Family Law Terms
Dissolution of Marriage - is the same as DIVORCE. This is a legal process where a marriage is dissolved or terminated. A final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage terminates the marriage, determines rights to property and obligations for debts between the parties, resolves issues of child custody, visitation, support and spousal support. Once the marriage is dissolved, the parties may remarry. Divorce in California is “no-fault” and does not require the consent of the other party.
Legal Separation - is the same as a Divorce except that at the end of the process, the parties are still legally married and may not remarry. This option may be elected by parties for cultural or religious reasons, or because one of the parties has significant medical needs and may not be able to obtain health insurance once no longer married to the spouse. After a Judgment of Legal Separation is entered, either party may file a separate dissolution action to terminate the marital status but may not reopen the issues already decided in the Legal Separation.
Nullity - can only be filed if certain grounds exist which the party can prove. Unlike Dissolution or Legal Separation actions, the party requesting the Nullity must prove to the court that sufficient grounds exist to annul the marriage. If the party can do so, the marriage will be annulled and the marriage has “never existed." The party is considered to have never been married.
Community Property - is any property, whether real or personal, which has been acquired by the parties during the marriage. This property is owned equally by the parties. The same applies to debts acquired during the marriage.
Separate Property - is any property, whether real or personal, acquired by a party before he/she married, after the date of separation with separate funds or during the marriage by gift or inheritance. This property belongs solely to the party acquiring it.
Date of Separation - is the date the parties have a ‘parting of the ways with no present intention of resuming marital relations’ and there is conduct which evidences a complete and final break in the marital relationship. This may not mean that the parties actually live separate and apart, but is an intention to not remain married with actions that support this intention. This date is important, as this is the date the community estate ceases to exist.
Service or Service of Process - is the procedure whereby a party is given copies of certain documents filed with the court or notice of hearings or orders requested. Service can be done personally on the other party or, in some situations, by mail, publication or posting. Service cannot be done by a party but must be done by a person over the age of 18 who is not a party to the action. The person serving the documents completes a PROOF OF SERVICE stating that s/he served the documents, which is then filed by the court.
Jurisdiction Date - is the date the Court acquires jurisdiction over the Respondent by service of the Summons and Petition upon the Respondent. This date is important because it starts the clock running for the 30-day default and 6-month waiting periods.
Default - occurs when the Respondent fails to file a Response to the Petition within 30 days of being served with the Summons and Petition. The Petitioner can file a default against the Respondent, which then prevents the Respondent from entering into the case without setting aside the default.
Six-Month Waiting Period - is the earliest possible time the marital status of the parties can be terminated. This time period is counted from the date the court acquires jurisdiction of the other party by service of the Petition. This termination of status does not happen automatically. A final Judgment of Dissolution must be filed. Status can be ‘bifurcated’ from all other matters and a ‘status only’ judgment can be entered after the six-month waiting period has expired; however, certain conditions apply against the bifurcating party.
Legal Custody - applies to the right and responsibility to make decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of the minor child. SOLE LEGAL CUSTODY means that only one parent has the right to make these decisions. Usually, the court will order JOINT LEGAL CUSTODY which means that both parents will make decisions jointly as to health, education and other important matters regarding the child.
Physical Custody - addresses the period of time each parent will have the child in his or her physical custody. An order for joint physical custody does not necessarily mean a 50/50 custody arrangement, but instead that each parent will have significant periods of physical custody. A SOLE PHYSICAL CUSTODY order means that the child will reside primarily with one parent who will have the day-to-day care of the child and the other parent will have ‘visitation’ at specified times.
Guideline Child Support - is the amount of child support which is presumed to be correct. This is a complicated formula which has been turned into a computer program called DISSOMASTER. This program calculates Guideline Child Support and may be used to calculate temporary spousal support.
Temporary or Pendente Lite Orders - are orders that are issued at any time after the Petition is filed until the Final Judgment is entered. Often these orders are designed to maintain the ‘status quo’ of the parties until a final judgment on all issues can be ordered and involve issues of custody, visitation, child and/or spousal support.
