Reading about legal matters and family court processes can mean coming across unfamiliar words and abbreviations. The terms and acronyms explained herein are commonly used in family court or when describing divorce and custody proceedings. Understanding what the legalese means, so that you can effectively speak with your lawyer is key to obtaining a divorce, and as such, I have included some of common terms you may need to know in order to be successful in moving this process forward.

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A – Washington DC Family Law Dictionary

ABANDONMENT – the term used to describe the action of one spouse leaving the marital home without consent. This action is deemed as grounds for divorce in some states or provinces. In Maryland the ground for divorce is called desertion.

ABDUCTION (of child) – the act of one parent, often the noncustodial parent, illegally taking or removing a child in violation of a court order, either across state lines and abroad or both.

ABUSE – ground for divorce in a fault divorce in which the plaintiff must prove physical or emotional harm to herself or himself.

ABSENT PARENT – the parent (either the father or the mother) who is physically absent from the home.

ABSENT PARENT – the parent who does not have custodial rights to the child, but is responsible for the partial support of the child and is physically absent from the home where the child resides. This parent is usually referred to as the non-custodial parent.

ACCRUE – to propagate or build upon.

ACTION; ACTIONABLE; CAUSE OF ACTION – the legal term for what is generally referred to as a lawsuit, its cause.

ACTIVE ASSET – real or personal property, including tangible and intangible, which changes in fair market value as a result of actions by its owner.

ACTIVE APPRECIATION – an increase in the value of an asset as a result of its owner’s action, such as refurbishing a property.

ADD-ONS – expenses beyond basic child support, such as child care, education and health costs divided proportionally between the parents.

AD DAMNUM – a Latin term for “to the damage.”

AD HOC – Latin term for “for this.”

ADJUSTED BASIS – investment in property, like commercial real estate, determined by adding the cost of the improvements to the original cost and subtracting depreciation.

ADJUSTED GROSS INCOME (AGI) – term used to describe a person’s gross income, minus particular deductions, such as alimony.

ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICER – the official who is appointed instead of a judge to preside over the child.

ADMISSIBLE – any form of testimony or evidence that is allowed in court, including any testimony, document, or demonstrative material that complies with the rules of evidence.

AD TESTIFICANDUM – a Latin term usually used in connection with a subpoena to appear for a deposition or as a witness in a trial.

ADULTERY – when one spouse has sexual intercourse with a third party. In some states and provinces this is considered grounds for divorce.

ADVERSARIAL DIVORCE – a divorce where each spouse is unable to come to any agreement.

ADVERSARY – the opposition or the opposing party in a lawsuit. In a divorce, the litigant or adversary will probably be your spouse.

AFDC(AID TO FAMILIES WITH DEPENDENT CHILDREN) – financial support in the form of cash given to a family with children in need of financial help. The grant is offered because the head of the family or the custodial parent is not employed and not receiving child support or assistance from the non – custodial parent.

AFFIDAVIT – a written statement of facts that is made under oath and which must be witnessed and signed by a notary or another official authorized to administer oaths.

AFFIDAVIT OF CONSIDERATION – an affidavit stating that marital property was received in a divorce action.

AFFIDAVIT OF MERIT – an affidavit by a qualified expert stating that a claimant alleges a viable malpractice claim against a professional, such as a doctor, lawyer, psychologist.

AFFIDAVIT OF SERVICE – a certification of service (delivery) of a litigation document, such as a summons.

AFFINITY – relationship existing through a marriage, such as a wife’s relationship to her husband’s blood relatives.

AFFIRMANCE – the approval or confirmation of a lower court order, decree or judgment by an appellate court after a review.

AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE – new facts or legal defenses in response to the opposing spouse’s pleading.

AGREEMENT – a verbal or written resolution of disputes.

ALIENATION OF AFFECTION – any intentional, malicious interference with a marriage.

