Family Law Glossary

Family Law Glossary

Below is a list of some terms used throughout various family law cases: AB INITIO: Latin for “from the beginning.” Some judgments entered can later be found void ab initio if entered incorrectly.ACTION: A lawsuit or proceeding filed in a court of law.AFFIDAVIT: A written statement under oath. Divorce, paternity, and other judgments can sometimes be entered with an affidavit or live testimony.AGREEMENT: A verbal or written resolution of all disputed issues in a case.  Generally, in family law cases, an agreement is only enforceable if written

ANSWER: A written response to a petition or motion. An answer is typically required in response to all petitions.  In response to motions, answers are not always filed but are in many cases.

ALIAS SUMMONS: Another summons when the original is not served on the respondent prior to expiration. A special process server (or private investigator) can often be used to serve an alias summons versus the sheriff.

ANNULMENT: A marriage can be dissolved in a legal proceeding in which the marriage is declared void ab initio as if it never happened.  Annulments are available only under certain limited circumstances with fraud being the most common example.

APPEAL: A legal action where the losing party requests that a higher court of appeals review the decision. Appeals have to be filed timely and trial court decisions are usually only reversed if the trial court abused its discretion or misapplied the law. Contrary to common belief, you do not get a new trial at the appellate level.  They just review the decision of the trial court to determine whether the judgment was appropriate.

CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES: Each state has child support guidelines that must be followed in awarding child support. The guidelines are typically a formula. There are only a few circumstances when the court can award child support higher or lower than the guideline. Missouri uses Form 14. Illinois looks at the net income of the non-custodial parent.

COMMON LAW MARRIAGE: A common law marriage comes about when a man and woman who are free to marry agree to live together as husband and wife without the formal ceremony. to be common law married, both spouses must have intended to be husband and wife. Only certain states recognize common-law marriages. Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, and Oklahoma do not recognize common-law marriage.

CONTEMPT: Failure to follow a court order or judgment. One side can request that the court determine that the other side is in contempt and punish him. However, if the party who violated the court order or judgment was unable to comply, they will not usually be found in contempt.

CORROBORATIVE WITNESS: A person who testifies for you and helps verify your testimony.

CUSTODY-SOLE & JOINT: This refers to the legal arrangements for whom a child will live and how decisions about the child will be made. Custody has two parts: legal and physical. Legal custody is the decision-making part: physical custody refers to where the child lives on a regular basis. Generally, the parent the child does not live with will be allowed to have regular visits with the child. Parents can make any custodial arrangement that is in the best interest of their children. The standard for custody is “best interest of the child”.

DEFAULT: A party’s failure to answer a petition in a timely manner may result in them being held in default. When this happens, the other party can obtain a default judgment to seek the relief they have requested. Any party who has been served should immediately obtain an attorney to ensure that they are not in default.  Note as well that default judgments that relate to child custody are generally disfavored and can be set aside for good cause and a meritorious defense.

DEPOSITION: The taking and recording of the testimony of a party or witness (lay or expert) under oath before a court reporter outside of the courtroom before trial.  Depositions are part of the normal pre-trial process in a divorce or family law matter.

DISCOVERY: A method for getting information from the other side or other people. Examples of discovery are interrogatories (written questions), requests for production (requests for documents and evidence), requests for admissions (requests to admit or deny matters), and depositions (questions that are usually in person and asked under oath).

DISSOLUTION: The legal end of a marriage also referred to as a divorce.

EXPERT TESTIMONY: Opinion testimony by an expert such as a doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, real estate appraiser, vocational expert, forensic accountant, business evaluator, or other expert qualified to give expert testimony.

FILING: Filing your legal papers with the Clerk of the Court.

GUARDIAN AD LITEM: Attorney by the court appointed to represent a minor child. Guardian ad items are to be appointed when abuse or neglect is alleged, but in other instances as well at the discretion of the court.

JUDGMENT: A court’s final decision in a matter.

JURISDICTION: The authority of the court to hear a case. This is typically based on the residency of either the parties or children in a state.

LEGAL SEPARATION: When two parties enter a judgment of legal separation stipulating that they will be living apart and that orders need to be entered regarding payment of property of debts, custody of children, and support. However, the parties still believe in this instance that the marriage is not irretrievably broken.

MAINTENANCE: A payment of support provided by one spouse formerly known as alimony or spousal support in most states.

PENDENTE LITE (PDL): Temporary arrangements for custody, child support, child visitation, maintenance and possession of the family home, etc., until a final disposition in a divorce proceeding. Pendente Lite motions are sometimes allowed in paternity proceedings as well regarding custody and child support.

