Glossary of Family Law
Please click on each word for additional information & resources.
Alimony: Also referred to as spousal support or spousal maintenance. Alimony is the legal obligation for one spouse to provide financial support to the other before or after separation or divorce.
Alternate dispute resolution: This means that disagreements are settled outside the courtroom. A mediator is often involved in the resolution of conflicts.
Amicable divorce: Co-operating towards a peaceful separation. Can also be called a no-contest divorce or a dissolution. Does not include a courtroom settlement.
Annulment: An annulment cancels a marriage, declaring that the marriage was invalid and never existed.
Child custody: A legal assignment of guardianship over a child. Now also referred to as “Allocation of Parental Rights and Responsibilities”.
Child support: Also known as child maintenance. An on-going payment made by a parent for the financial support of a child or children.
Child visitation: The parent who is NOT granted custody of the children is granted permission to visit the children.
Civil annulment: The marriage is dissolved through legal channels, or by a court order.
Cohabitation: This refers to a couple that lives together as though married. State laws for cohabiting couples’ rights differ from state to state, and these rights are also not the same as those of a married couple.
Collaborative divorce: A collaborative divorce attempts to settle disputes out of court. See also “Collaborative law”
Collaborative law: The two clients involved in the dispute and their attorneys work together towards a settlement without court proceedings.
Consensual dispute resolution: See “Alternate dispute resolution”.
Contested divorce: The partners cannot come to an agreement on the terms of the divorce. The divorce will need to be settled in court.
Conventional divorce: The husband and wife rely on the court system to resolves their disputes.
Custody: See “Child custody”.
Dissolution: See “Amicable divorce”.
Divorce: A court decree that terminates a marriage; also known as marital dissolution
Divorce/separation coach: A professional trained to handle the issues and emotions arising from divorce. Psychologists, social workers, and family therapists can perform this function and guide the parties involved through the issues and difficulties that they will face.
Divorce certificate: The legal document stating the end of the marriage. It contains the names of the husband and wife, and the date and place of the divorce.
Divorce counseling: A professional counselor can offer help and support through the emotionally difficult process of a divorce. There are also many support groups that can help. Members of the clergy also often serve this function.
Divorce court: The judicial body where legal divorce proceedings are held. See also “Family court”.
Divorce decree: The official court order terminating a marriage. The decree of divorce is valid once signed and dated by the presiding judge and court clerk.
Divorce filing: The initial paperwork to initiate divorce proceedings. As the divorce laws differ from state to state, the filing proceedings also differ based on your location.
Divorce law: The set of laws that govern the dissolution of marriages.
Divorce mediation: Meeting with a negotiator to settle disputes before the finalization of a divorce. This can resolve issues relating to all aspects of the divorce proceedings, from child custody arrangements to financial support and disbursements.
Divorce order: Final order made by a court in a divorce case. On taking effect, a divorce order legally ends a marriage.
Divorce procedures: The steps that are taken to terminate a marriage. These are: jurisdiction, summons, petition/complaint, answer & counter petition, temporary hearing, mediation, advance case review, discovery, experts, settlement, settlement conference/pre-trial, trial. One or many of these steps may be omitted based on the circumstances of the divorce.
Divorce process: See “Divorce procedures”.
Divorce recovery: See “Divorce counselling”.
Divorce rights: Divorce rights primarily involve each party’s right to divorce, to property distribution and child custody rights. These do vary from state to state, however.
Divorce support: See “Divorce counselling”.
Divorce visitation : See “Child visitation”.
Domestic violence: Physical abuse within a family. This is becoming an ever more serious problem today. There is legal protection for victims of abuse.
Family court: The judicial body which rules on matters pertaining to family matters such as divorce, child support, and child custody.
Family law: The area of law pertaining to all aspects of family-related issues, including but not limited to marriages, civil unions, domestic partnership arrangements, divorce, annulments, adoption, child abuse, surrogacy, and many more.
Financial counselor: A professional who is trained to assist with financial planning and distribution. They can help to come t an agreement as regards child support, alimony, and the division of property and assets.
Joint custody: Both parents share the custody of the child/ren. Both parents have a say in the decisions regarding the child/ren’s welfare and upbringing.
LGBT separations: Same sex marriage is now legal across the United States. However, in many states the estate planning laws regarding same sex marriages are untried, and same sex divorce can have unexpected legal pitfalls as regards rights and obligations.
Marital settlement agreement: The document detailing the agreements reached regarding the property, children, and assets of a divorcing couple.
Mediator: A trained professional who can aid with an amicable arrangement in divorce settlements.
Military divorce: Military divorce is defined as a divorce where one of the parties (the “service member”) is active duty military, reserve or guard, or retired military.
No court divorce: See “Amicable divorce”.
No fault divorce: In a no-fault divorce the party initiating the divorce does not have to prove that the other party did something wrong. In some states it is necessary for the parties to live apart for a period of time before a no-fault divorce is awarded.
Positional bargaining: Both parties have very fixed points of view or positions, and often an impasse is reached in these situations.
Prenuptial agreement: Also known as a premarital agreement or ante-nuptial agreement, this legal document details the division of property of a couple about to be married in the event of a divorce.
Property division: The division of the assets of a couple between the parties in a divorce. This can be influenced by the presence of a prenuptial agreement.
Religious annulment: The marriage is dissolved through a church, and means that the marriage never existed in the eyes of the church. This often occurs after a couple has divorced through legal proceedings.
Separation: Marriage partners end their relationship but do not go through legal divorce proceedings. The couple is still legally married until the divorce process has been completed.
Shared custody: See “Joint custody”.
Sole custody: Only one parent is awarded guardianship of the child/ren. Sole custody can be awarded in the event that one of the parents is unfit, for example due to alcohol or drug dependency or in the case of abuse.
Spousal support: See “Alimony”.
Uncontested divorce: See “Amicable divorce”.