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Divorce Glossary: Important Legal Definitions Related To Divorce

Zoey Ellis
Zoey Ellis Court Buddy Intern
Zoey Ellis is a student at Middlebury College majoring in International and Global Studies with a focus in Global Security Studies.
Divorce glossary
If you're getting divorced, you're probably stressed out enough.

The last thing you need to add to your to-do list is to spend a bunch of time researching legal terms. 

Translating legal terms into regular English is one reason a lawyer can help during the divorce process. But if you're trying to DIY your divorce, this glossary may help. If, by the end of the article, you feel too overwhelmed, reach out to us for help.

Our rates start at $249, and interest free payment plans are available. 


A is in Annulment
An Annulment is a legal procedure that dissolves a couple’s marriage. It differs from a divorce in that it restores the couple’s status to how it was before the marriage occurred. An annulment basically means the marriage never happened. People often think annulments are something only religions grant. But states also grant annulments. 

C as in Child Support
Child Support, or child maintenance, refers to court-ordered funds paid by one parent to the custodial parent of a minor child after divorce (dissolution) or separation. 

D as in Defendant
Defendant, or respondent, refers to the person that has legal papers filed against them. Lawyers can often help you decide if it's best for your situation to be the plantiff (meaning you file first) or a defandant. 

E as in Ex-Parte
Ex-Parte (meaning “for one party” in Latin) is when the court hears a motion by one party with the absence of the opposing party. Your ex may not have to go to every court appearance. 

F as in Fault-Based Divorce
Fault-Based Divorce is an divorce action in which one spouse claims that the other spouse’s marital misconduct caused the marriage to end. 

Fault grounds can include, adultery, confinement in person or cruelty. Not all states allow fault-based divorces.

G as in Grounds for Divorce
Grounds for Divorce refers to the legal reasons for which a couple may be granted a divorce.

Reasons can include incompatibility, mental cruelty, physical abuse, substance abuse, incarceration, adultery or abandonment. 

H is for Hearing
Hearing refers to any proceeding before a judge without a jury in which evidence and/or argument is presented to determine some issue of fact or issues of fact and law. 

I as in Irreconcilable Differences
Irreconcilable differences refer to an inability for two parties to resolve their differences in order to save their marriage.

If a married couple can prove that they have irreconcilable differences, many states say this is sufficient grounds for divorce. 

J as in Judgment
A Judgment or decree is the final decision by a court that ends the dispute between parties. It refers to an official end of the marriage and is issued by a judge at the end of a divorce case. 

L as in Legal Custody 
Legal Custody, or Child Custody, is a court's determination of which parent, relative or other adult should have physical and/or legal control and responsibility for a child under 18.

This control allows them to make important decisions about the raising of the child, including issues surrounding health care, religious upbringing, education and more. The Center for Divorce Education has parenting education programs and helpful resources surrounding child custody. 

M as is in Mediators
Mediators serve as a neutral, third-party that can help a couple resolve disputes. When meeting with a mediator, couples can collaborate and resolve their issues together.

When parents get divorced, separate, or do not live together, they must figure out who has custody over the children. A child custody mediator can also provide support to help parents come up with living and visitation plans. 

N as in No-Fault Divorce
No-Fault Divorce is a divorce in which neither party has been accused or found guilty of misconduct.

In 2019, most states allowed for no-fault divorces, however 17 states were known as “true” no-fault states and some states only allow for no-fault divorce filings.

N as in Nonmarital Property 
Nonmarital Property, or separate property, is any real or personal property that was owned by either spouse before the marriage.

During a divorce, this property also includes items that were acquired by them individually via gift or inheritance and it is often not subject to distribution between spouses. 

P as in Prenuptial Agreement
Prenuptial Agreement, or premarital agreement, is an agreement prior to a marriage that establishes each party’s responsibilities and rights if the marriage is later dissolved.

Commonly known as a “prenup,” partners also use this agreement to agree how assets and liabilities will be divided. 

P as in Pro Per
Pro Per, a short form of “in propria persona,” means “for oneself” in Latin and refers to a person who represents themselves in court without a lawyer. 

Q as in Qualified Domestic Relations Order
Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO, is a special order that grants a person a right to a portion of the retirement benefits his or her former spouse has earned.

In this division of retirement benefits, the person who earned the benefits is called the “participant” and the person receiving a share of the benefits is called the “alternate payee.” 

R as in Restraining Order 
Restraining Order refers to a court order prohibiting a party from certain activities (like not taking a child out of the county or not selling marital property). They are also commonly used to protect against domestic violence.

Learn more about what you need to get a restraining order here.

S as in Spousal Support 
Spousal Support (or alimony or maintenance) is financial support given to your ex-spouse for a specified amount of time following a divorce or legal separation. The purpose of it is to limit any unfair economic impacts faced by the spouse who is non-wage earning or lower-wage earning. 

Learn more about Spousal Support 101: Who Pays, When and Why.  

U as in Uncontested Divorce
An Uncontested Divorce is when both spouses agree on all issues, including resolutions about property financial and parenting matters, without needing a lawyer to negotiate or having a judge decide for them.

Uncontested divorces are usually faster than contested divorces and take around 6 months are more to be resolved. This option is often very cost efficient. 

V as in Visitation 
Visitation is the right of a non-custodial parent, who is a party to a divorce or separation, to visit with their children. This is either agreed to by the parties or ordered by the court.

W as in Writ of Summons
Writ of Summons refers to a form issued by the court directing a party to respond to a complaint, motion, or petition.

This glossary is a start to understanding divorce, but legal counsel and representation are often the next steps to beginning or completing your divorce process. If you are in need of assistance, Court Buddy can help.


 Court Buddy is here to connect you with an experienced and trusted lawyer who can help you at an affordable rate. The company assists with the management of your case and lawyer relationship. Your lawyer will assess your legal issue in a timely and confidential manner, explain why you need or do not need a lawyer, and only charge you for the legal services performed and associated out of pocket fees. This article is intended to convey general information and does not constitute legal advice.

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