Terms and Definitions

Do you feel like your attorney is speaking a different language? Legal terms and jargon make the divorce process even more complicated.  To help you, we’ve put together a list of terms and definitions you will likely hear during the divorce process.

This means that one married spouse has left the marital home. In some areas this may be fault grounds for divorce or may reflect adversely upon the spouse who moves for claims of alimony and property division.

This term refers to sexual intercourse by a married person with someone other than the person’s spouse. Adultery also bars certain claims for alimony.

Sworn statement in writing, usually made under oath or on affirmation usually before a notary public.

Payment by one spouse to another spouse for maintenance and support.

Alimony Pendente
Spousal support to be paid by one spouse  to the other before the divorce is final.

Change of Venue
Change of the county where the claim is proceeding.

Child Support Guidelines
Guidelines used in some jurisdictions including North Carolina to establish a base for determining child support. Takes into account the gross incomes of both parents, less special adjustments (such as support paid for children of previous marriage), day care expenses paid for spouse to work, medical insurance premiums for the child and a figure for the amount of money (usually stated as a monthly sum) that will be required to be spent for the child. In some situations the court has the authority to deviate from the guidelines depending on the facts of the case.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) is a federal law giving you and your covered dependents the right to continue group health coverage on a self-paid basis if eligibility for employer-sponsored group medical and dental insurance is lost through loss of employment or through divorce. COBRA eligibility is usually for 18 or 36 months after the event.

Cost of Living Adjustment.

Contempt of Court
When a person intentionally fails to comply with the orders or directives of the Court.

Any issue on where you and your spouse cannot agree. A contested divorce is one where the court will decide on the parties claims.

Custodial Parent
The parent who has physical custody of the child.

Failure to respond in the prescribed manner within a given period of time. After a divorce complaint is filed and served the defendant is in default if he or she failed to respond by filing an answer to the complaint within  30 days after the date of service.

Deferred Compensation Package
This includes all retirement assets, such as pension, 401K’s, IRA’s, and any variety of saving or postponed income which has been earned during the marriage.

Pretrial procedure for requesting information and documents relevant to the divorce proceedings. This can include exchanging business, income, and financial documents between the parties.

The court’s calendar schedule which will tell you when your case is set for certain hearings.

The point at which children become financially independent, or reach the age of 18 or 21, depending on the wording of a state’s laws. In NC a child reaches the age of emancipation and child support orders generally expire at the age of 18. This can be extended if the child is still in high school. Child support is not required for college. Nor is it required that your spouse contribute to your child’s college expenses or tuition.

The court hearing a motion by one party with the absence of the opposing party.

The basis for action or complaint, as in grounds for divorce. NC is a no fault divorce state which means one party does not have to be at fault (adultery, abandonment, etc…) in order for you to file for divorce.

A court session in which testimony or arguments are offered by attorneys or involved parties for the purpose of resolving a legal dispute.

Written question that must be answered under the direction of the court or by statute. Interrogatories are sworn statements and can be used at trial.

Joint Legal Custody
One of two commonly referred to custody terms, which means that both parents continue to make joint decisions for their child’s education, medical care, religious training, summer camp, and other matters. Typically the parent who has physical custody of the child will make the day-to-day decisions but larger decisions must be made by both parents under this type of custody arrangement.

Joint Physical Custody
Custody arrangement where the child spends time sleeping in both parents’ homes. This may mean that the child goes week-to-week spending time equally with each parent.

Lump-Sum Alimony
Alimony money is given in a single lump-sum payment rather than made month-to-month.

Also called alimony or spousal support.

A non-adversarial process in which two or more parties work through discussion and compromise toward agreement with the aid of a neutral party, or Mediator. In NC the mediation is required by most counties for both child custody and property division. The mediator is a neutral party, who is an attorney that does not represent either party.

Motion to Modify
A motion heard by the court requesting that changes be made in physical or legal custody, or in child support payments, thus modifying the existing arrangement. To modify child support in NC, there must be a substantial change in circumstances.

Written or verbal appeals to the court for some sort of  relief, such as alimony, child custody, child support, attorney’s fees, etc.

No-Fault Divorce
A divorce in which neither party has been accused of or found guilty of any misconduct. NC is a no-fault divorce state.

Non-Custodial Parent
The parent with whom the child is not physically living.

Petition for Dissolution
The wording used in some states for the legal Petition for Divorce.

The spouse who files for divorce.

Pre-Trial Motions
Motions file before trial.

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order is a court order declaring that one spouse shall be entitled to a portion of the other spouse’s pension as a part of the marital assets.

Quit Claim
To release or relinquish legal claim, or a document relinquishing claim, as in a quit claim to the deed to the marital house.

The act of rebutting or contradicting in a legal suit.

Request for Production
Part of the Discovery process usually accompanied by Interrogatories where one side asks for the other side to produce documents they deem necessary to the case, such as financial documents.

The spouse whom the Petitioner is seeking to divorce.

A true retainer is a fee paid to an attorney to reserve his/her services. The fee is earned upon receipt and generally non-refundable. This term is sometimes used to mean a fee paid to an attorney that will be billed against. Be sure to clarify with your attorney which type of fee he/she charges.

The act of serving the respondent with legal papers, such as the Notice of Petition for Dissolution. Service can be accomplished by sheriff or certified mail and if that fails by publication.

A legal summons requiring that one appear in court as a witness to give testimony.

Written notice to appear in court either as a defendant or a witness.

The formal legal process that takes place in court before a judge. The judge receives and reviews evidence presented by both parties and hears testimony from witnesses called by both parties. The judge uses the testimony and evidence to enable him or her to decide in a dispute between two parties.

When all issues are agreed to by both parties, the divorce is said to be Uncontested.

The legal right of a non-custodial parent to see his or her child (children).

Relinquishing a known right, claim, or privilege either intentionally or by failing to raise the claim at the appropriate time. Resolving a claim for divorce without resolving issues of alimony and property can act as a waiver.