses before the marriage setting out that each spouse’s rights to property and assets in the case of a divorce.

Pro Se/ Proper Person: representing yourself without an attorney in court.

Qualified Domestic Relations Order: a court order giving one spouse a share of the other spouse’s pension or retirement funds.

Reconciliation:  when spouses get back together after they separated or started the divorce process.

Residency Requirement: the amount of time a spouse must live within a state or county before the spouse may file a divorce action in that county or state.

Separate Property: property or assets that belong to only one spouse which were acquired before the marriage, or through a gift or inheritance.

Service: providing a copy of the papers being filed to the other side via hand delivery or another court-approved method of delivery.

Spousal Support: one spouse’s payment to the other for financial support- also called alimony or maintenance.

Spouse: husband or wife.

Subpoena: a form issued by the court requiring someone to appear in court and/or bring documents.

Temporary Support: payments made by one spouse to the other for financial support while the divorce action is pending.

Uncontested Divorce: when the defendant agrees to the divorce and there are no issues for the court to decide about the children, money, or property.

Venue: the county where the case is heard.

Visitation: the non-custodial parent’s right to spend time with the spouse’s child or children.

Writ of Summons: A form issued by the court directing a party to respond to a complaint, motion, or petition.


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