Glossary of Legal Terms

Agreed Order:  A document, an order, filed by attorneys when both parties come to an agreement about some issue. Becomes binding when approved by Court.

Alternative Dispute Resolution:  Alternative methods to help people resolve legal conflicts with a neutral third party facilitator, before they go to court.

Arbitration:  A dispute resolution process where two parties present their case to an arbitrator or three person panel, and the arbitrator or the panel makes a binding decision on the disputed issue.

Assets-Marital:  Those possessions which are considered to belong to both parties, usually acquired as of the date of the marriage until the date of divorce exclusive of non-comingled non marital assets.

Assets-Non-Marital:  Those items which were brought to the marriage by the parties which have not been altered or co-mingled. Also includes possessions held specifically by one party (e.i. inheritances, trust funds).

Confidentiality:  Classifying as confidential, in a strict private matter. An effort is made to avoid undue invasion of privacy.

Custodial Parent:  The parent who is responsible for making decisions concerning children under age 18, usually parent with whom the child lives.

Custody-Joint Legal:  A term formerly used when, by mutual agreement, both parents share legal responsibility for decisions, education, medical and religion made concerning the children. It is by written agreement and is submitted to the court covering the child’s residence and their time spent with each parent, support arrangements, health coverage, discipline, transportation to school, religious training and visitation. Plans vary widely Some parents may divide child’s residence between them 90/10, 50/50 or other.   Court cannot order joint custody unless both parents agree.

Custody-Physical:  A term used to define the parent with whom the child resides most of the time.

Decree/Judgment:  The final order of the court, signed by the court officially ending a marriage or entering an agreement is enforceable.

Discovery:  The process by which attorneys for the parties’ determine what property is owned by the parties and other information concerning the issues in the case. This may include requests for a Financial Declaration, Notice to Produce documents and records and records and oral Depositions and subpoenas.

Dissolution/Divorce:  A legal process to end the marriage.

Emancipated:  A child who reached age 18 or completes high school, whichever is later, or marries, enters the armed forces, or is financially independent. The child is no longer viewed by the court as his/her parents’ legal responsibility.

Guardian Ad Litem:  Referred to as GAL, an attorney appointed by court to investigate the issues determined by the Court to advise the court on the best interests of the child as analyzed by the statutory factors and makes a recommendation to the Judge based on the statute.

Hearing:  A presentation of evidence or arguments by both parties through attorneys to the judge in order for the court to make a decision concerning the disputed issue.

Hearing-Prove-Up:  A brief presentation of evidence in which one or both parties appear before the judge to verify their settlement agreement and to state that they believe the agreement is fair and wish the Court to enter it as a final order.

Joint Custody:  Formerly, a statutory determination that each parent has legal right to make decisions affecting the child. It did not mean equal parenting time or that the child will spend equal time living with each parent. Parents had to be able to cooperate for this to work and for a Judge to order it.  If the parents were unable to cooperate, the court would deny joint custody.

Joint Parenting Agreement (JPA):  Formerly, a parenting plan which stated parents’ rights and responsibilities for the major decisions affecting the child, such as health, education and religion. The JPA established a procedure for resolving future changes and issues and creates a procedure for the periodic review of the terms of the joint parenting plan.  Today this is commonly known as an Allocation of Parenting Responsibilities Plan.

Joint Petition:  Some states allow divorcing couples to file a Petition for Dissolution together, naming both parties as Petitioners. If a Joint Petition is used, no Summons will be prepared. The Joint Petition is a rarely used option, but it is available.

Joint ownership:  Property held in the names of two or more people. In divorce, those which are acquired during the marriage or transferred to a spouse during the marriage.

Maintenance:  (formerly known as alimony) The payment by one spouse to the other of money to assist that spouse in basic living expenses. Also can be a rehabilitative maintenance to assist a spouse to get on his/her feet, obtain job training, education, etc. Payments are taxable income to the receiving spouse.

Mediation:  A voluntary process whereby a neutral third party (a mediator) assists the parties to develop their own agreement without the court’s intervention

Mandatory Mediation:  The formal process in which a judge orders disputing parties to participate in meeting with a neutral third facilitator, typically against the disputing parties= will, in hopes to reach an agreement or negotiation.

Neutrality:  Having no stake or interest in the dispute or the particular outcome. Having no bias or prejudice towards or against any of the parties or issues; Being indifferent.

Order of Protection:  A court order utilized in cases involving domestic violence which prohibits one person from harassing or abusing another Violations of this type of court order are punishable by direct police arrest and criminal prosecution.

Petition for Dissolution:  The original document filed with the Clerk of the Court identifying the parties, where they live, when and where they were married, names and ages of the children, places of employment, grounds for dissolution and request to provide child support, maintenance, division of marital assets and asking the court to dissolve the marriage.

Petitioner:  The person who initiates the legal action. Note, there is no advantage or disadvantage to be the Petitioner in a mediated matter.

Post-Decree Motion:  any legal action which is filed after the original matter has been finalized.

Pre-Trial Conference:  a non-binding settlement conference between the judge and the attorneys of both parties, to identify those issues on which there is agreement, and for the judge and the attorneys to make and discuss settlement proposals.

Pro Se:  A person proceeding in court without an attorney.

Respondent:  The opposing party. There is no advantage or disadvantage to being the Respondent in a mediated divorce.

Sole Custody:  When despite both parents having legal rights to make decisions affecting a child, one parent has the final say.

Status date:  When the Petition is filed it will be assigned a number, a judge, and a status date. This will be a date approximately 120 days following the date in which the Petition is filed. On this status date the attorneys appear before the Court to advise the Judge on the status of the case.

Summons:  The notice to the opposing party which is delivered by the Sheriff for service, as required by law.

Supervised Visitation:  Temporarily monitored parenting time. Court ordered if unrestricted visitation may seriously endanger the child’s physical, mental, moral or emotional well-being. May happen when the non custodial parent does not know the child well or has not had a previous relationship with the child and an abrupt introduction of the noncustodial parent may be traumatic for the child. The purpose of the supervision is to assist in establishing a healthy parent/child relationship.

Support:  A regular payment from one parent to the other to help share the cost of raising children or meeting a spouses’ needs. Payments are based on statutory guidelines and payments are usually withheld from the paying spouses paychecks. Payments are not taxable income to the receiving spouse.

Trial:  A formal setting, usually in a court house, where two disputing parties present information before a judge in order to resolve the dispute.

Visitation:  The specified time for the non-custodial parent to visit alone with his/her children.