Legal jargon can be complex, and to the untrained ear it can sound like a different language. Simplified definitions for some of common legal terms which you might have heard can make all the difference when you’re trying to understand what’s going on in your case.
The Wright Family Law Group family law glossary provides easy-to-understand definitions so you can decode the most common terms used when discussing issues pertaining to Massachusetts divorce, child support, child custody, alimony, property division, and more.
A written statement of true facts that you swear to be true. It needs to be witnessed and signed by a notary or someone authorized to administer oaths.
A legal process to officially end a marriage and declare it invalid.
The official reply in a divorce, separation, or annulment case. It’s where you say if the things the other person is claiming are true or not.
The money for child support that the court decided on but hasn’t been paid yet.
A note on court papers saying the other person got a copy of the papers.
Parental responsibilities and rights regarding their children after a divorce or paternity judgment.
The money one parent pays to the other to help take care of their child.
A math formula the Court uses to decide how much child support should be paid.
A form to figure out child support based on guidelines provided and established by the Court.
When unmarried people who are usually romantically involved live together.
A way of divorcing where couples work together with their lawyers to reach an agreement without going to court.
Not following a court order on purpose. This includes disruption of the Court.
A legal process initiated in response to significant changes such as financial, remarriage, or alterations in the parenting plan affecting a child’s well-being, seeking to modify a judgment.
When the defendant states their explanation of why the marriage broke down.
The parent a child lives with most and who makes everyday decisions for the child.
Rights and responsibilities between parents for their kids after a divorce or paternity judgment.
A decision based only on one person’s complaint because the other person didn’t respond.
Testifying under oath outside of court, often used to question the other party.
Following standard procedures of obtaining and sharing information about the other party’s case.
An urgent court order, usually temporary, for situations like domestic violence or child abuse.
A professional helping a judge make decisions, like appraisers or counselors.
Taking child support directly from the payer’s paycheck and giving it to the recipient.
An adult appointed by the court to represent a child’s non-legal interests in a divorce. This may be a trained social worker, counselor, or another professional.
A legal session held in court where testimony is provided and arguments are heard.
A court order stopping someone from doing something harmful to others.
Questions served on the other party to get information for the divorce case.
A legal process initiated when both parties mutually seek a divorce, and the terms of the separation are agreed upon.
The court’s decision officially ending a marriage.
Authority to make legal decisions for a child, shared by one or both parents.
A court process, in some states, defining rights and obligations when spouses live apart without divorcing. There is no such thing as a legal separation in Massachusetts.
Financial support paid to a spouse after a divorce, also called alimony or spousal support.
A non-adversarial way of settling a divorce with the help of a neutral third party.
A written request to change a previous court order in divorce matters.
A divorce where neither party has to prove misconduct.
A notice for a court hearing involving child custody, support, or alimony.
A court’s decision on a disputed issue.
A schedule showing when each parent can see their child.
The first document filed to start a divorce case.
The person starting a lawsuit, also called a plaintiff in family law cases.
How much time each parent can spend with their child.
A contract made before marriage about property and finances in case of divorce.
When a person represents themselves in court without a lawyer.
A final meeting before trial, where a comprehensive memorandum to the court is required.
A person delivering court documents, recognized as constables or a sheriff in Massachusetts.
An order to go to jail for not paying child support, based on the judge’s assessment.
A court order protecting against domestic violence or harassment.
A court order splitting retirement or pension plans in divorce.
Asking the other side for financial documents during the divorce process.
The rule that you must live in a certain place before filing for divorce there. This varies depending on state.
The person responding to a filed petition, also called a defendant.
A requirement to offer the other parent childcare before asking someone else i.e. a baby sitter or other family member.
A document to get testimony from someone not directly involved in the case.
A notice to the defendant that they’re being sued.
A court order during divorce proceedings, usually ending when the divorce is finalized.
An office court session to resolve contested matters raised in a complaint or summons.
The right of a parent without primary custody to see their child.
A court order allowing seizure of assets from a parent who owes past-due child support.