NJ Family Law Glossary

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NJ Family Law Glossary Definitions

Abandonment – when one married spouse leaves the married home. In some cases, this may be grounds for divorce or may reflect adversely upon the spouse who abandoned the other.

Acknowledgment of Service – a form used to serve a defendant more quickly than service with a summons, in which the defendant or his attorney signs the document in the presence of a notary public before returning it to the plaintiff’s attorney for filing with the court

Adjourn – to put off a hearing or a trial until a later time

Adultery – sexual intercourse by a married person with someone other than his or her spouse. This may be grounds for divorce in some cases.

Affidavit – a sworn statement in writing, usually made under oath or on affirmation before a magistrate or notary public

Agreement – a verbal or written resolution of disputed issues

Alimony– a continued legal obligation to provide financial support for a former spouse after a divorce (a.k.a. spousal support or maintenance) (see our page on Alimony and N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23)

Alternate Payee – the spouse receiving retirement benefits as a result of being married to the individual who is employed and participated in the retirement plan

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – a type of out-of-court process used to help parties come to an agreement with the help of a third party, such as mediation or arbitration

Annulment – a legal proceeding available in limited circumstances in which a marriage is declared void, as if it never occurred (see N.J.S.A. 2A:34-1)

Answer – a party’s written response to a complaint, petition or motion

Appeal – a request made by the losing party that a higher level court review the lower court’s decision

Appearance – a formal response provided to the court by the person served with the Petition or Complaint

Appellant – the person who files the appeal

Appellate Court – the court that reviews the decisions made by the trial level court or Superior Court after an appeal is made by a party

Appraisal – the procedure used in determining the fair market value of an asset for equitable distribution in a divorce proceeding

Arbitration – a form of alternative dispute resolution involving the hearing of a dispute by a chosen arbitrator whose decision the parties are bound by

Arrearage – the condition of being overdue on the payment of something

Assets – cash, property, investments and anything that may be of value to an individual or business

Award – a decision made by a court to compensate a person for something

Best Interests of the Child – the legal standard used to determine child custody, visitation and child support

Brief – the document filed with the court outlining a party’s position on issues that are in dispute

Case Information Statement – a form required by the court to be filed by both the plaintiff and the defendant at the beginning of a family case which includes detailed information about each party’s current financial and living situation

Certificate of Service – documentation evidencing the fact that the other side has been supplied with copies of the documents that have been filed with the court

Certification – a self sworn written statement of facts that supports a request for relief to the court

Chancery Division – the division of the Superior Court where lawsuits are filed asking primarily for non-monetary relief, including the Family Part

Child Custody – the legal responsibility for the care and control of a child under the age of 18 (see our page on Child Custody and N.J.S.A. 9:2-4)

Child Support – following the end of a marriage, a periodic payment made by a parent for the financial benefit of a child for needs such as food, shelter, clothing, health care and education (see our page on Child Support and N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a))

Child Support Guidelines – statutory guidelines that set forth the manner in which child support is calculated, generally based on the income of the parents and the needs of the child or children (see N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a))

COBRA – the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, a federal law a giving a person and his or her covered dependents the right to continue group health coverage on a self-paid basis if eligibility is lost through loss of employment or divorce

Cohabitation – when two people who are not married live together

COLA – Cost of Living Adjustment

Collaborative Divorce – a non-adversarial divorce process that is settled outside of court with the help of lawyers (see our page on Collaborative Divorce)

Common Law Marriage – when a man and woman who are free to marry agree to live together as husband and wife without the formal ceremony (NJ does NOT recognize common law marriages)

Complaint – the document filed by the plaintiff that begins a lawsuit, providing the reasons for the lawsuit

Consent Order – an order signed by the parties and the judge when the parties have come to an agreement with respect to all of the terms included in the consent judgment

Contempt of Court – the deliberate failure to comply with the orders of a court of law

Contested Divorce – a divorce in which the parties are unable to agree on the terms and the intervention of the court is required

Coverture – the period of time during which parties are married to one another

Cross-Examination – the process by which the attorney for the opposing party asks questions of the other party’s witnesses about the answers that they have given during direct examination

Cross-Motion – a document filed in response to a motion, usually concerning a subject different from that of the motion originally filed by the opposing party

Custodial Parent – the parent who has physical custody of the child or children

Custody – the right of a parent to the care, control and maintenance of his or her natural or adopted child

Default Judgment – a judgment by a court that can occur as a result of a party’s failure to respond within a prescribed period of time (for example, a respondent in a divorce is in default if he or she fails to respond to a Petition for Dissolution within 35 days after the date of service)

Defendant – the party who is sued by a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit, or the accused in a criminal case

Deferred Compensation Package – all retirement assets, such as pension, 401K’s, IRA’s and any variety of savings or postponed income which has been earned during a marriage

Dependent – one who relies on another for support or protection

Deposition – a procedure in which one party questions the other party or the other party’s witness under oath to gather information about the case

