Glossary | Cordell & Cordell

Glossary

Top

The Cordell & Cordell family law glossary provides definitions for some of the most common terms used when discussing issues pertaining to divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, property division, and more. Use the glossary to help you understand what is happening in your case and help you avoid getting confused by legal jargon and terminology.

Affidavit

A written statement of facts that are made under oath and that must be witnessed and signed by a notary or other official authorized to administer oaths.

Annulment

A legal procedure used to declare a marriage null and void. 

Answer or Response

The formal response for a divorce, separation, or annulment petition. The response or answer contains the admission or denial of the allegations made by the Petitioner or against the Petitioner.

Arrearages

Amount of support determined by the court or administrative process that was due and has not been paid.

Child Custody

Refers to the rights and obligations between parents regarding their children after a divorce, legal separation, or paternity decree.

Child Support

The money a parent pays to another parent to help pay for the needs of the child.

Child Support Guidelines

A series of mathematical formulas that help derive the proper amount of child support that should be awarded.

Child Support Worksheet

A court form devised to calculate the child support guidelines.

Cohabitation

An arrangement where two unmarried people, who are typically romantically involved, live together.

Collaborative Divorce

A legal process, in which divorcing or separating couples work with their lawyers and other family professionals to work out an agreement without going to court.

Condonation

When misconduct of a spouse is no longer grounds of divorce due to the act of forgiveness.

Contempt of Court

Any deliberate failure to comply with the legal process, including the disruption of the court.

Counter-Petition

A statement of the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage issued by the Respondent. It will be different than that of the Petitioner.

Custodial Parent

The parent a child normally lives with, and the one who makes legal decisions concerning the child.

Custody

Refers to the rights and obligations between parents regarding their children after a divorce, legal separation, or paternity decree.

Default Order or Judgment

An order or judgment made based solely on the Petitioner’s complaint due to no response or presence of the Respondent.

Deposition

The testimony of a witness under oath outside of court and reduced to writing. It also is used to question the opposing party.

Discovery

Procedures used to gather information that pertains to the credibility of the opposing party’s case.

Dissolution of Marriage

A legal judgment that severs a marital relationship and returns each person to single status.

Ex Parte Order

An order issued regarding an urgent matter, often concerning domestic violence or child abuse and generally in an emergency situation, granted on the request of and for the benefit of one party only. Ex parte matters are usually temporary orders pending a formal hearing.

Expert Witness

A professional used to help a judge reach a decision. Experts can include appraisers, counselors, evaluators, and accountants.

Family Access Motion

A process to enforce an existing order for visitation/parenting time with a child.

Garnishment

A support enforcement technique, in which the support payment is automatically deducted from the supporter’s paycheck and delivered to the recipient parent.

Guardian Ad Litem

An adult, usually appointed by the court, who represents the non-legal interest of a minor child in a divorce. He or she is a trained social worker, attorney, counselor, or other professional.

Hearing

A proceeding taking place before a court where testimony is given and arguments are heard.

Injunction

A court order preventing someone from doing a particular act that is likely to cause physical or mental injury or property loss of another individual.

Interrogatories

A group of questions served upon the opposing party to gain knowledge pertaining to the issues in the matrimonial proceedings.

Legal Custody

The authority of one parent or both parents to make legal decisions regarding the health, education, and welfare of the child. It may be sole, primary, or joint custody.

Legal Separation

A court process designed to define the important rights and obligations between spouses when they live apart but do not want divorce.

Maintenance

Temporary or permanent financial support paid to one spouse from the other, either in one lump sum or installments.  Also known as “alimony” or “spousal support.”

Mediation

A non-adversarial divorce procedure, where divorcing spouses are assisted in reaching a settlement by a neutral third party who is trained in the divorce process.

Morality Clause

A provision in divorce agreements prohibiting a parent from engaging in certain behavior in their private life, such as cohabiting or having overnight guests of the opposite sex in the presence of children.

Motion to Modify

A written request of the court to change a previous order regarding child custody, support, alimony, or other divorce-related decisions.

No-Fault Divorce

A type of divorce, in which neither party needs to prove there was any kind of marital misconduct.

Notice of Hearing

Notice regarding a preliminary, temporary, or other hearing that may involve child custody, support, or maintenance/alimony.

Order

A court’s specific ruling on a disputed issue.

Parenting Schedule

A list of dates stating times each parent may see each child.

Petition or Complaint

The title given to the first document filed in pursuit of a divorce.

Petitioner

Person initiating a lawsuit in family law cases.  Also known as a “plaintiff.”

Physical Custody

Refers to the amount of time each parent is permitted to be in the physical vicinity of their child. This may be sole, primary, or joint custody.

Prenuptial Agreement

A contract entered prior to marriage that establishes the property and financial rights of each spouse in the event of divorce.

Pro Se

When a spouse represents themselves in court without an attorney.

Process Server

Person appointed to serve summons, subpoenas, or other process on a party.

Protection Order

An order used by the court to protect against a situation involving alleged domestic violence, harassment, stalking, or sexual assault.

Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)

A special court order used in divorce or legal separation to split a retirement or pension plan by recognizing joint marital ownership interests in the plan.

Recrimination

Charge made by an accused person against the accuser. In some jurisdictions, a defendant may recriminate, in order to rely on the plaintiff’s misconduct as the defendant’s grounds for divorce.

Request for Production

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

Residency Requirement

The state requirement that you live in a certain jurisdiction before filing for divorce there. Will vary by state.

Respondent

Also known as “defendant.” The party who is sued and must respond to a filed petition.

Right of First Refusal

A provision placed in child custody agreements requiring one parent to offer the other parent the opportunity to look after their children before contacting a babysitter or other family member to take care of them.

Subpoena

A document delivered to a person who is not directly involved in the action filed but is needed for testimony.

Summons

A written notification to the Respondent that an action has been filed against him or her.

Temporary Order

Order of the court that only applies while the divorce is pending. They are generally terminated when the divorce is finalized.

Trial

A former court hearing to decide the disputed issues filed in the complaint or summons.

Visitation

The right of a parent who does not have physical custody to see his or her child.

Writ of Execution

A court order authorizing the seizure of an asset of 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 also is known as a levy.