• Affidavit

    Written testimony under oath, usually sworn to in front of a notary.

  • Alimony

    Payments made to support a current or former spouse. Also called "maintenance," "spousal maintenance," or "spousal support."

  • Alternative Dispute Resolution

    Ways for parties to a divorce case to resolve their disagreements without a trial; usually defined to include mediation and arbitration.

  • Annulment

    An order which nullifies a marriage or declares that no marriage ever existed.  Also called "declaration of invalidity" or "declaration of nullity."

  • Answer

    A document used to respond to the complaint or petition. Answers usually admit or deny specific allegations or claims in the document being answered. Also called a "response."

  • Appeal

    A procedure to ask a higher court to review the ruling of a lower court.

  • Appearance

    Coming into court as a party to a case or voluntarily submitting to the power of a court. Usually this is not a physical act, but a lawyer filing a document.

  • Arbitration

    Submitting a disputed matter for decision to a person who is not a state appointed or elected judge. The decision of an arbitrator may be final.

  • Arrearage

    An overdue financial obligation, e.g., child support or alimony arrearage.

  • Asset

    Anything of value that is owned, such as cash, stocks, real estate, furnishings, retirement accounts, life insurance, automobiles, and other personal property.

  • Attorney-Ad Litem

    (attorney for the lawsuit) An attorney appointed by the court to legally represent and advocate for a person who is legally unable to do so, such as a minor child.

  • Attorney (at Law)

    An advocate or counsel licensed by the state to prepare, manage, and try cases in court. Must be licensed by the state. Lawyer and attorney are usua11y synonymous.

  • Attorney-Client Privilege

    A right that can be asserted to prevent disclosure of confidential communications between lawyer and client when the communications are made for the purpose of furnishing or obtaining legal advice or assistance.

  • Automatic Temporary Restraining Order
  • Bonus Fee

    A fee based on factors in addition to the hourly fee. Also called a premium or final fee or result-based fee.

  • Business Valuation

    Business valuation is a process that utilizes standards and procedures in order to determine the value of an owner's interest in a business. A business valuation usually results in a written report, which states the value of the business interest and the process used to determine the value.

  • Case Law

    Law based upon court decisions as opposed to written laws passed by state legislatures or the U.S. Congress, which are ca11ed 'statutes.' Case law is also referred to as 'precedent'.

  • Charging Lien

    A lien that permits an attorney to assert a claim for fees against any property involved in the litigation and prevents the sale or other disposition of that property until the fee issue has been resolved.

  • Child Custody
  • Child Support

    Money paid by one parent to the other for the support of their children.

  • Citation

    See Summons.

  • Co-Respondent:
  • Collaborative Law

    A non-adversarial alternative dispute resolution process. The parties and their attorneys execute a participation agreement, which sets forth the participants' intent to stay out of court, act in good faith, and voluntarily disclose all financial information. In the event a settlement cannot be reached between the parties, the lawyers for each party withdraw and each party selects a new lawyer.

  • Common Law Marriage

    A marriage without license or ceremony recognized by the law in the state it was created. Not authorized in most states. Common law marriage which is lawfully created in one state may sometimes be recognized as a valid marriage in another state.

  • Community Property

    A form of co-ownership of property by a husband and wife who reside in one of the eight states where community property is recognized.

  • Complainant

    The first document filed in a case setting forth facts upon which the plaintiff's claim is based. Now called a petition in many states.

  • Conflict of Interest

    A situation in which a lawyer has competing professional or personal interests, which could be adverse to the client.

  • Consent order
  • Contempt of Court

    Failure to comply with a court order by a person who is able to comply. It also includes conduct in court which obstructs a court in the administration of justice

  • Contingency Fee

    A percentage of the recovery. Contingent fees are generally prohibited in divorce cases, but, in some states, are permitted in a proceeding to enforce a court order.

  • Counter-Petition

    See Counterclaim

  • Counterclaim

    A pleading asking for a divorce or other relief filed in response to a Petition or Complaint. Also called a Counter-Petition or Cross-Complaint.