Direct Examination – the process by which a party or a party’s witness is asked and answers questions asked by his or her attorney or by the judge under oath, followed by cross-examination

Discovery – pre-trial disclosure of pertinent facts and documents

Dissolution – the reconciling of all the rights and obligations between spouses leading up to the declaration by a court that the marriage is terminated or dissolved

Divorce – the legal dissolution of a marriage (see our page on Divorce)

Divorce Mediation – a form of alternative dispute resolution in which a divorce is performed outside of court and the parties determine the terms of the divorce settlement (see our page on Divorce Mediation)

Docket – the record in which the judge or court clerk notes all of the proceedings and filings in a court case

Domestic Violence – an act inflicted upon a person who is protected by the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (see our pages on Domestic Violence and Domestic Violence FAQ’s)

Emancipated Minor – a person under 18 who has been married, entered military service, has a child, is pregnant or has been declared by a court to be emancipated

Equitable Distribution – the division of property between spouses going through the divorce process (see our page on Equitable Distribution and N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.1)

Evidence – testimony, written documents, objects or other things presented at a trial for the purpose of proving the existence or nonexistence of a fact

Exhibits – papers, documents or other objects presented to the court to support facts that are presented by testimony or other evidence at a trial or hearing

Ex-Parte – on or from one side or party only, sometimes used in reference to the absence of the opposing party

Expert Witness – an individual with a unique set of skills who is utilized to assist the judge in rending a decision (i.e. a doctor, psychologist, accountant)

Family Part – the part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court where family-related lawsuits are filed and heard by the court

Final Judgment of Divorce – a court order that legally ends a marriage and describes the resolution of the issues raised in the Petition for Dissolution

Garnishment – a judicial proceeding where a person who is owed money (a creditor) asks the court to order a third party holding property of the person who owes money to turn over a portion of that money to the creditor

Grounds for Divorce – the legal basis for a divorce which must be proven before the court can grant a divorce

Guardian ad Litem – a guardian appointed for a limited purpose within the context of a particular litigation, usually where custody or visitation is at issue, who assists the court in determining what is in the best interests of a child (a.k.a. law guardian)

Hearing – a court session in which testimony or arguments are offered by attorneys or parties for the purpose of resolving a legal dispute

Hold Harmless – the phrase used to indicate that one party will compensate the other party for some liability related to a certain issue

Indemnification – to promise to reimburse another person in case of an anticipated loss similar to a hold harmless agreement

Home State – the state where a child or children of a marriage lived with a parent for at least six (6) months before a child custody, support or visitation action was filed in court

Injunction – a court order preventing someone from doing something which is likely to cause irreparable harm

Interlocutory Order – an Order of the Court that is not final until the passage of a certain amount of time or until such time as the case has been concluded

Innocent Spouse Rules – IRS rules that protect one spouse from the other spouse’s tax fraud or misconduct

Interrogatories – formal or written questions that must be answered by a party under the direction of the court, as part of the discovery process

Irreconcilable Differences – the legal grounds for a no-fault divorce

Joint Legal Custody – the sharing by both parents of the right to make important decisions about a child’s well-being

Joint Physical Custody – the sharing by both parents of the actual physical care and custody of a child

Joint Tenancy – a form of property ownership in which each joint owner has an equal share

Judgment – a formal decision or determination on a matter by the court

Law Guardian – an individual appointed by the court to represent the interests of a child in a divorce proceeding, typically when the parties are unable to agree on an issue pertaining to the child (a.k.a. guardian ad litem)

Legal Custody – the right to make important decisions about the raising of a child

Limited Duration Alimony – alimony available to a dependent spouse who has made contributions to the parties’ short-term marriage, which helps the dependent spouse achieve a lifestyle reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage

Maintenance – one spouse’s payment to the other for financial support (a.k.a. alimony or spousal support) (see our page on Spousal Support)

Marital Debt – debt accrued by either spouse between the date of their marriage and the filing of the divorce complaint

Marital Property – all property acquired during a marriage

Mediation – a non-adversarial process in which two or more parties work through discussion and compromise toward agreement with the aid of a neutral party (“mediator”) (see our page on Mediation and our Mediation FAQ’s)

Mediator – a person, oftentimes an attorney, who assists the parties in resolving their differences without judicial intervention through the mediation process (see our page on Mediation and our Mediation FAQ’s)

Motion – a written or verbal appeal to the court for temporary relief, such as maintenance, child support or attorney’s fees

Motion to Modify – a motion to the court requesting that changes be made in physical or legal custody or in child support payments, modifying the existing arrangement

Moving Party – the party who files motion papers with the court

No Contact Order – also known as a “criminal protective order” or “stay away order”, an order issued by a judge in a criminal court against the defendant accused usually of domestic violence

No-Fault Divorce – a divorce in which the dissolution of a marriage does not require the showing of wrongdoing by either party