Petitioner And Respondent - are the titles given to the parties in Family Law matters. The PETITIONER is the party who starts the case. The RESPONDENT is the opposing (or Responding) party. The parties never switch titles. Even if the Respondent is filing for a hearing as the ‘moving party’, he or she will never become the Petitioner. The Petitioner remains the Petitioner even if responding to a Motion or OSC.
Order to Show Cause - or "OSC" is a legal ‘pleading’ (document) filed by a party setting a hearing date for the other party to appear and show cause as to why the court should not issue the orders requested. The party filing the OSC is called the MOVING PARTY. An OSC is different from a TRIAL in that only certain, specific issues are addressed and these issues may be resolved just on the documents filed. A TRIAL is the final resolution of all issues remaining in the case and is usually decided by evidence presented in open court.
Mandatory Settlement Conference - or "MSC" is a conference set by the court before a Trial is set. The parties must appear and try to settle their case.
Collaborative Attorney - An individual trained in the practice of law who espouses to the (below) Collaborative method to aid couples in the dissolution (divorce) process. The Attorney addresses the legal issues that a couple faces in seeking a divorce. Through problem-solving negotiations that do not include adversarial techniques or tactics, the attorney advises his/her client concerning applicable law and its effect, while helping to draft agreements in the spirit of cooperation.
Collaborative Law - Consists of two clients and their respective attorneys working together toward the sole goal of reaching an efficient, fair, comprehensive settlement of all issues. Each attorney's retainer agreement specifies that under no circumstances will the lawyer represent the client if the matter goes to court. If the process fails to reach agreement and either client then wishes to have matters resolved in court, both collaborative attorneys disqualify themselves from further representation. Other professionals are brought into the collaborative process as needed. These professionals also disqualify themselves and cannot assist either party if the matter goes to court. The Collaborative process involves binding commitments by both clients and the attorneys to disclose voluntarily all relevant information, to proceed respectfully and in good faith, and to refrain from any threat of litigation during the process.
Mediation - A voluntary, private and confidential process, whereby a couple meets with a mediator who helps facilitate their communication in order to access resources and negotiate agreements.
Mediator - A neutral, impartial person who is trained in negotiating, conflict resolution and communication skills. The mediator does not represent any party or take sides, nor does he/she act as an attorney, judge, coach or therapist. He/she explains the mediation process to the parties, and assists separating or divorcing couples to clarify issues, concerns, interests, needs and values. The mediator brings in and works with various professionals as needs arise.
The Multi-Disciplinary Cooperative Divorce Model - Also Known as CDR (Consensual Dispute Resolution) - In this model, clients select either collaborative attorneys, a mediator or a combination of professionals to help them facilitate their no-court divorce process. Other divorce professionals are called in on an as-needed basis to manage the financial, emotional, physical and spiritual issues as they arise during the divorce process. Central to this model is the idea that the clients and the professionals work together as a "team" with an attitude of cooperation and respect.
Pro Per - (Latin) - Literally means "do it yourself." This term is often used in mediation and collaborative law to designate that clients have determined to represent themselves. For example, when filing papers through a Collaborative Divorce, clients sometimes file "Pro Per."
Business Valuation - A methodical review of business records by a Certified Public Accountant to ascertain the worth of a business.
Certified Public Accountant (“CPA”) - An accountant who has the education and training, and is licensed by the State of California, to advise regarding tax and other financial issues faced by separating or divorcing couples.
Collaborative Financial Consultant - A financial professional, usually a CPA, who has been trained in Collaborative Practice and who meets the criteria set forth to advise divorcing couples in a collaborative process.
Comparative Market Analysis (“Comps”) - A property evaluation that determines property value by comparing similar properties sold within the last year.
Declarations of Disclosure - The packet of three financial forms (Income and Expense Declaration, Schedule of Assets and Debts, and Declaration of Disclosure) that are required to be completed and exchanged between the parties in a California dissolution, and may be completed with the help of the Collaborative Financial Consultant. (See Fiduciary Duty under Legal Terms)
Equity - The owner’s remaining financial interest in a property, after all liens are paid (i.e. subtracting the remaining mortgage loan/s from the fair market value of the property).
