Legal definitions for terms used in court-ordered support payment documents, custody and visitation and other divorce paperwork.


When one spouse leaves the marital home without consent, it is called abandonment, and is grounds for divorce in some states.

absent parent
The parent who does not live with or have custodial rights to the child, but is still responsible for helping pay for living expenses for the child. Usually referred to as the non-custodial parent.

adversarial divorce
A divorce in which spouses are unable to come to agreement

A written statement of facts made voluntarily under oath, witnessed and signed by a notary public or another official authorized to administer oaths

Court-ordered spousal payments that is separate and apart from child payments. It may be paid in one lump sum or in installments. It can be temporary or permanent.

alimony pendente
A pretrial order for spousal Support. Also known as Temporary Support.

The amount of past-due, court-ordered child Support owed by the non-custodial parent. If a spouse does not pay the full amount of court-ordered Support, or does not make payments as ordered, the amounts not paid are arrearages. Interest and penalties charged on past-due amounts become part of the arrearage.

Cash, property, investments, and anything else of value to an individual or business are considered assets.

A legal proceeding in which a person requests the federal bankruptcy court to determine that person’s debts and assets that may be used to pay those debts. Some forms of bankruptcy discharge all consumer or "unsecured" debts if there are no assets to distribute to the creditors; however, child Support and spousal supoort obligations cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

blood test
Blood is drawn from a child and its parents and tested to determine biological parentage. It involves genetic DNA testing.

burden of proof
One spouse must prove any claims made against the opposing spouse to the court. The claims must be supported with sufficient evidence.

child custody
Living arrangements and legal decision-making responsibilities concerning the child (See child support law summary for your state)

child support
The money the non-custodial parent pays to the custodial parent to help pay for the support of the child

child support guidelines
The standard amount of support to be paid, established by the state legislature. A mathematical formula is used to calculate the proper amount of child support (See child support law summary for your state)

civil court
The court which presides over non-criminal cases

Two people living together outside of marriage. This can be grounds for termination of support in some states. (See your state section of divorce laws)

common-law marriage
A marriage in which no formal ceremony took place and no license exists

constructive abandonment
Refusal of one spouse to engage in sexual relations with the other spouse. In some states this is considered grounds for divorce if it lasts for a certain length of time.

contempt of court
Any deliberate failure to comply with the legal process, including the disruption of the court and proceedings. In child support cases, contempt is disobedience of a court order to pay child support. If a non-custodial parent is found in contempt for non-payment of support, they may end up in jail.

custodial parent (CP)
The parent a child lives with, who makes legal decisions concerning the child, and who is entitled to receive child support for the non-custodial parent. Several different types of custody arrangements are available, see child support law summary for your state.

The legal right and responsibility to raise a minor child and to make decisions in their interest

deadbeat dad
This term is oftentimes used to describe fathers who do not support their children financially by not paying child support. We feel this term is not fair to the huge majority of dads who faithfully support their children both emotionally and financially. Further, there are cases where these so called "deadbeat dads" truly want to support their children but are not able to at the present time due to being unemployed, incarcerated, injured or sick. We feel that "non-custodial parent" or "absent parent" is a more appropriate term than deadbeat dad or deadbeat mom. That having been said, dads or moms who willingly choose to not support their children, even though they have the means to, is a deplorable act and these people, male or female, should be pursued and made to pay.

default order or judgement
Order or judgment made based only on the plaintiff’s complaint, due to no response or appearance of the defendant

When a spouse leaves the marital home for more than a year, without prior agreement between the spouses, without paying support, and not as a result of actions of remaining spouse. Desertion is one of several grounds for a fault divorce in many states.

disposable income
Gross income, less deductions for taxes, insurance, and in some cases union dues. The amount of child support is often set by a percentage of the non-custodial parent’s disposable income.

