COMMON DIVORCE LAW LEGAL TERMS
If you are considering filing for divorce, you should familiarize yourself with legal terms associated with divorce proceedings.
Alimony: Payments made to help support a spouse or ex-spouse during a time of separation or after a divorce is approved. Other names include spousal maintenance or spousal support.
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR): This is a method of resolving legal issues without a trial. It is usually accomplished when the parties are not adversarial and is typically done using arbitration or mediation.
Arrearage: Refers to past due amounts of spousal support or child support.
Child support: Refers to the money that a non-custodial parent is required to pay the custodial parent for supporting their child or children.
Child support guidelines: Statutes or rules that outline how child support must be calculated. Typically the amount of child support is calculated by the parents’ income and the needs of the child or children.
Custody: There are two types of custody, legal and physical. Legal custody means that you can make important decisions about your children’s welfare. Physical custody means that your children live with you and you are responsible for raising them.
Decree: This is the divorce courts written decision or order finalizing your divorce.
Default: Failing to answer a petition or complaint, or not appearing at a court hearing you can “default” your rights and the court can award everything requested by your spouse.
Defendant: The defendant is the person that has had legal papers filed against them. Also known as the respondent.
Deposition: A meeting where the other parties lawyers ask you questions. Your lawyer is present to advise you of your legal rights when answering questions.
Discovery: The legal process where the parties request and exchange information and documents relating to your divorce.
Dissolution: This is another word for divorce (legal termination of a marriage).
Divorce: Legal termination of a marriage.
Domestic violence: Physical abuse or the threat of physical abuse between household members.
Equitable distribution: Division of property in a manner deemed “fair” according to the court. Keep in mind that equitable doesn’t mean “equal”.
Interrogatories: These are written questions submitted by the opposing party that must be answered in writing. This is part of the discovery process.
Joint legal custody: Both parents share the responsibility for making important decisions about their children’s welfare.
Joint physical custody: Both parents share the physical care and custody of their children.
Legal custody: Gives the parent the right to make important decisions about raising their children.
Marital property: Typically, this is all property that was acquired during a marriage.
Mediation: A method for resolving legal issues without the need for a trial. Mediation is completed using a trained and impartial third party that tries to achieve a mutually acceptable agreement between the parties. This is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
Non-custodial parent: The parent that does not have physical custody of their children.
Non-marital property: Typically property that was acquired prior to marriage or individually (e.g. gift, inheritance).
Physical custody: Legal right to have your children live with you and the responsibility of raising them.
Petitioner: The person that starts the divorce or marriage dissolution process. Also known as the plaintiff.
Plaintiff: The person that starts legal actions. In family law, the person that starts the divorce or marriage dissolution process is known as the petitioner.
Premarital agreement: An agreement that is agreed to by both parties prior to marriage. The agreement typically outlines the rights and responsibilities of each party in the event that the marriage ends by divorce or death. Also known as a prenuptial agreement.
Prenuptial agreement: An agreement that is agreed to by both parties prior to marriage. The agreement typically outlines the rights and responsibilities of each party in the event that the marriage ends by divorce or death. Also known as a premarital agreement.
Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO): An order by a court that divides retirement benefits. QDRO is pronounced “KWAH-DRO”.
Respondent: This is the person that answers a legal petition. Also known as the defendant.
Restraining order: A legal order issued by a court that requires the subject to cease doing something. Restraining orders are often issues in cases of domestic violence or custody battles.
Settlement conference: Often required by the court, a meeting that is designed to get both parties to settle their disputes without going to trial.
Split custody: Custody in which children are split between the parents.
Spousal support or maintenance: Payments made to help support a spouse or ex-spouse during a time of separation or after a divorce is approved. Also known as alimony.
Stipulation: Settlement agreement between the parties that settles any disputes they may have. Often entered into the divorce courts final judgment and decree.
Visitation: Time the noncustodial parent is allowed to spend with their children.
This Glossary is for information purposes only and is not legal advice.
Understanding the terms associated with getting a divorce will help give you familiarity when talking with a Seattle divorce lawyer. Washington state divorce and family laws are complex, so you should consult with a divorce lawyer in Seattle if you are contemplating filing for divorce in the Seattle area.