ALIMONY – financial support paid to one spouse from the other. May be paid in one lump sum or in installments. It can be temporary or permanent. (see spousal support section)

ALIMONY PENDENTE – a pretrial order for spousal support.

ALIMONY TRUST – a trust fund used to pay alimony.

ALL-PROPERTY STATES — these are states that allow separate property to be divided upon divorce.

ALLEGATIONS – the claims that are made against the other spouse in the lawsuit (action).

ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION (ADR) – specific methods, including mediation and arbitration, with which couples can obtain a divorce settlement without a trial.

ALTERNATE PAYEE – party other than the employee who will be paid pension benefits in the alternative.

ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION (ADR) – an out-of-court settlement process, also knows as arbitration, mediation, and collaborative law, but not litigation.

A MENSA ET THORO – a Latin term for “from table and bed.”

AMERICAN RULE – a general rule holding that the winning side in litigation is not entitled to an award of attorney fees because of success in winning the case.

ANNULMENT – a legal action or lawsuit which may result in treating the marriage as if it never took place.

ANSWER – the formal response for a divorce, separation or annulment petition. The response or answer contains the admission or denial of the allegations made by the petitioner or against the petitioner.

ANTENUPTIAL AGREEMENT – a legal contract signed by two people prior to marriage which states limitations to spouse’s rights to property, support, or inheritance if the marriage ends in divorce.

APPEAL – a legal procedure in which the losing party of a divorce (lawsuit ) requests that a higher court review the decision.

APPEARANCE – a formal submission to the courts by the defendant (respondent) in response to the a complaint or summons.

APPELLANT – the individual who brings the appeal.

APPELLATE COURT – the court in which a appeal is heard.

APPLICATION – the primary step in all divorce proceedings and court order. (The standard forms are available from the court office.

APPORTION – to divide and assign according to a definite rule. The division is not necessarily equal but is fair according to the respective interests of the parties involved.

APPRAISAL – the procedure for determining the fair market value of an asset for equitable distribution in divorce.

APPRAISAL REPORT – a report of the results of an appraisal which begins with the definition of an appraisal problem and leads to a specific conclusion using reasoning and relevant descriptive data.

APPRECIATED VALUE – the increase in the fair market value of an asset since the time it was acquired.

APPRECIATION OF ASSETS – a very important calculation in the distribution of the marital estate.

APPROXIMATION RULE – a concept developed by the ALI to help decide child custody cases by maintaining approximately the same parenting routines after the divorce as before.

ARBITRATION – a legally binding, but not a judicial procedure. When a neutral third party makes judgment on a case. This is not permitted in most states or provinces.

ARREARAGES – a term used to describe the amount of money less the court order amount of Support. If a spouse does not pay the full amount of support, the missing amount is considered the arrearages.

ASSETS – cash, property and investments along with anything else that may be of value to a individual or business.

ASSIGNMENT – the release by an AFDC recipient of all rights to support arrearages owed the recipient and of the right to receive current child support as the result of the receipt of AFDC.

ASSISTED NEGOTIATION – a form of mediation whereby the parties work informally with a neutral third party to develop a separation agreement.

ASSUMPTION OF RISK – an affirmative defense to a tort based on the theory that the plaintiff is not entitled to recover from the defendant for an injury the plaintiff sustained as a result of a clearly dangerous activity to which he or she voluntarily consented.

ATTACHMENT – the process by which the court seizes the property of a debtor.

ATTORNEY MALPRACTICE – a breach of contract or tort by a lawyer when he or she fails in his or her duty to care to a client or third party.

AUTOMATIC RESTRAINING ORDER – a court order freezing assets that goes into effect automatically upon events, including the filing of a divorce or a court order that restricts an individual from partaking in certain actions.

AUTOMATIC WAGE DEDUCTION – a court ordered child support system in which the non – custodial parent has the support amount deducted directly from his or her paycheck which is then distributed by the employer.

AWARD – a decision made by a court to compensate a person for something.

A VINCULO MATRIMONII – a Latin for “from the bond of matrimony.”