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Weeding Through Divorce Terminology

Understanding the legal paperwork that is involved in a divorce sometimes feels like learning a whole new language. Some words are totally foreign, while others seem familiar, but don’t end up meaning what you expected them to. Just in case you’re stuck on an unfamiliar term, here are some of the most common words and terms used in divorce law. For a more comprehensive list, click here.

Ab Initio: “From the beginning,” in Latin.

Affidavit: A written statement that you deliver under oath.

Alimony: Financial support paid by one spouse to the other. Also known as “maintenance,” and “spousal support.”

Collusion: Agreeing with your spouse that one of you will bring false charges against the other, usually as a means of obtaining a divorce faster. Collusion is illegal.

Common Law Marriage: When a man and woman agree to live together as husband and wife, without a formal ceremony.

Complainant: Another word for “plaintiff.”

Custodial Parent: The spouse who has physical custody of the child(ren). The other parent is the “non-custodial parent.”

Default: Failure to answer a petition, motion or complaint.

Discovery: Obtaining information from opposing parties.

Dissolution: The legal end of a marriage.

Equitable Distribution: Dividing property among spouses.

Irreconcilable Differences/ Irretrievable Breakdown: The legal grounds for no-fault divorces.

Judgement: A decision made by the court.

No-Fault Divorce: A divorce where neither spouse needs to prove fault or misconduct on the part of their spouse before being granted a divorce.

Non-Marital Property: Property that is not included in equitable distribution of property, because it belongs to only one spouse. Also called “separate property.”

Pendente Lite: Temporary custody, child support, alimony, and living arrangements. These arrangements are pending a final judgement. This also includes “temporary support”.

Petition: The original document that starts the case.

Prenuptial Agreement: A contract signed before marriage that outlines terms and agreements that would be in place should a divorce occur.

Reconciliation: When the divorcing parties decide to get back together.

Service: Providing the other side with copies of papers being filed.

Subpoena: A court order for someone to appear in court and/or supply documents.

Uncontested Divorce: When the defendant agrees to all the terms laid out by the plaintiff, and there is no need for court intervention.

Visitation: The non-custodial parent’s right to spend time with the children.

Writ of Summons: A court order for a party to respond to a motion, petition or complaint.