Skip to Main Content

Divorce Glossary

Affidavit: A written statement of facts, given voluntarily, by a witness or party under oath. Written testimony.

Affidavit of Service: A written statement under oath stating that a certain document was served upon (delivered to) a certain person on a particular date.

Alimony (Spousal Support; Maintenance): Payment from one party to another to help them meet living expenses. Alimony awards may be permanent or temporary.

Annulment: A void marriage. An action establishing that a marriage never existed.

Antenuptial Agreement (aka, Prenuptial Agreement; Prenup): A contract between spouses made before marriage to resolve support and property division issues in the event of a death of one spouse, separation or divorce.

Answer: A document by which the defendant (respondent) either admits or denies the allegations set out in the plaintiff's (petitioner's) petition or complaint.

Appeal: A process by which a superior/higher court (i.e. North Dakota Supreme Court, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Minnesota Supreme Court) reviews a final decision made by a lower court (i.e. District Court) to determine if an error was made in an order/judgment. The superior court does not re-try the case, but reviews the record made by the lower court.

Child Support: Financial support for a child. Payments made in response to a duty of parents to support children not residing with them. Guidelines identify the amount a non-custodial parent will be obligated to pay based upon the obligor's income and number of children.

Complaint: A legal document that starts an action and states the plaintiff's claims, demands and requests for relief.

Contempt of Court: A party’s intentional failure to comply with a court order/judgment.

Court Order: A written document issued by a court (signed by the Judge) setting forth rights and responsibilities of the parties.

Custody: The legal right and responsibility awarded by a court for the care, possession, and rearing of a child. (Please see Legal Custody and Physical Custody).

Decision-making Responsibility (aka, Legal Custody): The responsibility to make decisions concerning the child. The term may refer to decisions on all issues or on specified issues.

Default Judgment: An order/judgment granted by the court to one party because the other party failed to submit papers within the time allowed or failed to appear at a hearing.

Defendant (Respondent): The person (husband or wife) who is sued for divorce.

Deposition: Oral testimony by way of interrogation, taken under oath, outside the courtroom before a court reporter.

Discovery: Gathering information to prepare to negotiate or try a case. Procedures followed by attorneys to determine the nature, scope, and credibility of the opposing party's claim and his or her financial status. Methods used to obtain relevant information from the other party.

Domestic Abuse: Intentional physical harm or threats of physical harm which a particular party finds believable. To be domestic, the abuse must occur between present or former family members, relatives, spouses, ex-lovers, roommates, or persons who have had some type other of "significant" relationship. Ex-spouses are included. Co-workers, neighbors, and mere "friends" are not included.

Emancipation: The point at which a child may be treated as an adult. A child support obligation may be terminated upon emancipation in some states.

Evidence: Documents, testimony, or other demonstrative material offered to the court to prove or disprove allegations.

Guardian ad litem: A lawyer or other court officer appointed by the court to represent a child or incompetent adult in a legal proceeding.

Interim Motion (aka, Temporary Motion): Application to the court for temporary relief pending the final decree of divorce, separation, or annulment. These motions often deal with temporary maintenance, child support, attorney's fees, costs, custody and visitation.

Interrogatories: Written questions from on party to the other. The recipient must answer the questions, under oath, within 30 days.

Joint custody: Joint custody is a name sometimes given to a division of rights in either legal or physical custody which is somewhat equal.

Joint legal custody: Joint legal custody is generally favored by the law. It requires each parent to share information about their kids and to make significant decisions together.

Joint physical custody: When children live with each parent in relatively equal proportion.

Jurisdiction: The court’s authority or power to rule on issues relating to the parties, their children, or their property.

Legal Custody (aka, Decision-Making): The right to share information and input into major decisions in a minor child's life, including but not limited to medical, educational, and religious decisions.

Legal Separation: A court judgment or written agreement authorizing spouses to live separate. A decree of separation does not dissolve the marriage or allow the parties to remarry, but may resolve all financial issues.

