Common Divorce Terms

If you are a frequent reader of our blog (I can’t be the only one who thinks this stuff is cool) then this blog will be more “refresher” course than new material.  However if you are just beginning your divorce or even considering a family law action, then this is the first blog you should read.

A divorce case is complex.  It only takes a couple signatures and an exchange of vows to get married, but it takes a great deal more to get divorced.  Moreover, navigating the legalese is like learning a whole new language, so with this blog I will shed some light on a few of the common family law terms you will encounter in your case.

Dissolution: This is a fancy legal word that means the same thing as divorce.  It is used instead of divorce because what a party to a divorce is asking the court to do is to “dissolve” their marriage to the other party.

Petition for Dissolution: This is the lawsuit (or complaint – again these mean the same thing) that a party files to begin the divorce (or “dissolution”) process.  The Petition sets forth the relief the party filing for divorce is requesting as well as the grounds for the divorce.

Summons:  A Summons is a notice to the other side that they have been sued and that they are required to appear and respond to the Petition.

Temporary Order: Temporary orders are orders that are made early in the case and/or before the case is settled or taken to trial.  These orders are usually related to custody, visitation, spousal support and child support.  Often temporary orders will be referred to as “Interim Orders” or if we want to get fancy, “Pendente Lite” orders.  That is just Latin for “awaiting the litigation”

Community Property: California is a community property state, so if you acquired any property during marriage you’ll run into this term.  Community property refers to property that is acquired by a Husband and Wife during marriage.  This could be a car, a house, a 401(k) plan or a bank account.

Separate Property:  This is just the opposite of community property.  Separate property is any property acquired before marriage, after the date of separation, or by way of a gift or inheritance

Spousal Support: Historically, this was referred to as alimony.  Some people still call it alimony, but in California it is almost always just called spousal support.  Whatever you call it, it is a payment from one spouse to the other spouse to pay for their maintenance and expenses during or after dissolution of marriage.

Child Support:  This is similar to spousal support.  Child support is a payment from one parent to the other parent for the care and maintenance of the parties’ children.  This can come in the form of cash payments, payments for health insurance, uninsured medical expenses, and daycare to name a few.  Cash payments for child support are calculated using a mathematical formula referred to as “guideline.”

Child Custody: There are two different types of custody.  “Legal Custody” refers to authority to make decisions about a child’s schooling, religious upbringing and medical care.  This will either be “joint legal custody” (meaning the parents share in the decisions) or it will be “sole legal custody” (where only one parent decides.)

The other custody is physical custody. California courts can award sole physical custody to one parent or joint physical custody to both parents, based on the best interest of the child. The California Family Code does not favor either joint or sole custody. In California, “sole physical custody” is also called “primary physical custody.” (Not to be confused with “primary custodial parent” this is often used to describe the parent who spends more time with the child – see what I mean; confusion.)

Visitation: refers to the specific schedule for the physical sharing of a child or children.  The visitation schedule will generally include specific week to week schedules, holiday schedules, vacation schedule, or other special events.  Having a visitation schedule allows the parties to know where, and with whom, the children will be at any specific time.

This is only a sample of the most common terms used in Family Law, and does not begin to explain the complexities and depth of each of the terms.  It should however give you a head start on beginning to understand the complex divorce process.  This complexity is why it is important to find a family law attorney who is experienced and qualified to explain the process to you.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding dissolution process. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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