The following glossary of terms in family law cases is found at SupportKids.com

ABANDONMENT
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 support for the child. Usually referred to as the non-custodial parent.

ACTION
The legal term for what is commonly called a lawsuit

ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS OFFICER
The official appointed instead of a judge to preside over a child in a divorce proceeding

ADMISSIBLE
Any form of testimony or evidence that is allowed into court

ADULTERY
Sexual intercourse between a married spouse and a third party. In many states this is considered grounds for divorce.

ADVERSARIAL DIVORCE
A divorce in which spouses are unable to come to agreement

ADVERSARY
The opposition or the opposing party in a lawsuit. In a divorce, the litigant or adversary will most likely be your spouse.

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

AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE
New facts or legal defenses in response to the opposing spouse’s pleading

AGREEMENT
A legally enforceable, verbal or written resolution of disputes

ALIMONY
Court-ordered spousal support that is separate and apart from child support. 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.

ALLEGATIONS
Claims made by one party against another in a legal action (lawsuit); usually claims by spouse against another in a divorce

ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION (ADR)
Dispute resolution methods, including mediation and arbitration, which enable couples to reach a divorce settlement without trial

ANNULMENT
A legal action or lawsuit resulting in a court’s judgment that a marriage was never legally valid, or became invalid after the marriage

ANSWER
The formal response of a party to a divorce, separation, annulment or other petition in a legal action. The answer contains admission or denial of allegations made by or against the petitioner.

APPEAL
A legal procedure in which the losing party of a divorce action (or any lawsuit) requests that a higher court reviews the lower court’s decision

APPEARANCE
A formal submission to the courts by the defendant, either in person or through an attorney, in response to a complaint or summons

APPELLANT
The individual who brings an appeal

APPELLATE COURT
The court in which an appeal is heard

APPORTION
To divide and assign property according to a definite rule. The division is not necessarily equal, but is fair according to the respective interests of the parties involved.

APPRAISAL
The procedure for determining the fair market value of an asset for equitable distribution in divorce

ARBITRATION
A legally binding, but not judicial, procedure, involving a neutral third party making a judgment on a case

ARREARAGES
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.

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

ASSIGNMENT
A person receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF or welfare benefits) and/or Medicaid must give up their rights to, or make an “assignment” of child support or medical arrearages owed to them, as well as current medical or child support payments, because they are receiving TANF.

ATTACHMENT
A hold that is placed on an asset pending judgment on a debt

AUTOMATIC INCOME DEDUCTION
A court-ordered child support system in which non-custodial parents have the support amount deducted directly from their paycheck or other income subject to child support enforcement

AWARD
A decision made by a court or to compensate a party in a legal action; awards can be, but are not always monetary

BAILIFF
The court attendant in charge of maintaining order in the courtroom

BANKRUPTCY
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 support obligations cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

BENCH WARRANT
An order issued by a court for the arrest of a person who has failed to appear in court as ordered. A bench warrant can also be issued for a witness who has failed to appear in response to a subpoena.

BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD
Legal standard that governs decisions relating to visitation and custody

BIFURICATION
In some states, grounds for divorce and property rights/child support obligations are tried separately, in different lawsuits

BIGAMY
A criminal offense committed when one spouse enters another marriage, and the previous marriage has not been legally terminated

BILL OF PARTICULARS
The formal title for information attached to a complaint or petition

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

BONA FIDE
Truthfully, honestly and without deceit

BRIEF
A legal document presented to the court

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.

CAPIAS
An arrest warrant issued by a civil or family court ordering an officer to take a person into custody because they refuse to come to court or comply with an order of the court

CAPTION
The heading of a motion or other document that includes the names of the plaintiff and the defendant, the name of the court, the court term and the cause number

CASE NUMBER
Also known as cause number. The number assigned to a case by the clerk of the court in which it is filed.  Also known as the case number.

CERTIFICATE OF MAILING
A written statement proving to the court that a copy of a document was mailed to the person for whom it was intended

CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
A written statement completed by a process server, proving to the court that a copy of a document was served to the person for whom it was intended

CERTIFIED COPY
A copy of a court document. It includes a stamped seal from the court clerk confirming that the copy is a true and correct copy of the document in the court file.

