From A to Z: The Definitive Glossary of Divorce Jargon

  •   |   Meghan Freed

Picture of a keyboard for Freed Marcroft family law's glossary on legal termsDivorce has a language of its own. From alimony to custody, asset division to mediation, divorces often involve a whole new language — and the last thing you need is more complexity. Fear not — we’ve got you covered with our definitive glossary of divorce jargon.

Whether you’re just starting to consider a divorce or are deep in the midst of legal proceedings, having a solid grasp of the terminology can empower you to make informed decisions and effectively communicate with your lawyer.

This comprehensive guide will demystify the often-convoluted language of divorce, breaking down the key terms and concepts you’re likely to encounter along the way. So, whether you’re trying to understand the difference between community and separate property or deciphering the intricacies of a prenuptial agreement, our glossary will be your go-to resource.

Don’t let ambiguous divorce jargon hold you back. Arm yourself with knowledge and take control of your divorce journey. Let’s dive in and build your divorce vocabulary from A to Z.

Glossary of Common Divorce Terms and Definitions

Divorce proceedings can be overwhelming, especially when you’re bombarded with unfamiliar terms and concepts. To help you navigate through this maze, let’s start by exploring some of the most common divorce terms and definitions.

Dissolution: The legal process of ending or “dissolving” a marriage or civil partnership.  AKA, “divorce.”

  1. Petitioner: The spouse who initiates the divorce proceedings.  Also called the “plaintiff.”
  2. Respondent: The spouse who receives the divorce petition and has the opportunity to respond.  Also called the “defendant.”
  3. No-Fault Divorce: A divorce where neither spouse is required to prove that the other spouse did something wrong in order for the court to dissolve the marriage.  The “ground” for divorce in a no-fault that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
  4. Legal separation: Very similar to a divorce, but the spouses cannot remarry.
  5. Annulment: A legal procedure that declares a marriage null and void, as if it never existed.

Understanding these common terms will provide a solid foundation as you navigate the divorce process. Now, let’s move on to the legal terms related to divorce proceedings.

Legal Jargon Terms Related to Divorce Proceedings

Divorce involves various legal proceedings, and it’s crucial to understand the terminology associated with them. Familiarizing yourself with these terms will ensure that you can effectively communicate with your lawyer and comprehend the legal aspects of your divorce.

  1. Mediation: A process where a neutral third party helps the divorcing couple reach a mutually acceptable agreement.  It may be either a tool to resolve issues in divorce litigation or the ADR process used for the divorce itself.
  2. Child Custody: The legal and physical responsibility for a child or children after a divorce.
  3. Visitation: The right of a non-custodial parent to spend time with their child.  When parents share custody, this is often referred to as parenting time, not visitation.
  4. Child Support: Financial payments made by one parent to the other for the financial care of their child.
  5. Alimony: Financial support paid by one spouse to the other during or after a divorce, usually to the lower-earning spouse.
  6. Prenuptial Agreement: A legal contract signed by a couple before marriage, outlining how assets will be divided in the event of a divorce.  May also address alimony.
  7. Equitable Distribution: The division of marital assets and debts in a fair and just manner, considering various factors such as the length of the marriage, each spouse’s financial contributions, and future earning potential.

Now that you have a better understanding of the legal terms involved in divorce proceedings, let’s explore the financial terms often used in divorce cases.

Financial Terms Used in Divorce Cases

Divorce can have significant financial implications, and understanding the financial terminology involved is crucial for protecting your interests and making informed decisions. Here are some common financial terms you’re likely to encounter during your divorce:

  1. Marital Property: Assets and debts that are subject to division during a divorce.  In some states, marital property is property acquired during the marriage.  This is not the case in Connecticut, an “all property” state where any property owned by either spouse is considered marital and potentially subject to division.
  2. Separate Property: In some states, assets and debts owned by one spouse before the marriage, or acquired during the marriage through inheritance or gift, which are not subject to division.  Unless there is a prenup, this is not relevant in Connecticut, which is an “all property” state where any property owned by either spouse is potentially subject to division by the court.
  3. Community Property: In some states, assets and debts acquired during the marriage that are subject to equal division between the spouses.  Not relevant in Connecticut, which is an equitable distribution state, not a community property state.
  4. Valuation: The process of determining the monetary value of assets and debts for division.
  5. Appreciation: The increase in value of an asset over time, which may be subject to division during a divorce.  The opposite of “depreciation.”
  6. Forensic Accountant: A financial professional who specializes in analyzing complex financial information, often hired to determine the value of businesses, investments, or hidden assets.
  7. Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO): A legal order that ensures the division of retirement assets, such as pensions and 401(k) plans, between divorcing spouses.
  8. Spousal Support: Financial support paid by one spouse to the other during or after divorce.  Also called “alimony.”

