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Here is a list of divorce legal terns and a brief definition of what each one means:

Affidavit: A written statement taken under oath.

Alimony: See our information on alimony.

Answer: Your written response to a spouse’s legal complaint.

Brief: A lawyer’s written description of the legal arguments he or she will pursue if your case goes to court.

Community property: The accumulated assets that a husband and wife have acquired during their marriage.

Complaint: The written document that initiates a contested divorce.

Defendant: The person other than the one who initiates the divorce.

Deposition: A witness testimony that is taken under oath before the trial. This is usually done in a lawyer’s office with no judge present, and can be admitted as evidence in court.

Direct examination: The initial questioning of a witness by a lawyer.

Discovery: Information acquired by lawyers before the trial that will be used in court, such as tax returns, emails, or other evidence that might bolster relevant facts.

Escrow: Documents such as stock certificates or deeds that a lawyer might hold in a trust until the conditions of settlement are met.

Ex Parte: This is Latin for “by or for one party,” and means one spouse goes before the judge to try and get an order to control the other’s behavior. For example, one spouse might seek a court order forbidding contact with her or restricting the sale of family assets.

Expert witness: Any person with specialized knowledge or training in a subject who testifies in court for a fee.

Garnishment: Court-ordered withholding of funds (usually to collect child support) in which money is taken directly from a person’s salary.

Grounds for divorce: see our information on grounds for divorce

Fault & no fault: See our information on fault and no fault divorces.

Guardian Ad Litem: Latin for “guardian at law.” Typically means a lawyer appointed by the court to represent a child’s interests.

Hearsay: Information that a witness did not directly come upon but heard from another person. Heresay is typically not admissable in court.

In Camera: This is Latin for “in chambers.” It refers to a judge’s decision to talk to an older child about his feelings over a custody dispute privately in his or her office, out of view of the court.

Interrogatories: Written questions presented to the other party. Their written responses are then taken while under oath and answered before trial. These can be used in court proceedings.

Judgment: A court’s official decision.

Legal custody: See our chapter on child custody.

Mediation: See our section on divorce mediation.

Motion: A request by one of the lawyers for a legal ruling by the judge.

Partition: A court order to divide property.

Perjury: A crime in which someone knowingly makes a false statement while under oath.

Plaintiff: The person who initially files for divorce.

Privileged communication: A conversation that takes place between you and your attorney, the privacy of which is usually protected by law.

Quid pro quo: Latin which means, essentially, “something for something.” In a divorce settlement, you may give up something to get something in return.

Re-cross examination: When a lawyer questions a witness about things brought up by the other party’s attorney.

Re-direct examination: When a lawyer questions a witness about things that arise during cross-examination.

Retainer: money paid to a lawyer before he or she will take your case. The sum of the retainer is usually only a portion of the total bill.

Separation agreements: The document stipulating the final agreements of the divorce.

Subpoena: A court order requiring a person to appear in court to testify or to provide certain documents, often sought when someone has failed (or refuses) to comply with a request.

Writ: A judicial order.


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