CHANGE OF VENUE
A change of venue results in a case being transferred to another court in the same jurisdiction

CHATTEL
Personal property

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)

CHILD SUPPORT WORKSHEET
A form used to calculate child support guidelines

CITATION
An order from a court that requires a court appearance

CIVIL COURT
The court which presides over non-criminal cases

CLAIM
A charge by one spouse against another

CLEAR TITLE
Transferring ownership of an asset without any encumbrances, obstructions or burdens that present reasonable question of law or fact of ownership

CLERK
The person responsible for maintaining court records and ensuring procedures are executed in an orderly fashion

CO-RESPONDENT
The individual identified as the partner in an adulterous relationship

COBRA
Federal legislation guaranteeing all individuals who are covered by medical insurance the right to continue coverage for a monthly fee if employment or marital status changes for a limited period of time

COHABITATION
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)

COLA
A cost of living adjustment – COLA

COMMON-LAW MARRIAGE
A marriage in which no formal ceremony took place and no license exists

COMMON-LAW PROPERTY DISTRIBUTION
The method of dividing property in a divorce according to the titleholder of the property

COMMUNITY PROPERTY
All income or property acquired during the marriage, with exception to gifts or inheritances

COMPLAINT
The initial pleading filed for divorce with specific grounds stated.  It includes the names of the parties involved, allegations and relief requested of the court.

CONCILIATION
Attempt to establish an agreement between divorcing spouses concerning the children and other areas in which they do not agree

CONDONATION
Misconduct of a spouse is no longer grounds of divorce as a result of forgiveness by the other spouse

CONFLICT OF INTEREST
A professional is not capable of performing services due to previous relationships or present relationships, and/or a situation where confidentiality can be broken

CONSERVATORSHIP
A court-ordered relationship between a child and his or her parents

CONSTABLE
A person given the legal right to serve process

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.

CONSTRUCTIVE OR ALTERNATIVE SERVICE OF PROCESS
Service of process is delivered through other methods such as a newspaper, because the whereabouts of the spouse are unknown, also known as service by publication. (See Service of Process)

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.

CONTESTED DIVORCE
A divorce where at least one issue has not been settled by the spouses before they appear in court. The court must decide the unsettled issue or issues.

CONTINGENCY FEE
A fee agreement in which the attorney does not get paid unless their client wins the case. This type of arrangement is generally not allowed in divorce and custody cases.

CONTINUE
Postponing a scheduled court hearing to a later time

CONVEY
To transfer property to someone by selling it or by other means

COUNT
A statement of facts clearly defining the complaint

COUNTER-CLAIM
A pleading filed by the defendant (respondent) against the plaintiff (petitioner)

COURT CLERK
The administrative personnel of the court who handle the filings for court procedures and answer questions concerning them

COURT ORDER
A written document issued by a court and signed by a judge ordering a person to do something; examples of court orders include child support orders, divorce decrees and temporary orders (See court order page for your state)

COURTS OF COMMON PLEAS
The state trial-level courts that have authority to grant divorce

COVERTURE
The period of time a women is married

CREDITOR
A person to whom money is owed

CROSS REFERENCE CASE
A separate case involving one parent in common, but in which there are other children from a different mother or father

CROSS-EXAMINATION
Questioning a witness of the opposing party in court or a deposition, after direct examination.  The purpose is testing the credibility of the witness or pursuing questions advantageous to the action.

CROSS-PETITION
Statement of reasons for the breakdown of a marriage issued by the defendant. The reasons generally will be different than that of the plaintiff.

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.

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

DAMAGES
Financial harm caused by actions of another person, which can be cured with financial restitution or reimbursement

DEBTOR
A person who owes money

DECREE
An order of the court.  The final decision made on an action (lawsuit) for divorce is a divorce decree.

DEFAULT
The failure of a defendant to file an answer or personally appear in court after they have been served.  Default may serve as the basis of a court order.

DEFAULT ORDER OR JUDGMENT
Order or judgment made based only on the plaintiff’s complaint, due to no response or appearance of the defendant

DEFENDANT
The spouse who defends against the lawsuit brought against them by the other spouse

DEFERRED COMPENSATION PACKAGE
This includes all retirement assets (such as a pension, 401K, IRA) and any other saving or postponed income earned during the marriage

DEPOSITION
Testimony of a witness under oath and reduced to writing. It is also used to question opposing spouse.

DESERTION
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.

DIRECT EXAMINATION
Initial questioning of a witness called to the stand by an attorney

DIRECT PAYMENT
Child or spousal support paid directly to the custodial parent by the non-custodial parent

DISBARMENT
Revocation of an attorney’s license to practice law

DISCOVERY
The formal procedure, according to rules of the court, for gathering information pertaining to the opposing party’s case. The term may also be used for the interview procedure between the attorney and the client at the initial meeting.

DISCRETION OF THE COURT
Ability of the judge to make decisions after reviewing evidence

DISMISS
Termination of a case without a final disposition of the matter

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.

DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE
Legal judgment that severs a marital relationship and returns both spouses to single status

DIVORCE
A final decree required to legally terminate a valid marriage

DOCKET
The calendar schedule of the court

DOCKET NUMBER
The number assigned by a court to a civil or criminal case, which appears on all documents filed to identify court actions in a specific case

DOMICILE
A person’s legal residence

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

EMANCIPATION
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)

ENCUMBERED
When a lien, mortgage or other restraint is placed against a property

EQUITABLE DIVISION (DISTRIBUTION)
A system of equitably dividing property, acquired by spouses during their marriage, in connection with a divorce proceeding

ESTATE
A right or interest in property, or actual property of a deceased person

EVIDENCE
Documents, testimony and other information submitted to the court to support or disprove allegations in pleadings

EX-PARTE
Court relief granted without notice to or attendance of opposing party

EXHIBIT
An item of evidence presented to the court

EXPERT WITNESS
A professional used to help a judge reach a decision

FAMILY COURT
Court with jurisdiction over child support, divorce and comparable issues

FATHER’S RIGHTS
Legal principles and concepts supporting the idea that child custody and support decisions must not discriminate against fathers

FAULT-BASED DIVORCE
A divorce granted when one member of the marriage is guilty of marital misconduct. (See divorce section for you state for grounds for fault-based divorce.)

FELONY
A criminal offense punishable by imprisonment for more than one year

FILE
Personal delivery of a document to a court clerk in order for the document to be included in the official records of a case

FINAL JUDGMENT
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.

FOREIGN ORDER
A court order issued by another county, state or nation outside of the jurisdiction in which the custodial parent lives

FORENSICS
A term meaning of, or pertaining to, courts of law.  For example, forensic accountants value marital assets, and forensic counselors evaluate custody and visitation issues.

FOUNDATION
Evidence that must be presented before asking certain questions or offering documentary evidence on trial

GARNISHEE
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.

GARNISHMENT
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 CAUSE
The standard of good cause can be used by a custodial parent receiving TANF or public assistance to excuse them from cooperating with state child support enforcement agencies.   Because cooperation could potentially endanger themselves as well as their children. The standard of good cause is usually applied as a result of documented violence and abuse by the non-custodial parent. A custodial parent that is also a recipient of TANF or public assistance is usually required to cooperate with the child support enforcement agency as a condition of receiving assistance, by sharing address information used to locate the non-custodial parent. Using the standard of good cause, because cooperation could endanger the welfare recipient and the children, the custodial parent can be excused from cooperating.  A good cause finding is usually the result of documentation of violence and abuse by the non-custodial parent.

GOOD FAITH
Absence of intent to commit fraud

GROUNDS
Legal basis for a divorce

GUARDIAN AD LITEM (GAL)
An adult, often court-appointed, representing the non-legal interests of a minor child in a divorce. GALs are trained social workers, counselors or other professionals.

HABITUAL RESIDENCE
The place a person resides ‘as of habit ‘ or permanently, for legal purposes

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

HEALTH INSURANCE ORDER
A court order instructing the non-custodial parent to purchase health and dental insurance for their children or add them to an existing policy.  (See child support law summary for your state)

HEARING
Any proceeding before a court where testimony is given and arguments are heard

HEARSAY
Anything a person claims he or she was told by someone else. Most of the time, hearsay cannot be used as evidence in a trial.

HOLD HARMLESS
An agreement in which one person agrees to assume full liability for an obligation and protect another person from loss or expense as a result of that obligation

HOSTILE WITNESS
A witness showing prejudice during testimony, so that the party who called them will actually do a cross-examination

IMPEACHMENT
Act of proving a witness is not credible due to inconsistent statements or other conflicting evidence

IN CAMERA
Proceedings held in judges’ chambers without participating parties. This is usually the procedure used when children testify.

INCOME AND EXPENSE DECLARATION
Form completed under oath by a parent stating their income, assets, expenses and liabilities. It is used to determine child support to be paid by the non-custodial parent.

INCORPORATION
Part of civil law, making one document part of another. For example, the Agreement becomes part of the Decree in Divorce.

INJUNCTION
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

INTERCEPT
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.