A final decree required to legally terminate a valid marriage

A wife’s common law right to inherit from her husband

The age, typically 18 or 21, at which a minor legally becomes an adult. Emancipation can also occur if a minor marries or enters the armed forces (See child support law summary for your state)

father’s rights
Legal principles and concepts supporting the idea that child custody and support decisions must not discriminate against fathers

final judgement
In some jurisdictions, when courts grant divorces, judgments do not become "final judgments" until the expiration of a statutory waiting period known as the "interlocutory" or "nisi" period. (See summary of divorce law for your state) This period begins when the interlocutory judgment or initial judgment of divorce is entered and ends upon the ?final judgment? being entered. After a final judgment is entered, the marriage is legally terminated.

Employer, bank, insurance company or other party upon whom a judgment creditor places a Writ of Garnishment, because that entity holds assets due the original debtor. For example, if a non-custodial parent (non-custodial parent) does not pay court-ordered child support, the custodial parent may garnish the wages of the non-custodial parent, and receive payments directly from the non-custodial parent’s employer, who is the garnishee.

An order sent to a person or entity (garnishee) that is giving the non-custodial parent money. Also the legal proceeding where part of a person’s wages is withheld and applied to payment of a debt, such as child support.

garnishment of wages
A support enforcement process by which Support payments are automatically deducted from the non-custodial parent’s paycheck and delivered to the custodial parent. This is an involuntary enforcement method of paying court-ordered Support.

good faith
Absence of intent to commit fraud

The inability of a parent to support his or her children because of financial distress

A court order preventing a specific person from doing a specific act because it is likely to cause physical, mental injury or property loss of another individual

State child Support enforcement agencies "intercept" or take portions of a non-custodial parent’s unemployment insurance payments, disability insurance payments, income tax returns, and lottery winnings to pay child Support arrearages to custodial parents.

IV-D agency
A governmental agency operating at the state level authorized under the federal Social Security Act to recover delinquent child Support. For example, in Texas, the IV-D agency is the Attorney General’s Office.

joint legal custody
Custody in which the parents of minor children share responsibilities and major decision-making activities related to the child. (See child custody section for your state.)

joint physical custody
Custody in which the parents of minor children share actual physical custody of the child (See child custody section for your state)

The ruling or order of the court. The judgment is the official decision regarding child Support and can be found in the divorce decree or order. (See court order page for your state)

legal custody
Authority of one parent or both parents to make legal decisions regarding health, education and welfare of the child or children

legal separation
A legal action, similar to divorce, that involves the time spouses live separately and apart prior to a divorce being granted

A claim attached to a property owned by a judgment debtor. It prevents sale, transfer of title or refinancing of the property until the debt is satisfied.

longarm statute
A law which allows one state to claim personal jurisdiction over someone living in another state. It is used by a court to gain jurisdiction over an non-custodial parent who has moved to another state.

lump-sum alimony
A spousal Support that is ordered to be paid in a fixed (lump-sum) amount. The completion of the payment may be made in one total payment or installment payments.

Person who performs the functions of a judge but does not have power to issue a court order. Judges sometimes pass work to magistrates or masters, who in turn make recommendations to the judge about case.

Spousal Support or alimony

marital property
Property acquired by the spouses during the marriage. Typically, it does not include property owned prior to marriage.

marital settlement agreement
Written agreement entered into by both spouses in a divorce stating their rights and agreements pertaining to property, Support and custody

military allotment
Deduction from the salary of a non-custodial parent on active duty in the United States military

no-fault divorce
Divorce that may be granted even though no spouse has performed any kind of marital misconduct – there had been "no fault"

non-custodial parent
Parent who does not have primary or physical custody of their child, and who typically is paying child Support

Amount of money to be paid as Support by the non-custodial parent, and the way it is to be paid

A person to whom money or property is owed as the result of a judgment. In child Support cases, it is the person to whom Support is owed.

A person who owes money or property as the result of a judgment. In child Support cases, it is the person who owes Support.

order of protection
An order assigned by the court to prevent a spouse from doing something, typically, harassing the other spouse. If the spouse refuses to abide by the order, they may be arrested and put jail.

order to show cause
A court order requiring appearance in court, on a specific date and time, of a party to a civil action. This appearance is scheduled to explain why the court should not take a particular action in the case. For example, an Order to Show Cause can be issued to a non-custodial parent, requiring them to appear and explain why they should not be held in contempt of court for failure to obey an order to pay child Support.

parens patriae
A doctrine that-enables a state to take jurisdiction over a minor living within its border. This is the basis for determining what state will assume jurisdiction in a child custody case.