Loan Modification - An agreement with the lender to modify the terms of a mortgage without refinancing the loan.
Offsets - A deduction or claim by one party which may lessen or cancel a claim against that party.
QDRO - (Qualified Domestic Relations Order) - An order that directs Qualified Plan Administrators and Employers to divide retirement plan assets according to the agreement of the parties.
Reimbursements - Amounts to repay the other party for money he or she has expended.
Tax Issues in Divorce - The changes that may occur in taxes that may result from the changes in marital status, division of property, and spousal support payment or receipt.
Emotional/Mental Health Terms
Child Specialist - in a Collaborative Family Law team- An experienced, licensed therapist (LCSW, LMFT, or Psychologist) with specific education and training in the expected behaviors, stages, challenges and tasks of the development of a child. S/he works with the child(ren) to address specific emotional and practical day-to-day needs as they relate to the divorce process. The Child Specialist reports back to the team on the needs and wants of the child(ren) in order to help in designing the parenting plan for the restructuring family. The Child Specialist is a neutral figure on the team, working evenly between the parents.
Co-Parenting - The process of parenting from separate households. The ideal for children in separation or divorce is to know that their parents, even while in different households, are able to work together to provide for their needs. The more respectful and cooperative the exchanges, especially within the presence of the children, the better. When parents work with divorce coaches, they learn ways to create effective and respectful co-parenting relationships.
Divorce Coach - in a Collaborative Family Law team- A licensed therapist (licenses as above) who teaches communication strategies that enable the separating/divorcing couple (or a post-separation/divorce co-parenting couple needing to modify the parenting plan) to more effectively negotiate and solve problems in a cooperative manner. The Coach also provides the couple with information on co-parenting issues and helps them process the emotional issues that arise during the divorce process. CCD generally prefers the 2-coach model, in which each client has an “advocate” Coach. The coaches work individually with one client (“2-way Coaching”) as well as in “4-way Coaching” (both clients and both coaches) and in other configurations with other members of the team as needed.
Parenting Plan - The plan that is developed for managing the legal custody (decision-making about children’s health and well-being) and the physical custody (where children spend their time in a separation or divorce). Judges prefer that parents create this plan, as parents know their children best. Collaborative Law teams work with parents to create a parenting plan that is in the best interests of their children and that honors the children’s relationships with both parents.
Therapist - A licensed mental health professional (licenses as above) trained in the assessment and treatment of emotional, personality and relationship difficulties. The therapist may function as an adjunct to a Collaborative Family Law team to help clients move through the transitions of the separation/divorce or modification process. A therapist can help individuals when they are facing emotions that may be overwhelming and interfering with day-to-day functioning, and may help prepare the clients for their Collaborative Family Law meetings. The therapist may also assist a client dealing with underlying core issues that are being triggered and surfacing due to being in a Family Law process.
Please note: In Collaborative Practice, therapists are careful to designate a specific role on a team, or adjunctive to a team. Generally speaking, a therapist will fill only one role on a team (other than taking on Case Management in addition to Coach or Child Specialist) and will not take a different role with the client even after the family law matter is resolved.
Also note: There are articles available in the Articles section of this website that describe the distinctions between therapy and divorce coaching.
Other Business Professionals
Actuary - Almost all actuaries are in the Insurance Industry. They are trained mathematicians dealing with probabilities and evaluating the current financial implications of future inevitable events. In the divorce process an actuary could be called upon to calculate the current assets of a couple and project what the worth would be at some future date. He/she may also answer questions such as: How much would an unemployed person need in current assets to be equal to someone that has an established income? What would be the equivalent and what would be the future result of splitting up current assets? How long will a couple's assets last if they are split equally?
Employment Specialist - Helps clients assess their marketability and their vocational skills to be successful in pursuing their chosen career path in the current job market. This professional can also help clients define their values, wants and needs as they pertain to the career/job the clients are seeking. The employment specialist aids clients in resume development and educates them in successful interviewing strategies.