Glossary of Terms for Divorce and Family Law Proceedings
Alimony: In Washington State family law, alimony is also called maintenance or spousal support. Alimony is payment of money by one spouse to the other during separation and after divorce or legal separation. Payments that fit this description on divorces finalized after January 1, 2019 are non-deductible to the payor and not considered taxable income to the recipient on federal income tax returns..
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): These are processes used to resolve legal disputes outside of the traditional litigation system. Some examples are Collaborative law, mediation and to a lesser extent arbitration.
Arrearage: Money that is due and unpaid for court-ordered child support or alimony.
Child Support: Payments that one parent is ordered to pay to the other parent for the support of children.
Child Support Guidelines: A schedule of payments and guidelines for calculating child support created by the state that shows how much child support is to be paid. It is based upon the income levels of the parents.
Collaborative Law: Collaborative Law is a formal process, with trained attorneys and neutral professionals who all support the couple to resolve issues in family law matters outside of the court system. If the parties later decide to use the court system to resolve their issues, the collaborative attorneys may not be involved in the litigation and the parties must hire new attorneys.
Custody: In Washington State, the legal system does not use the word “custody.” Instead, parents adhere to a residential schedule, which is the part of a Parenting Plan. The Residential Schedule states where the child or children live each day of the year.
Decision Making: This is the right of a parent to have input into and make decisions about children in defined areas of the child’s life such as education, medical treatment and religious upbringing.
Decree of Dissolution: This is the court order that terminates your marriage. Also known as the Final Divorce Order.
Default: If a person receives notice about a family law proceeding fails to file necessary papers with the court, he or she is said to be “in default.” Being in default can have serious adverse consequences.
Deposition: A deposition is a legal process where a person, under oath, answers questions pertaining to the legal matter. The questions can be asked by another party to the divorce or by an attorney, and it can take place outside a courtroom. A court reporter transcribes the questions and answers for the court record.
Different Kinds of Divorce: See our page describing the different approaches available to resolve family law issues.
Discovery: Discovery is the formal exchange of information between people in a lawsuit. Discovery can be accomplished through interrogatories, depositions, and requests for production of documents.
Dissolution of Marriage: This is another term used to formally terminate a marriage.
Divorce: The legal termination of a marriage.
Domestic Violence: Physical abuse or threats of abuse occurring between members of the same household.
Fair and Equitable: This is the standard for division of property in Washington State. Equitable means fair, not necessarily equal.
Guardian ad Litem: A family law Guardian ad Litem is a neutral person who is appointed by the court to investigate facts, report to the court and make recommendations to the court about what Parenting Plan is in the best interest of the children involved in the family law case. Title 26 is the part of the Washington laws that concerns family law cases, so family law Guardian ad Litems are called Title 26 Guardian ad Litems.
Interrogatories: Written questions served by one party on another party, which must be answered in writing as part of the Discovery process.
Community Property: Generally, all property acquired during the marriage that is not separate property.
Mediation: An informal process of resolving disputes that involves using a trained, neutral person, called a mediator, who seeks to bring the parties together to a mutually satisfying agreement.
Parenting Plan Modification: This is a court proceeding where one parent tries to change a final Parenting Plan previously signed by a judge.
Petitioner: This is the person who first files the paperwork for a legal separation or divorce.
Premarital or Prenuptial Agreement: An agreement signed before marriage defining how property will be divided, what alimony will be paid, and sets forth how other rights and responsibilities will be handled should the marriage end in divorce.
Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO): This is a court order needed to divide certain retirement accounts without penalty or tax impacts.
Respondent: The person who must answer a petition in a family law proceeding.
Restraining Order: A court order prohibiting a person from engaging in a defined behavior, such as removing funds from accounts or going to the home of a spouse who has filed a dissolution action.
Separate Property: Property owned by a spouse before marriage, or acquired during the marriage by gift or inheritance. In Washington State, family law separate property of one spouse can, under certain circumstances, be awarded to the other spouse.
Settlement Conference: A mediation at which the parties, sometimes with their lawyers, attempt to settle a legal matter or case without trial.
Spousal Support or Maintenance: See Alimony above.
Stipulation: A legal agreement signed by both parties or their attorneys about some issue in a pending case, which settles that issue and is incorporated into a court order signed by a judge.
Visitation: The time that one parent has with a child or children who spend most of their time with the other parent.
Volunteer Settlement Conference Master with the King County Superior Court: A volunteer settlement conference master is an attorney who volunteers with King County to help people resolve their family law issues outside of court.
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