Emotional and Psychological Terms Divorce Glossary

Divorce is not just a legal and financial process; it can also have a significant emotional and psychological impact on those involved. Understanding these terms can help you navigate the emotional challenges that often arise during divorce:

  1. Grief: The intense emotional response to loss, which can manifest in various ways during and after a divorce.
  2. Co-Parenting: The process of raising children together after a divorce, involving effective communication and cooperation between parents.
  3. Counseling: Professional therapy that helps individuals or couples address emotional and psychological issues related to divorce.
  4. Parental Alienation: When one parent intentionally or unintentionally turns a child against the other parent, leading to a damaged relationship.
  5. Coping Mechanisms: Strategies and techniques individuals use to deal with the emotional stress of divorce, such as exercise, journaling, or seeking support from friends and family.

Navigating the emotional and psychological aspects of divorce can be challenging, but understanding these terms can help you seek the necessary support and develop healthy coping strategies. Now, let’s delve into the terms related to child custody and parenting.

Child Custody and Parenting Terms

When children are involved in a divorce, it’s essential to understand the terminology related to child custody and parenting arrangements. The following terms will help you navigate this aspect of your divorce:

  1. Legal Custody: The right and responsibility to make important decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, such as education, healthcare, and religious affiliation.
  2. Physical Custody: The right and responsibility to provide the child with a home and daily care.
  3. Joint Custody: When both parents share legal and/or physical custody of the child.
  4. Sole Custody: When only one parent has legal and/or physical custody of the child.
  5. Parenting Plan: A written agreement that outlines how parents will share custody and make decisions regarding their child.
  6. Child Visitation Schedule: A schedule that determines when the non-custodial parent will spend time with the child.

Understanding these terms will help you navigate the complexities of child custody and parenting arrangements. Now, let’s explore the terms related to property division and assets.

Alimony and Spousal Support Jargon

Alimony, also known as spousal support, is often a significant aspect of divorce proceedings. Understanding the key terms associated with alimony can help you navigate this aspect of your divorce:

  1. Pendente Lite Alimony: Alimony paid during the divorce proceedings and before the final divorce decree.
  2. Temporary or Rehabilitative Alimony: Alimony paid for a specific period to support a spouse who needs time to acquire education, training, or employment.
  3. Permanent Alimony: Alimony paid for an indefinite period, typically in long-term marriages or when one spouse is unable to become self-supporting.  Also referred to as “lifetime alimony.”
  4. Modification: A change made to an existing alimony order due to a substantial change in circumstances, such as a significant increase or decrease in income.
  5. Cohabitation: When the receiving spouse lives with a new partner, potentially affecting the obligation to pay alimony.
  6. Termination: The end of the obligation to pay alimony, often due to the end of the alimony term, death of either spouse, or the recipient spouse’s change in financial circumstances.

Understanding these terms will help you navigate the complexities of alimony and make informed decisions about financial support during and after divorce. Finally, let’s explore the terms related to mediation and alternative dispute resolution.

Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution Glossary

Mediation and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods can provide a less adversarial and more collaborative approach to divorce. Familiarizing yourself with the terms associated with these processes will help you understand your options:

  1. Mediator: A neutral third party who helps divorcing couples communicate and negotiate to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.
  2. Arbitration: A process where a neutral third party, known as an arbitrator, makes a decision on disputed issues.
  3. Collaborative Divorce: A process where each spouse has their own attorney but agrees to resolve their issues outside of court through negotiation and cooperation.
  4. Settlement Agreement: A contract that outlines the terms and conditions agreed upon by both spouses to resolve their divorce.  When the judge orders your divorce, they incorporate the settlement agreement into the court oder.
  5. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): Methods of resolving disputes outside of traditional courtroom litigation, such as mediation, arbitration, or collaborative divorce.

Understanding these terms will help you explore alternative options to traditional litigation, potentially reducing costs, and promoting a more amicable divorce process.

Next Steps

Congratulations! You’ve now built your divorce vocabulary from A to Z. Understanding the jargon associated with divorce can empower you to make informed decisions, effectively communicate with your lawyer, and navigate the complexities of the divorce process.

Now, go forth and conquer the world of divorce jargon!

Freed Marcroft LLC

Freed Marcroft LLC