PETITION: A legal paper that starts a case.

PRO SE: Representing yourself in court without a lawyer. This is never a good idea in a family law matter.

RESIDENTIAL PARENT: In joint physical custody cases, the court picks a residential parent for school and mailing purposes. This solely determines what school a child will attend and where mail will be sent. Residential parent is not confused with sole physical custody.

SERVICE: Providing a copy of the papers being filed to the other side. Service typically takes place when the sheriff or a process server actually hands paperwork to the opposing party. In some rare instances, notice can be published.

SUBPOENA: A document issued by the court requiring someone to appear in court and/or bring documents.

UNCONTESTED DIVORCE: When the other spouse is not contesting the divorce and there are no issues for the court to decide about the children, money, or property because the parties have reached an agreement.

VENUE: The county where the case is heard. This is not to be confused with jurisdiction, which deals with the state where the case will be heard.

SUMMONS: A form issued by the court directing a party to respond to a complaint, motion, or petition.

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Representing Clients in Divorce & Family Matters

We also handle many other family law matters, including but not limited to:

Dissolution of Marriage
Unfortunately, there are times when a marriage is irretrievably broken and a divorce is the only option. We can help with your uncontested, contested, simple or complex divorce case.
Legal Separation
There are some instances where married parties are separated, but are unsure whether their marriage can be reconciled or may later need to be dissolved. We can help with a legal separation if this is the case.
In certain circumstances, a party may be able to seek an annulment if there are circumstances that led to a party being fraudulently induced into entering a marriage.
Family Law
Unfortunately, there are times when a marriage is irretrievably broken and a divorce is the only option. We can help with your uncontested, contested, simple or complex divorce case.
Collaborative Law/Mediation
If you are looking for an amicable resolution to your divorce or family law matter, we have attorneys who can help you with a collaborative family law case or mediation.
Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements
These agreements help couples make critical decisions about their relationships, just in case. While prenuptial agreements are drafted before a marriage, postnuptial agreements are drafted during the marriage, usually when circumstances change.
Paternity Law/Mediation
With approximately forty-percent of all children being born out of wedlock, we represent numerous unmarried parents in child custody and child support disputes. These cases are the twenty-first century divorce and extremely common.
Guardianships and conservatorships
We also represent clients in matters of guardianships and conservatorships, helping them protect the people they love — especially when those people can no longer care for themselves. Our work in this area often involves people facing physical and mental illnesses, alcoholism and addiction.
Surrogacy Agreements
We can help clients negotiate surrogacy agreements, drafting and executing all related documents as well as resolving any conflicts that may arise.
Step-parent adoption
We represent parents in step-parent adoptions, which usually occur when a parent marries or remarries after the birth of a biological child. Step-parent adoptions help bring families closer together by creating a solid family unit.
Name Change
If you are seeking to legally change your name, we can help.
Orders of Protection
We can help you in legal proceedings involving restraining orders.
We are honored to represent clients who wish to adopt a child into their family.
Minor emancipation
In some cases, minors do best when they are given the rights and responsibilities of adults. We assist in minor emancipation, representing both teens and their parents.
Grandparents' rights
Lawyers at our firm also handle grandparents' rights issues such as child custody, guardianship and grandparent adoption.
We represent parties in appeals of adverse family court judgments, including divorce, child custody, child support, maintenance and grandparent visitation.
Child Support
We represent clients in matters involving child support.
Child Custody
We represent parents in child custody disputes.
Juvenile Matters
We represent parties in juvenile matters involving the Division of Family Law Services.
We assist clients in modifying prior child custody and child support judgments when the facts call for it.
We help clients in contempt of court matters as well as family access motions.
Military Divorce
We are proud to represent service members in divorce and family law matters.
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Serving the St. Louis Metropolitan Area, Kansas City, Columbia, Springfield, Wichita, Topeka, Tulsa and Beyond in Missouri, Illinois, Kansas and Oklahoma

From our webpage, you can also read articles about family law, view informational videos, seminar videos, listen to our podcast, download our mobile application or view support calculators for MissouriIllinois and Kansas.

If you are looking to find and hire a child custody lawyer, contact us online or by phone to schedule a consultation at any of our convenient locations.


Prenuptial Agreements Line by Line

Aspatore Books from Thomson Reuters Westlaw

Strategies For Family Law Illinois

Aspatore Books from Thomson Reuters Westlaw

Strategies For Military Family Law

Aspatore Books from Thomson Reuters Westlaw

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