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Legal Terminology Glossary

Getting a divorce is a confusing process that can be made even more confusing when the legal terminology is added to the mix. To help you, we've put together a Glossary of some frequently used words in a divorce.

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

pen dente 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.

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