INTERLOCUTORY HEARING
Any hearing at which a pretrial or court ruling is requested

INTERROGATORIES
Questions served upon the opposing party in a divorce proceeding to gain knowledge of issues in the marriage

INVENTORY AND APPRAISEMENT
Listing and valuation of properties owned by the parties seeking a divorce

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)

JOINT PROPERTY
Property held in the name of more than one person

JOINT TENANCY
Form of joint ownership in which each joint owner has an equal share

JUDGMENT
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)

JUDGMENT OF DIVORCE
A formal written document stating that a man and a woman are divorced, prepared by an attorney and presented to the court for the judge to sign. In most states, this is recognized as the Divorce Decree or Decree of Dissolution.  (See final judgment)

JURISDICTION
Power of the court to rule on issues related to the parties, their children and their property.  Also the legal authority a court has over certain types of cases, in a defined geographical area.

LAW GUARDIAN
An attorney typically assigned by the judge to represent the child or children in intense custody battles

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

LEVERAGE FACTORS
Considerations made by parties pertaining to issues that are being disputed

LEVY
Taking of property by an officer, with a Writ of Execution (See Writ of Execution)

LICENSE REVOCATION
An administrative action suspending or revoking certain licenses and permits issued by the state, as a result of non-payment of child support this could include driver’s licenses, hunting and fishing permits and occupational licenses.   License revocation varies by state.

LIEN
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.

LITIGATION
Process of arguing a legal dispute in the court system

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.

MAGISTRATE
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.

MAINTENANCE
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

MEDIATION
Non-adversarial divorce procedure in which spouses reach a settlement with the assistance of a neutral third party trained in the divorce process

MEDIATOR
A neutral person who presides over the mediation process

MEDICAID
Health insurance coverage for supported children. Provided at reasonable or no cost to one or both parents, and includes medical, vision and dental care coverage.

MILITARY ALLOTMENT
Child support deduction from the salary of a non-custodial parent on active duty in the United States military

MINUTE ORDER
Official record of a court proceeding, prepared by the court clerk. It is not a judgment.

MISDEMEANOR
A criminal offense where the punishment cannot be longer than one year in prison

MISTRIAL
A trial that is terminated due to an error that makes the trial invalid

MODIFICATION
An order that changes the terms of another order. Often refers to raising or lowering of the amounts ordered for child support.

MOTION
A written or oral request to the court for action; an application to a judge for an order or ruling

MOTION TO MODIFY
Written request to the court to change a previous order regarding child custody, support, alimony or other divorce-related decisions

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

NON-MARITAL PROPERTY
Property considered by the courts to belong to one spouse or the other and is not available for equitable distribution

NULLITY
Decree indicating that a marriage is null and void

OBJECTION
Verbal response of a lawyer when something inappropriate happens or is said during a trial or deposition. It designed to protect the court record.

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

OBLIGEE
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.

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

OPENING STATEMENT
A lawyer’s opening remarks, addressed to the judge, at the beginning of a trial

OPINION
Belief held by a person. In court, witnesses are restricted to only stating facts and not permitted to express an opinion. Only qualified expert witnesses can express an opinion.

ORDER
A court’s specific ruling on a disputed issue; a written decision of the court requiring that someone do something

ORDER AFTER HEARING
Written order, signed by a judge, and issued after a hearing

ORDER OF EXAMINATION
Court proceeding during which a judgment debtor is questioned under oath about their assets

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.

PALIMONY
Support paid from one person to another, although they were never married

PARALEGAL
A trained person who assists a lawyer

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.

PARENTING CLASSES
Organized classes to teach parents techniques to minimize the negative aspects of divorce on their children

PARTY
A plaintiff or a defendant in a legal proceeding

PATERNITY
The legal, biological relationship between father and child

PATERNITY ACKNOWLEDGMENT
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

PERJURY
Intentionally lying under oath in court

PERSONAL JURISDICTION
Power of the court to make and enforce orders regarding an individual

PERSONAL PROPERTY
Property that is not real estate

PETITION
Title given to the first document filed in a divorce proceeding

PETITIONER
The person who initiates a divorce by filing the petition.  Also known as the plaintiff.

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

PLAINTIFF
Individual who files the divorce petition initiating the divorce.  Also know as the petitioner.

PLEADING
Formal written application to the court, requesting court action

POSTNUPTIAL
Written contract between husband and wife stating all present and future rights in view of their impending divorce

PRAECIPE
An order addressed to the clerk of the court, asking the court to act

PRAYER
The portion at the end of a pleading stating action that is requested of the court

PRECEDENT
A past event that influences how similar events will be viewed by the court in the future

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

PRIVILEGE
A spouse’s right to make admissions to an attorney or counselor that can not later be used as evidence

PRO SE DIVORCE
Divorce in which each spouse represents themselves in court, without an attorney

PROBATION
Period of time during which the sentence of a defendant is suspended, and they must agree to certain terms and conditions of good behavior

PROBATION OFFICER
County officer with the responsibility of supervising and monitoring people on formal probation

PROTHONOTHARY
Court clerk in charge of civil filings

PUBLIC ASSISTANCE
Money granted from the TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) program to a person or family for living expenses

QUALIFIED DOMESTIC RELATIONS ORDER (QDRO)
A court ruling stating that a portion of one spouse’s pension be awarded to the other spouse as part of the equitable distribution of the marital assets

QUIT CLAIM
To release legal claim. For example, a quit claim deed is a document relinquishing claim to the deed to the marital house.

