10 Key Legal Terms To Be Familiar With When You're Getting Divorced

19 February 2015
 Categories: Law, Blog


Divorce can be a confusing process, so you're likely to hear terms you don't know. It helps to know what they mean, particularly if there are children and custody issues involved. But you won't know what's expected of you unless you understand the legal terminology directed at you.

  1. Petitioner -- The person filing for divorce. By serving the petition, you are notifying the other party that you want to end the marriage and have taken the first legal step necessary to begin the divorce process.

  2. Respondent -- Known as the defendant by some courts, this is the other party involved in the divorce. If you are the respondent, you have a certain time period within which you must respond to the petition by contesting the divorce (with help of a divorce attorney) or making counterclaims of your own. Otherwise, you will be in default and lose your right to argue any of the stipulations specified in the original divorce petition.

  3. Original Petition for Divorce -- Also known as a Letter of Complaint, this is the document the petitioner files with the local court. Family Court is the court that hears issues relating to divorce.

  4. Discovery Process -- Exchange of information between divorcing spouses. Each of you is required to provide information relating to your income, assets, debts, and property ownership in disclosing your current financial status. Be honest and give the facts.

  5. Temporary Divorce Orders -- Orders the court issues that go into effect immediately and remain in place until the final divorce hearing. Temporary orders usually cover primary physical custody of the children, child support, payment of spousal support, child visitation, and other financial issues.

  6. Temporary Restraining Order -- A court order often issued when the fear of a spouse committing violence against the other is a concern. The order may protect against harassment, physical abuse, or trespassing. Restraining orders are sometimes issued to prevent a spouse from transferring assets, taking children out of their school or day care facility, or moving children out of state.

  7. Custody Order -- The document that outlines the legal rights and responsibilities of each parent. Often referred to as a Parenting Plan, this agreement is part of the initial separation agreement that outlines how both parents will contribute to the basic needs and upbringing of their children. Even if you and your spouse work out an agreement between you, if one of you later violates the agreement, the court can't enforce it. Have a judge approve and sign any mutual agreement you make so it becomes a court order that will protect both your parental rights.

  8. Custodial Parent -- The parent a child lives with the majority of the time. The court considers what is in the best interest of the child in determining which parent a child will primarily reside with. In some cases, parents share joint physical custody of a child.

  9. Noncustodial Parent -- While a noncustodial parent often shares legal custody of a child, which gives both parents the right to make decisions that affect the child's welfare, the custodial parent has primary physical custody. Unless the court determines the noncustodial parent is unfit or a danger to the child, that parent is usually granted visitation rights.

  10. Final Decree of Divorce -- The document that contains the terms of the divorce and court rulings relating to child custody and support, visitation, and division of property. The final decree signifies the legal end of the marriage.