Navigating a divorce will be much easier if you can understand the lingo. To that end, here are definitions of some common terms you may encounter throughout the divorce process.
Desertion: One party left the marital home for a significant portion of time, without mutual agreement, and failed to pay support. Can be grounds for a fault divorce.
Discovery: Period in legal proceeding where parties exchange information, including pertinent facts, documents, financial figures, and more.
Dissolution of marriage: Another term for divorce.
Divorce: The legal termination of a marriage.
Divorce decree: A court’s final judgment in a divorce, upon which the parties are legally divorced. Also known as decree of dissolution or judgment of divorce.
Docket: The court’s calendar schedule, which includes notations of all pleadings, orders, and judgments.
Domestic violence: Physical abuse or threats between members of the same household.
Emancipation: The point at which children become financially independent. Triggered by hitting the age or 18 or 21 in many states.
Evidence: Any testimony, document, or demonstrative material relevant to the suit.
Equitable distribution: In equitable distribution states, all property held by either spouse, regardless of when or how acquired or who is on title, is subject to distribution between the parties. Also known as equitable assignment.
Fair and reasonable: The judicial standard for approving marital agreements.
Fault/no-fault divorce: In fault divorces, the complaint must state grounds for requesting the divorce, such as abuse, adultery, or abandonment. In no-fault divorces, the complaint must merely allege an “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage,” “irreconcilable differences,” or the like. Most states currently allow no-fault divorces.
Garnishment: A court order requiring a third party (usually an employer) to automatically deduct a portion of a person’s wages and pay them to another party (usually the spouse/ex-spouse).
Hearing: A court session involving testimony or arguments in an attempt to resolve a legal dispute.
Interrogatories: A formal/written question that the court requires answered.
Joint custody (either legal or physical): Both parents share rights to the children.
Joint petition: When both spouses agree to seek a divorce and don’t contest the terms, they may jointly request a divorce from the court.
Joint property: Property held in the name of both spouses.
Legal custody: The right to make important decisions about the raising of the child (about issues such as health care, education, and welfare).
Legal separation: A way for a couple to legally end their relationship, with court orders regarding child custody and support, while remaining legally married. Available in some states.
Marital settlement agreement (MSA): A written contract between spouses detailing how court issues will be handled. May be included in a divorce.
Marriage certificate: The official certification of a marriage, issued by a public entity and featuring a raised seal.
Mediation: A voluntary form of alternative dispute resolution in which a trained third party attempts to bring the parties to mutual agreement.
Negotiated settlement: The parties develop a separation agreement without the help of a third party (although usually through legal counsel).
Noncustodial parent: Usually refers to the parent without physical custody of the children.
Nuptial: Of, or pertaining to, marriage.
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