  • Court Order
  • Cross-Complaint

    See Counterclaim

  • Cross-Examination

    Asking questions of a witness who was called to the standby the other lawyer. Cross-examination is usually intended to discredit the witness or weaken the effect of the testimony

  • Cross Petition
  • Custodial Parent:
  • Custody Evaluation/Home Study/Social Investigation
  • Custody Evaluation/Home Study/Social Investigation

    A process by which an approved provider, generally a mental health practitioner, is appointed by the court to investigate and obtain information about the parties, the children, and any relevant third parties in order to provide a recommendation to the court regarding: (1) custody, (2) visitation, (3) time sharing, (4) decision making, and/or (5) a parenting plan.

  • Custody/Parenting

    The exact meaning of these terms varies greatly from state to state. The terms often refer to some combination of a parent's right (1) to have physical time with a child, and/or (2) to make decisions concerning the child.

  • Debt

    Anything that is owed to someone else, such as a mortgage on a residence, credit card debt, car loan, etc. Secured debt is debt that is connected to a piece of collateral. With secured debt, the lender can take possession of the collateral if you don't pay (car loan, mortgage). An unsecured debt is not protected by any collateral. Examples include credit card debt, student loans, and lines of credit.

  • Declaration

    Written testimony under oath, not necessarily sworn to before a notary.

  • Decree
  • Default

    Failure to do something or to do it on time.

  • Defendant

    The husband or wife who is sued for divorce. In some states, called the Respondent.

  • Defense of Marriage Act
  • Deposition

    Testimony under oath taken before a court reporter but not in court. A discovery method.

  • Direct Examination

    Asking questions of a witness by the lawyer who called the witness.

  • Discovery

    Procedures used to learn facts necessary to settle a case or prepare it for trial.

  • Dissipation

    The use of marital assets by one spouse for his or her own benefit or for a non-marital purpose at a time when the marriage is undergoing an irreconcilable breakdown.

  • Dissolution of Marriage

    The legal process of ending a marriage. In many states, the legal term for divorce.

  • Divorce Lawyer
  • Domestic Violence

    Conduct against another member of a family which can include beatings, threats, stalking, or other forms of intimidation, harassment, neglect, and physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. May include any act by one member of a family that causes one of its members physical or emotional harm.

  • Domicile
  • Electric Discovery

    The discovery of electronic documents and data including e-mail, web pages, word processing files, computer databases and virtually anything that is stored on a computer, cell phone or other electronic device.

  • Emancipated
  • Equitable Division

    A system of dividing property owned by parties to a divorce. Now used in the majority of states.

  • Evidence

    Proof presented at a hearing, including testimony, documents or objects.

  • Ex Parte

    Application to a court for emergency relief made when only one side is present, or in some states, without formal notice or with very short time notice to another party.

  • Exhibits

    Tangible items presented at trial as evidence.

  • Expert Witness
  • Family Attorney
  • Fault Based Divorce
  • Fault Grounds
  • Fees

    A lawyer's charges to a client for legal services rendered to the client. Although many different fee arrangements are possible, the following represent the most common types of fees:

  • Fiduciary Duty
  • File (verb)

    To place a document in the official custody of some public official. Also used to mean "start a case."

  • Flat Fee

    A fee in a fixed amount for handling an entire case or a certain part of it.

  • Forensic Accountant

    An expert witness who investigates finances of either or both of the parties to determine whether the reported income, assets and/or liabilities are truthful and accurate. They are useful in many situations such as when one party is self-employed and is believed to be under-reporting income. Forensic accountants may also prepare schedules and reports concerning alimony and child support.

  • Garnish

    To take money from wages or from an account to satisfy an unpaid court order for the payment of money. Also, Income Withholding orders

  • Grounds for Divorce

    The conduct or circumstances which must be proved to entitle a person to a divorce. See No-Fault Divorce.

  • Guardian ad Litem (GAL)

    An individual appointed by a court, either an attorney or a trained lay person, who provides independent information to the court on specific issues as requested by the court. Typically, a written report will be provided to the court and parents after an investigation that will include a statement of the child's stated interests along with recommendations regarding what is in the child's best interests.

  • Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

    An international treaty adopted by some countries, including the United States, that provides an expedited method to return a child wrongfully taken from one member country to another. The primary intention of the Convention is to preserve whatever status quo child custody arrangement existed immediately before an alleged wrongful removal or retention, thereby deterring a parent from crossing international boundaries in search of a more sympathetic court. The Convention applies only to children under the age of 16. This Hague Convention (treaty) determines only in which country custody litigation wi11 take place. Custody is not determined in Hague Convention cases.

