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Divorce Vocabulary: A Crash Course in Divorce Terms

Divorce Terms to Know

Affidavit: A written statement that confirms by oath that something is true. This document might be used in court to prove the truthfulness of certain statements as evidence, since oral statements might not always be sufficient.


Alimony: A court-ordered payment made by one spouse to the other after a divorce. This can also be known as maintenance or spousal support.


Arbitration: The use of a third neutral party, or arbitrator(s) (outside the court), to settle a dispute. This may be a quicker and less expensive way to solve a dispute between two parties. This is similar to mediation because it is used to solve disputes using a third party, but arbitration may be more formal and legally binding. It replaces litigation.


Community Property: Property that is owned equally by both spouses during a marriage. In a divorce, the community property may be divided equitably (fairly) but not necessarily equally (50/50).


Contempt: A violation of a court order, which can result in fines and/or jail time if the court issues a punishment. One side may request that the court hold the other side in contempt.


Contested Divorce: A divorce in which there are disputes that cannot be solved between the two parties and must involve an attorney as well as a judge or arbitrator to settle the disputes.


Default: If one party does not respond to a motion, petition, or complaint within the time period indicated, a court may grant the other party everything they requested in a default judgment.


Defendant: The person a case is being brought against (the person getting “served papers”).


Dissolution: The legal end to a marriage.


Judgment: A court’s decision.


Litigation: When two parties cannot reach a solution to a dispute, a judge may decide the outcome of their case. Alternatives to litigation may be arbitration and/or mediation.


Mediation: The use of a third neutral party, or mediator (outside the court), to settle a dispute. This may be a quicker and less expensive way to solve a dispute between two parties, and the mediator mat provide advice and facilitate discussion but does not decide for the parties. This is similar to arbitration, but it may be less binding.


Modification: A change made to legal documents, such as a divorce decree. Modifications are most frequently made to child support, child custody, and spousal support/alimony judgments.


Motion: A written request to a court to make a decision.


No-fault divorce: A divorce that doesn’t require spouses to prove fault as grounds for divorce.


Petitioner: Also called the plaintiff, this is the person filing a divorce petition with a court.


Subpoena: A court-ordered document (may also be called a witness summons) requiring someone to appear in court or provide information. If you have been subpoenaed, you must appear in court. If you fail to appear in court, you may be held in contempt by the court.


Uncontested: A divorce in which the two parties are able to remain civil and settle all disputes (such as property division, marital assets, and child custody) between themselves. An attorney may be involved to help with the legal process, but the cost will likely be lower because no mediation is needed to solve disputes.


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