Non-Custodial Parent – the parent with whom the child is not physically living

Non-Dissolution – a family law case that asks for relief relating to child support, custody or visitation, but not divorce

Non-Marital Property – property owned by either spouse prior to marriage or acquired by them individually during the marriage

Obligee – the person to whom money is owed

Obligor – the person who owes money as a result of a court order

Order – a court’s decision on a legal issue

Order to Show Cause – an order often filed in order to prevent irrevocable harm to one of the parties or children involved in the divorce action

Parenting Class – a class offered by the Superior Court designed to explain to divorcing litigants the best way to minimize the harmful effects a divorce proceeding can have on their children

Paternity Test – a scientific method used to prove the identity of a child’s biological father

Pen Dente Lite (PDL) Motion – a motion filed before the Petition is presented in court

Permanent Alimony – alimony awarded after an intermediate or long-term marriage for an indefinite period of time

Personal Property – any property besides real estate that is subject to division in a divorce action

Petition for Dissolution – the legal petition for a divorce

Petitioner – the spouse who files for a divorce (a.k.a. plaintiff)

Physical Custody – a designation used to refer to the person with whom the child physically resides

Plaintiff – the person who has instituted the divorce action with the court (a.k.a. petitioner)

Plan Participant – the employed spouse who is a participate in the retirement benefits plan offered by his or her employer that is subject to division by a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) upon the finalization of the divorce

Pleading – a written document filed with the court wherein a party is requesting that the court take a certain action, such as a motion

Premarital (Prenuptial) Agreement – an agreement entered into before marriage that sets forth each party’s rights and responsibilities should the marriage terminate by death or divorce

Pro Se – the act of representing yourself in court without the assistance of an attorney

Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) – a court order declaring that one spouse shall be entitled to a portion of the other spouse’s pension as part of the marital assets

Quit Claim – to release or relinquish legal claim, or a document relinquishing claim, such as a quit claim to the deed to the marital home

Real Property – physical real estate and any and all interests and rights that are associated with it

Reconciliation – when two married people get back together

Rehabilitative Alimony – alimony that is designed to help the spouse who is receiving support to become financially self-sufficient

Relocation – a term used to describe instances wherein the custodial parent seeks permission from the Court to move the residence of the minor child from the State where the divorce was entered

Reimbursement Alimony – alimony that reimburses a spouse for an expense that he or she may have paid for on behalf of the other spouse

Request for Production – part of the discovery process in which one attorney asks the other side to produce documents they deem necessary to the case

Response – a pleading filed as an answer to the allegation contained in the Complaint

Residency Requirement – the amount of time a spouse must live within a state or county before filing a divorce action in that state or county

Restraining Order (Final) – a permanent order issued by a court restraining the defendant from certain conduct pertaining to a domestic violence victim (see our page on Restraining Orders)

Restraining Order (Temporary) – an order issued by a court quickly to protect and create a safe environment for a domestic violence victim (see our page on Restraining Orders)

Retainer – the fee paid to an attorney for his or her professional services, sometimes representing advance payment for anticipated future services

Separate Property – property or assets that belong to one spouse and won’t be included in the property division

Separation – a court-ordered arrangement by which a husband and wife remain married but live apart

Service – the act of serving the respondent with legal papers, such as the Notice of Petition for Dissolution, presented either by mail or in person by a County Sheriff’s Deputy or a Process Server

Settlement Agreement – the document that confirms the parties’ agreement, the signing of which signifies the end of the divorce proceeding

Settlement Conference – a meeting at which the parties and their lawyers attempt to settle a legal dispute before trial

Sole Custody – a type of custody wherein one parent is granted both physical custody and legal custody

Spouse – a husband or wife

Status Quo – leaving things as they previously existed without modification or change

Spousal Support – an obligation to provide financial support to one’s spouse after separation or divorce (a.k.a. alimony or maintenance) (see our page on Spousal Support)

Stipulation – an agreement between the parties that an issue is no longer in dispute

Subpoena – a legal summons requiring that one appear in court as a defendant or as a witness to give testimony

Testimony – statement given under oath by a witness in a Court proceeding

Summons – written notice to appear in court either as a defendant or a witness

Transcript – a formal written record of the testimony that has taken place at a court proceeding

Trial – the legal process in which the court, through a judge or jury, receives evidence and testimony to resolve a dispute

Uncontested Divorce – an amicable divorce in which the parties are able to agree on how to divide their assets and share custody of their children, and the intervention by a court is not required

Visitation – the legal right of a non-custodial parent to see his or her child or children

Visitation Schedule – time frame wherein the non-custodial parent is scheduled to see the child or children

Without Prejudice – an Order or Decree from the Court without prejudice may be modified at a later date in time without proving a material change in circumstances justifying the modification. Orders are normally entered without prejudice as a result of an agreement rather than a Court hearing.

Waiver – the legal document with which one relinquishes a known right, claim or privilege

Witness– a person who has firsthand knowledge of events or facts with respect to a legal proceeding and testifies to his or her knowledge