Litigation: Another name for a law suit or legal action. The process of consulting lawyers, preparing lawsuits, drafting pleadings, serving pleadings on the other side, filing pleadings with the court, gathering evidence, preparing for court, appearing for court, challenging rulings of the court, etc. The alternative to litigation is negotiation (settlement).

Maintenance: Alimony/Spousal Support.

Marital Property: Accumulated income and property acquired by spouses during the marriage.

Marital Termination Agreement: A legal contract setting forth the terms of a divorce settlement such as: custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, division of assets and debts, etc.

Mediation: A process by which a neutral third party facilitates negotiations between the parties. The mediator generally has no decision-making authority. They help the parties reach resolution rather than imposing decisions on the parties.

Motion: An application to the court, usually in writing, to decide issues and grant relief, such as temporary support, injunction or attorney's fees.

Non-Marital Property: Property accumulated and belonging to only one spouse, such as (1) a gift or inheritance from that party's family, (2) held prior to the marriage, (3) received as proceeds from a personal injury claim in lieu of that party's personal health or body parts, not in lieu of lost wages, or (4) the origin of the property is directly traceable to other non-marital funds or other property. Minnesota recognizes non-marital property. North Dakota, an “all-in” state, doesn’t.

Order: A command or intentional instruction given by the court which, insofar as it is backed up by the coercive power of the state, becomes law for the parties subject to it.

Parenting Plan: A written plan describing each parent’s rights and responsibilities.

Parenting Schedule: Schedule of when the child is in the care of a parent.

Parenting Time: The time when the child is to be in the care of a parent.

Party: A person in a divorce action whose rights or interest will be affected by the divorce.

Petition: See Complaint.

Petitioner (Plaintiff): The party who files the petition/complaint to begin an action for relief.

Physical Custody: Command and control over the minor child's person and affairs. In other words, the physical every day care of the child. Who the child lives with.

Pleading: A formal written application to the court (i.e. Summons, Complaint, Petition, Answer, Counterclaim, Motions, etc.).

Pretrial Order: Order setting forth deadlines for exchange of exhibit lists, witness lists, objections to evidence, and other matters prior to trial.

Primary Residential Responsibility (in ND, aka, sole physical custody): A parent with more than 50% of the residential responsibility (physical custody).

Pro se: A party to an action who is not represented by a lawyer.

Referee: A person who is appointed to exercise judicial powers, an un-elected judge.

Reply: A written pleading filed in response to the allegations of a counterclaim.

Residential Responsibility (in ND, aka, physical custody): A parent's responsibility to provide a home for the child.

Respondent: See Defendant.

Requests for Production of Documents: A series of written requests served on the other party seeking the production of documents important to a divorce (i.e. tax returns, paystubs, insurance documents, deeds, loan documents, etc.).

Settlement: The agreed resolution of disputed issues.

Settlement Conference: With or without a court's order to do so, parties and counsel sit down together to discuss settlement in person.

Split custody: Where children of divorce are separated into two different households. For example, mom would have custody of one child and dad would have custody of the other child. Courts do not like split custody.

Subpoena: A document served upon a party or witness requiring appearance in court or at a deposition.

Subpoena duces tecum: A subpoena requesting the production of documents to a hearing or deposition.

Separate Property (Non-Marital Property): Property that is not "marital property" but belongs only to one spouse.

Summons: A notice (document) that an action has commenced.

Temporary Motion (Interim Motion): Application to the court for a decision before the final decree of divorce, separation, or annulment. These motions often include temporary maintenance, child support, attorney's fees, costs, custody and visitation.

Testimony: Oral statements under oath by a witness in court or during a deposition.

Transcript: A typewritten record of testimony taken by a court reporter during a deposition or court hearing.

Trial: A formal court hearing to decide disputed issues raised by the pleadings.

Uncontested Divorce: A divorce proceeding in which the parties have reached an agreement on all issues.