REAL ESTATE
Physical land and improvements affixed to the land

REAL PROPERTY
All interests, benefits and rights inherent in the ownership of physical real estate

REBUTTAL
Evidence introduced in response to an issue raised by the opposing party

RECIPROCITY
Cooperation between states and countries to establish and enforce child support orders. Laws and court orders of each jurisdiction are mutually recognized and enforced.

RECORD
All testimony and evidence used in court to decide a case. The record is what judges use to make decisions.

RECROSS
The second round of cross-examination that occurs after redirect in a trial

REDIRECT
The second round of direct examination that occurs in the trial after cross-examination

REGISTRY
The entity through which the court receives and disburses money, as in child support payments

REHABILITATIVE ALIMONY
Alimony intended to help the ex-spouse become financially self-sufficient

REIMBURSEMENT
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

RELEASE
A document that frees or removes a person’s right or claimed right to something. It is usually given in exchange for something, usually a reciprocal release or money.

REMAND
Sending a case back to the judge to be retried as a result of a significant mistake made by the judge during the first trial

REQUEST FOR PRODUCTION
Part of the Discovery process. One attorney asks that the other side produce financial documents he or she feels are necessary to the case.

RESPONDENT
Defendant in a divorce

RESPONSE
Formal document filed by the defendant (respondent) to answer the complaint or summons

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.

RETAINER
Fee paid to an attorney to work on a case

RETAINER AGREEMENT
A written contract between lawyer and client delineating their responsibilities to each other

RIGHT OF SURVIVORSHIP
The right of joint owners to receive the other’s share of property upon the death of the other owner

RULES OF EVIDENCE
Rules pertaining to the deliverance of evidence in hearings or depositions

SALES COMPARISON APPROACH
A set of procedures in which an appraiser derives a value indication by comparing the property being appraised to similar properties that have been sold recently, applying appropriate units of comparison, and making adjustments, based on the elements of comparison, to the sale prices of the comparables.

SANCTIONS
Court-ordered punishment, could be a fine or jail

SEPARATE MAINTENANCE
An action filed for support between two spouses not living together even though the spouse’s are not actively seeking a divorce

SEPARATE PROPERTY
Property considered to be owned by one spouse prior to marriage, which in most states in not up for distribution upon divorce

SEPARATION
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

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

SET ASIDE
To cancel, annul, or revoke a prior judgment of a court

SETOFF
A debt or financial obligation of one spouse that the court weighs against a debt or financial obligation of the other spouse

SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT
The written version of the settlement

SEVERABILITY
The understanding that one clause in a contract is independent of the others

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)

SPOUSE
Husband or wife

STIPULATION
An agreement between the parties or their counsel, upon which the court makes an order or judgment

STRIKE
As a result of a motion, the court may remove, or “strike” pleadings and evidence from the court record upon finding the material irrelevant, submitted without proper notice, or scandalous.

SUBPOENA
A document that is delivered to a person who is not directly involved in the action filed, but is needed to testify.

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

SUPPORT
Payment for housing, food, clothing etc.

SURREBUTAL
Evidence the defendant can present to counter rebuttal evidence

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 Dependent Children.  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.

TESTIMONY
Statements delivered under oath at a hearing or deposition

TORT
Any wrongful act creating legal liability against the person who committed the tort

TRANSCRIPT
A written presentation of testimony given at a trial or at a deposition

TRANSFER
To change ownership from one person to another

TRANSITIONAL CHILDCARE
A welfare program by which welfare recipients who stop receiving TANF due to employment, but who can’t afford to pay childcare costs, receive subsidized childcare assistance, usually for one year

TRIAL
A formal court hearing to decide the disputed issues filed in the complaint or summons

UIFSA
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

URESA
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.

VENUE
The county in which the court with jurisdiction will hear the matter

VERIFICATION STATEMENT
An oath stating that the information in a document is true

VISITATION
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.

WAIVER
Written document that relinquishes an individual’s rights

WITNESS
Person having knowledge of facts or other information pertaining to a specific situation

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.