  • Hearing

    Any proceeding before a judicial officer.

  • Home State
  • Hourly Fee

    A fee based on the time expended at an hourly rate.

  • Income Deduction Order

    An order directing an employer to withhold from the income of a party an amount based on that party's alimony and child support. The employer is then required to pay the amount withheld directly to the other party or to the clerk of court or a support registry. Also called an income or wage assignment. Sometimes called a wage attachment.

  • Injunction

    A court order which requires a party to perform some act or prohibits a party from doing something.

  • International Family (Matrimonial) Lawyer
  • Interrogatories

    A type of discovery procedure in which written questions are served on the other party who is required to provide sworn written answers within a specified time. A type of discovery.

  • Joint Legal Custody/Shared Parental Responsibility

    The exact meaning of these terms varies greatly from state to state. The terms often refer to some combination of the parents' rights.
    (1) To share physical time with the child and/or (2) to share in making decisions regarding a child.

  • Judgement

    The decision of a court. A type of order. Also called a decree.

  • Jurisdiction

    The power of a court to decide a particular matter.

  • Legal Separation

    A court order or, in some jurisdictions, a written agreement between the parties, arranging the terms under which the parties will live apart after separating. While signifying the separation of the parties, it does not forma11y dissolve the marriage or permit the parties legally to marry other persons.

  • Liability

    Same as Debt - See the definition of "Debt".

  • Lien

    A legal claim or charge on property for the payment of some debt, obligation, or duty.

  • Litigation

    All of the proceedings that take place in the course of a lawsuit.

  • Loan

    Same as Debt - See the definition of "Debt".

  • Magistrate

    A quasi-judicial officer to whom your case may be referred by the judge. The Magistrate will issue a report, which will become an order after a prescribed period of time unless objected to by one or more of the parties. Sometimes called a "Master" or a "Hearing Officer".

  • Maintenance

    See Alimony

  • Marital Property

    Interests in property acquired by the spouses during the marriage which is to be divided between the parties at divorce.

  • Marital Settlement Agreement

    The written agreement made between the parties settling the issues in a divorce. Called a Separation Agreement in some states.

  • Mediation

    A dispute resolution process in which a disinterested third party, the mediator, assists the parties in reaching an agreement.

  • Mediator

    A neutral third-party, who may be another attorney or a licensed or certified non-lawyer, who governs the mediation process by facilitating communication and agreements between the parties.

  • Minimum Fee

    A fee which sets a floor on charges for services.

  • Modification

    A neutral third-party, who may be another attorney or a licensed or certified non-lawyer, who governs the mediation process by facilitating communication and agreements between the parties.

  • Motion

    An application to the court for an order. May be written or oral.

  • Net Worth

    The value of your assets less the balance of your debts.

  • No-Fault Divorce

    A divorce granted without proving that one party is guilty of misconduct.

  • Non-Custodial Parent
  • Non-Marital Property:
  • Objection

    A statement made by an attorney, during a trial, hearing or deposition, or in connection with a pleading or discovery request, by which the attorney raises a question as to the propriety of a matter. For example, an attorney may object to something the other lawyer has asked, said or presented to the court. The court may sustain the objection, indicating the objection is valid or the court may overrule the objection, indicating that the objection is invalid and that the other attorney may proceed with the question or issue raised.

  • Order

    A ruling by the court.

  • Parenting Coordinator

    An individual, usually appointed by the court, to assist the parties in arriving at agreements and resolving disputes regarding parenting issues and decision-making in cases involving children. In many states there are statutory qualifications that an individual must meet in order to serve as a parenting coordinator.

  • Parenting Plan

    A document, either agreed to by the parties or established by court order, that provides a detailed framework for parental responsibility and timesharing (or visitation) between parents and their children. A parenting plan will typically include a detailed schedule for when the children will be with each parent and will address other matters like parental decision-making, transportation, and time-sharing exchanges.

  • Parenting Time

    See Visitation

  • Partition

    The court division of real property owned jointly by two or more people. This can sometimes result in the sale of the property if the property is not susceptible to division.

  • Paternity

    Origin or descent from a father.

  • Perjury

    The crime of lying under oath. It includes lying during a trial, at a deposition, or in a written affidavit. It can be punishable by imprisonment.

