Divorce Legal Terminology

Posted by Steven D. Eversole | Mar 25, 2007 | 0 Comments

Getting a divorce is fraught with lots of new and possibly intimidating terminology.  The following are some useful terms and their definitions. 

SOURCE: DivorceTransitions

Abandonment
This term is applied when one married spouse leaves the marital home. In some areas this may be grounds for divorce or may reflect adversely upon the spouse who moves.

Adultery
This term refers to sexual intercourse by a married person outside of the marriage. In some areas this may also be grounds for divorce or adversely affect the offender's case.

Affidavit
Sworn statement in writing, usually made under oath or on affirmation before a magistrate or officer (often a notary public).

Alimony
Also called maintenance or support. See Maintenance.

Alimony Pendente
Spousal support to be paid by one marital partner to the other during the pre-trial period of separation.

Change of Venue
Change of judge or location.

Chart Child Support Method
Method used in some legal jurisdictions to establish a base for determining child support. 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 (usually stated as a monthly sum) that will be required to be spent for the child. The court has the authority to deviate from the formula as it deems necessary in each case.

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 usually for 18 or 36 months after the event.

COLA
Cost of Living Adjustment.

Contempt of Court
The deliberate failure to comply with the orders or directives of the Court.

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

Custodial Parent
The parent who has physical custody of the child.

Default
Failure to respond in the prescribed manner within a given period of time. The Respondent in a Petition for Dissolution 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.

Deferred Compensation Package
This includes all retirement assets, such as pension, 401K's, IRA's, and any variety of saving or postponed income which has been earned during the marriage.

Discovery
Pretrial disclosure of pertinent facts and documents, including financial figures, by one or both parties.

Docket
The court's calendar schedule.

Emancipation
The point at which children become financially independent, or reach the age of 18 or 21, depending on the wording of a state's laws.

Ex-Parte
On or from one side or party only, sometimes used in reference to the absence of the opposing party.

Grounds
The basis for action or complaint, as in grounds for divorce.

Hearing
A court session in which testimony or arguments are offered by attorneys or involved parties for the purpose of resolving a legal dispute.

Interrogatories
A formal or written question that must be answered under the direction of the court.

Joint Legal Custody
Situation in which both parents continue to make joint decisions for their child's education, medical care, religious training, camp, and other day to day matters.

Joint Physical Custody
A situation wherein the child spends time sleeping in both parents' homes.

Lump-Sum Alimony
Alimony (a.k.a. spousal support, maintenance) money is given in a single lump-sum payment.

Maintenance
Also called alimony or spousal support.

Mediation
A non-adversarial process in which two or more parties work through discussion and compromise toward agreement with the aid of a neutral party, or Mediator. In Divorce Mediation, the Mediator works with the divorcing spouses.

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.

No-Fault Divorce
A divorce in which neither party has been accused of or found guilty of any misconduct.

Non-Custodial Parent
The parent with whom the child is not physically living.

PDL Motion
pendente lite (Latin), or pending in the litigation. Any motion filed before the Petition is presented in court. Cannot be filed until at least 30 days after the Respondent is served with notice of intention to divorce. See Motions.

Petition for Dissolution
The wording used in some states for the legal Petition for Divorce.

Petitioner
The spouse who files for divorce.

Pre-Trial Motions
See PDL Motion and Motions.

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
To release or relinquish legal claim, or a document relinquishing claim, as in a quit claim to the deed 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.

Respondent
The spouse whom the Petitioner is seeking to divorce.

Retainer
The fee paid to an attorney or other professional for their services, sometimes representing advance payment for anticipated future services.

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

Serving
See above. These papers are usually presented to the respondent either by mail, or in person by a County Sheriff's Deputy or Process Server.

Subpoena
A legal summons requiring that one appear in court as a witness to give testimony.

Summons
Written notice to appear in court either as a defendant or a witness.

Temporary Motions
See Motions and PDL Motion.

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
When all issues have been resolved in a manner acceptable to both parties, the divorce is said to be Uncontested.

Visitation
The legal right of a non-custodial parent to see his or her child (children).

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

Source for Post: Georgia Family Law Blog.

About the Author

Steven D. Eversole

J.D., Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, Alabama B.A., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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