The legal, biological relationship between father and child

paternity acknowledgement
A legal document signed by both the mother and the father that has the legal effect of a court order for paternity

paternity adjudication
Legal determination of a child’s father

physical custody
The parent with whom the child resides has physical custody. Depending upon arrangements, it may be joint or sole custody.

prenuptial agreement
Legal contract signed by two people before they get married. Typically, it involves limitations on a spouse’s rights to property, Support and inheritance upon divorce.

primary caretaker
The parent who provides majority of the child’s ongoing daily care

pro se divorce
Divorce in which each spouse represents themselves in court, without an attorney

rehabilitative alimony
Alimony intended to help the ex-spouse become financially self-sufficient

A fixed amount stated in a judgment that orders the defendant to pay back to the government welfare that the government paid on behalf of the child

A fixed amount stated in a judgment that orders the defendant to pay back to the government welfare that the government paid on behalf of the child

restraining order
Court order restricting a person’s actions. They are sometimes issued by one spouse to try to deter the other spouse from committing violent acts.

When spouses no longer co-habitate or live together

separation agreement
An agreement on Support, child care and property covering the period before divorce but after separation

serarate maintenance
An action filed for Support between two spouses not living together even though the spouse’s are not actively seeking a divorce

service of process
The act of presenting the complaint or summons to the defendant or respondent usually done by a process server, a sheriff, a constable or by certified mail

sole custody
A form of custody in which one parent is awarded both physical and legal custody

split custody
A form of custody in which the actual time of physical custody is split between both parents, which gives both parents the right to make decisions

spousal support
Money paid from one spouse to the other in one lump sum or in installments for a period of time. There are many factors considered. (see divorce law summary for your state)

A written notification to the defendant or respondent that an action has been filed against him or her

Payment for housing, food, clothing etc.

tax intercept
The process by which a child Support judgment debtor’s federal and state income tax refunds are diverted to pay a Support arrearage

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
Financial Support in the form of a cash grant, given to a family with children in need of financial help. The grant is offered because the head of the family or custodial parent is not employed and not receiving child Support or assistance from the non-custodial parent. Formerly called AFDC – Aid to Families with Dependents. TANF does not include Medicaid, food stamps or WIC benefits. These must be applied for separately.

temporary custody
A spouse’s right to have parenting time with his or her child. It includes extended stays and overnights.
temporary order

A written decision of a court requiring that someone do something (like pay child Support) or not do something until a final order is issued

temporary restraining order
An order of the court prohibiting a party from acting-for example, threatening, harassing, or physically abusing the other spouse and/or the children; selling personal property; taking money out of accounts; denying the other spouse a motor vehicle

termination of parental rights
Sometimes referred to as relinquishment of parental rights; the court-ordered end of a parent/child relationship, often as a prelude to an adoption and sometimes ending the obligation of the non-custodial parent to pay child Support. Termination is different than relinquishment; termination is involuntary, relinquishment is voluntary.

Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, Uniform laws passed by each state that govern the procedures for the interstate establishment and enforcement of paternity and child Support. Replaced the old URESA laws.

uncontested divorce
A divorce proceeding in which there are no disputes

Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act, the statute which formerly enabled one state to request assistance from another state in establishing or enforcing a child Support order against a parent located in the other state. Now governed by UIFSA.

The right of the parent who does not have physical custody to see their child

visitation credit
A percentage applied to a child Support calculation, reflecting the amount of time a child resides with the non-custodial parent

visitation schedule
A list of dates stating times each parent may see each child

wage assignment or wage withholding
A court order requiring the employer of a non-custodial parent to deduct a specific amount of money for child Support from the wages of the non-custodial parent. Also known as garnishment.

writ of execution
A court order authorizing the seizure of assets owned by a non-custodial parent who owes past due child Support. The order usually authorizes the seizure of assets up to the total amount of past due child Support owed under the judgment. It is also know as a levy.