  • Petitioner

    The party who filed the Petition (Complaint).

  • Physical Custody

    The right and the obligation for a one or both parents to have their child live with them.

  • Plaintiff

    See Petitioner

  • Pleading

    A document filed with the court that asks for something or responds to a pleading filed by the other party.

  • Postnuptial Agreement
  • Prenuptial/Premarital Agreement
  • Privilege

    A client's right to refuse to disclose confidential communications between the client and certain persons in a professional relationship with the client, such as lawyers, doctors, psychotherapists, and priests.

  • Pro Se

    A party representing himself or herself in a lawsuit.

  • Prove-up Hearing
  • Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO):

    An order entered by the court directing the plan administrator of a qualified retirement plan to distribute a portion of the plan benefits to an alternate payee (not the employee spouse).

  • Reconciliation
  • Request for Admission

    A form of discovery where factual statements are served on one party by the other with the requirement that each statement be admitted or denied. A failure to respond could result in a determination that the factual statements are deemed admitted.

  • Request for Production

    A written request by one party to the other asking the other party to turn over tangible objects, usually documents.

  • Respondent

    The party defending against a divorce Petition (Complaint).

  • Response

    See Answer

  • Restraining Order

    See Injunction

  • Retainer

    Money paid by the client to the lawyer to obtain a commitment from the lawyer to handle the client's case. A retainer can be a deposit against which the lawyer charges fees as they are earned. In some states, it can also be a non-refundable engagement fee. This is a fee that is sometimes charged by a lawyer for the agreement to take your case and to commit to being available for your case. Normally, an engagement fee is in addition to charges on an hourly rate basis. Your written fee agreement should specify whether a retainer fee is refundable, and if so, in what amount and under what circumstances.

  • Retaining Lien

    A lien that permits an attorney to hold any property, papers, and/or records in the attorney's possession until fees are paid.

  • Separate Property:

    Property which is neither community nor marital property. Also called "non-marital property."

  • Service

    The delivery of official papers by a means prescribed by law

  • Settlement

    The resolution of disputed issues by agreement between the parties.

  • Settlement or Separation Agreement:
  • Split Custody
  • Spousal Support

    See Alimony

  • Statute:

    A law passed by the legislature of a particular state or by the United States Congress. Statutes typically declare policies, establish rights or obligations, or command/prohibit a person or entity to take some action.

  • Stipulation:

    An agreement between the parties or their lawyers about issues in the lawsuit.

  • Subpoena

    A document served on a party or a witness requiring appearance at a certain time and place. A Subpoena Duces Tecum is a command to produce documents, papers, or other things listed in the subpoena.

  • Summon

    The written notification of the lawsuit that is served upon the Defendant. Also called a Citation

  • Temporary Orders

    Order granting relief between the filing of the lawsuit and the judgment. Automatic in some state. Also called Pendente Lite Orders.

  • Testimony
  • Transcripts
  • Trial

    The final hearing in court to decide the issues in the case.


    Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. This is a uniform law (a set of laws proposed for all states to adopt as written, for the purpose of their being more uniformity of laws from state to state) that is designed to determine which of two or more states will determine child custody.


    Uniform Interstate Family Support Act: This is a uniform law (a set of laws proposed for all states to adopt as written, for the purpose of their being more uniformity of laws from state to state) designed to resolve jurisdictional disputes between states in connection with proceedings related to the establishment and modification of alimony and child support obligations.

  • Uncontested Divorce

    A divorce in which there is no dispute as to how any of the issues will be resolved.

  • UPAA

    Uniform Premarital Agreement Act: A uniform law (a set of laws proposed for all states to adopt as written, for the purpose of their being more uniformity of laws from state to state) adopted by some states governing the validity of premarital/ pre-nuptial agreements.

  • Venue

    The proper or appropriate place for a lawsuit to be filed or handled.

  • Visitation

    The right of a parent who does not have primary custody of the child to spend time with the child. Also called possession, access, timesharing or parenting time.

  • Vocational Examination

    An examination of a party by an expert to determine employability and income-earning ability based on objective and subjective testing.

  • Witness

    An individual with knowledge or information relevant to a case who provides that information to the court via written or oral testimony.

  • Writ of Summons:

    A writ directing a person to appear in court to answer a compliant

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