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Divorce Terms

Alimony : Called Spousal Support in California.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) : Methods of resolving legal disputes without going to trial, in a less adversarial manner, such as through mediation.

Annulment : “Nullity of Marriage”: A legal action that says your marriage was never legally valid because of unsound mind, incest, bigamy, being too young to consent, fraud, force, or physical incapacity.

Arrearage : The amount of money that is past due for child or spousal support.

CA Resident : Someone who has lived in CA for six months or more.

Child support : Money that one parent pays to the other parent for their children’s financial support.

Child support guidelines : Guidelines established by the State that set forth the manner in which child support must be calculated : In California, main factors are the income of both parents and the amount of time each spends with the children.

Community debts : Community obligations are the debts that a husband and wife or registered domestic partners incurred between the date of their marriage and their date of separation regardless of who’s name the debt is in.

Community property : Community property is everything that a husband and wife or registered domestic partners acquired between the date of marriage and their date of separation. In most cases that includes: (1) Money or benefits like pensions and stock options that you now have which either of you earned during the time you were living together as husband and wife or as registered domestic partners; and (2) Anything either of you bought with money earned during that period.

Court order : A legal decision made by a court that commands or directs that something be done or not done

Custody : Having rights to your child : There are two types of custody — legal, which means that you have the right to make important decisions about your child’s health, education and welfare, or physical, custody which means that the child lives with and is raised by you.

Default : One way to complete a divorce case which means the Respondent does not “answer” the petition and pay a filing fee to the Court.

Discovery : The information-exchanging process of a legal proceeding, including providing documents to the other party regarding the finances of both parties

Dissolution : Another word for divorce, which is the legal termination of a marriage :

Divorce : The legal termination of a marriage relationship.

Domestic violence : Physical abuse or threats of abuse occurring between members of the same household.

Joint legal custody : The sharing, by both parents, of the right to make important decisions about a child’s health, education and welfare.

Joint physical custody : The sharing, by both parents, of the actual physical care and custody of a child.

Legal custody : The right to make important decisions about the raising of your child, on issues such as health care, education, and welfare

Legal separation : You and your spouse or domestic partner can end your relationship but still remain legally married or partnered, and get court orders on parenting and money issues, with a judgment of legal separation

Marital settlement agreement : In a dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or annulment, a stipulated judgment will often include a marital settlement agreement (MSA). A marital settlement agreement is a written contract between you and your spouse that contains detailed legal wording about how the issues in your case will be handled. It is usually used when there are complicated issues of property, debt, support, or custody that need to be set out in the judgment. This is also called a Stipulated Judgment.

Mediation : A form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) for resolving legal disputes without going to trial, by the use of a trained and impartial third party who attempts to bring the parties together in mutual agreement.

Non-custodial parent : The parent who does not have physical custody of the children.

Order to Show Cause : A request for the court to command or direct that something be done or not done requiring the parties to attend a hearing.

Paternity : Legal determination of fatherhood. Paternity must be determined before a court can order child support, medical support or visitation.

Petitioner : The person who initiates the divorce :

Physical custody : The day-to-day rights and responsibilities associated with having your child in your home and being responsible for his or her care and upbringing.

Prenuptial agreement : An agreement entered into before marriage that sets forth each party’s rights and responsibilities should the marriage terminate by death or divorce : Also called a premarital agreement.

Process server : A person that serves court papers on a party to a lawsuit

Proof of service : The form filed with the court that proves that court papers were formally served on (delivered to) a party in a court action on a certain date.

Pro per : A short form of “in propria persona.” Refers to persons that represent themselves in court without lawyers.

Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) : Pronounced “kwah-dro,” an order issued by the court to divide retirement benefits.

Respondent : The person who answers a petition in a divorce.

Response to Order to Show Cause : A court order telling a person to appear in court and present any evidence why the orders requested by the other side should not be granted or executed

Separate property : Generally, property owned by either spouse prior to marriage or acquired by them individually, such as by gift or inheritance, during the marriage.

Separation date : The date of separation for divorces or registered domestic partnerships is when one spouse (or both) or one partner (or both) decides that the marriage or partnership is over and takes some actions to show this (such as moving out of the house).

Spousal support : Financial payments made to help support a spouse or former spouse during separation or following divorce : Also called alimony.

Stipulation : An agreement entered into by the divorcing spouses that settles the issues between them and is often entered into the court’s final judgment and decree.

Visitation : The time that a noncustodial parent spends with the children.