Glossary of Terms

-Alimony:  Also called spousal support and spousal maintenance.  Alimony is payments made to help support a spouse or former spouse during separation or following divorce. 

-Alternative dispute resolution (ADR): Various means, such as arbitration or mediation, of resolving legal disputes without going to trial.  They are less hostile and antagonistic.

-Arrearage: Past due money for alimony or child support.

-Child support: Payments that the non-custodial parent pays to the custodial parent to support their child or children.

-Child support guidelines: Legal guidelines established in each jurisdiction that set forth the way in which child support is calculated.  They are typically based on the income of the parents and the needs of the children.

-Custody: Either legal or physical, custody is the rights to children. Legal means that you have the right to make important decisions about your child's welfare.  Physical, which means that the child lives with and is raised by you.

-Decree: The court's written order or decision finalizing a divorce.  It is usually issued in along with the court's judgment.

-Default: Failure to answer the petition/complaint for divorce.  Default can result in the court awarding everything requested by the filing spouse.

-Defendant: The person against whom legal papers are filed, also sometimes referred to as the respondent.

-Deposition: Part of the discovery (information-exchanging process), in which the lawyer for the other party asks questions.  Answers are provided with the presence of an attorney and a transcript of the proceedings is prepared.

-Discovery: The information-exchanging process of a legal proceeding.  It includes serving and answering interrogatories and requests for production of documents, and taking depositions.

-Dissolution: The legal termination of a marriage relationship, also called divorce.

-Divorce:  The legal termination of a marriage relationship.

-Domestic violence:  Physical abuse or threats of abuse occurring between members of the same household.

-Equitable distribution: A division of property that is agreed upon by all.  It does not necessarily mean equal.

-Interrogatories:  Questions served by the opposing party that must be answered in writing as part of the discovery process.

-Joint legal custody: The sharing, by both spouses, of the right to make important decisions about a child's welfare.

-Joint physical custody:  The sharing, by both spouses, of the actual physical care and custody of a child.

-Legal custody: The right to make significant decisions about the upbringing of a child, with regard to matters such as health care, religious upbringing, education, etc.

-Marital property: All property acquired during the marriage.

-Mediation: A form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), by the use of a trained and impartial third party (the mediator) who tries to guide the parties together in mutual agreement.

-Non-custodial parent: The parent who does not have physical custody of the child or children.

-Non-marital property: Property owned by either spouse before marriage or acquired individually, for example, by gift or inheritance, during the marriage.

-Physical custody: The everyday rights and duties associated with having your child in your home and being responsible for his or her care and upbringing.

-Petitioner: Also called the plaintiff, the petitioner is the person who initiates divorce or marriage dissolution proceedings.

-Plaintiff: The person who initiates legal proceedings, often called the petitioner in family law matters.

-Premarital agreement: Also called the prenuptial agreement or prenup, this is an agreement entered before marriage that establishes the rights and duties of each party should the marriage terminate by death or divorce.

-Prenuptial agreement: An agreement entered into before marriage that establishes the rights and duties of each party should the marriage terminate by death or divorce. 

-Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO): Pronounced "kwah-dro," an order issued by the court to divide retirement benefits.

-Respondent: Also referred to as the defendant, this is the person who answers a petition in a legal proceeding.

-Restraining order: A court order requiring the subject of the order to cease doing something, usually issued in conjunction with domestic violence or custody disputes.

-Settlement conference: A meeting at which the parties and their lawyers attempt to settle the case before trial.  These are often court ordered.

-Split custody: A less favorable form of custody in which the children are divided between their parents.

-Spousal support or maintenance: Commonly called alimony, these are payments made to aid a spouse or former spouse during separation or following divorce. 

-Stipulation: An agreement between the divorcing spouses that resolves the issues between them and is often entered into the court's final order or judgment and decree.

-Visitation: The specified time that a noncustodial parent has to spend with his or her child(ren).

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