Divorce is a stressful, difficult, and often overwhelming period in a person’s life. It can seem like a never-ending process full of paperwork and meetings, most with names so long they are abbreviated.

Do not despair. With the help of an experienced divorce attorney in Los Angeles and the following divorce terms, you will make it through. Below are some of the most common terms used in divorce court. Always ask your attorney when you need clarification.

Divorce Terms A to C

A spouse abandons their partner and children when they leave with no intention of coming back, provide no support, and do not attend to their needs.

Absent parent.
An absent parent may pay child support but is not in continuing contact with their children.

Adjusted Gross Income (AGI).
AGI is a person’s gross income minus allowable IRS deductions when calculating income for yearly taxes. This is different from a gross income and net income.

A written statement made under oath and signed before a notary public. Affidavits are used as witness testimony for the court.


Also called spousal maintenance or spousal support. These are financial support payments typically made monthly by one spouse to the other. These payments may be temporary or ongoing, depending on case circumstances.

Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR).
This can be any process used in lieu of traditional courtroom litigation to settle a divorce issue or an entire divorce. Typically the ADR used in divorces is mediation.

A legal action to declare a marriage void or legally invalid.

Child support guidelines.
A formula and calculation set forth in California’s legal statutes used by the court in determining monthly child support paid by one parent, usually the higher-earning parent, to the other parent.

Collaborative law.
A process where spouses choose to settle their divorce in full without court intervention. The spouses use a team of advisors and their attorneys to reach an agreement.

Community property.
All income or property acquired during a marriage. Community property is owned and equally divisible between the spouses in a divorce.

Contested divorce.
Any divorce in which the parties disagree on a major issue.

Custodial parent.
Typically the parent who exercises 50% or more of physical child custody throughout the year.

Custody refers to legal or physical child custody. While legal custody refers to the ability to make significant decisions regarding a minor, physical custody is a child’s actual physical residence.

Divorce Terms D to G

default occurs when the respondent fails to respond to the petition for dissolution of marriage and summons order within the time allotted.

An opportunity for questioning the opposing spouse or another witness under oath to determine the extent of their knowledge. Depositions are held outside of court.

The legal process of obtaining necessary information from the other spouse. This includes financial information to determine alimony and child support.

Guardian ad Litem.
An appointed child advocate who presents an opinion to the court as to what type of custody and visitation arrangement is in the child’s best interests following a divorce.

Divorce Terms I to N

Written questions answered under oath that are used in the discovery process to obtain information from the other spouse.

Joint Custody.
While child custody may refer to legal or physical custody, either type of custody may be sole or joint. Joint means shared or held together between the parents.

Legal Separation.
A legal separation is not a divorce. It contains many of the same orders but does not declare the parties free to marry another.

Proceedings held in a courtroom.

An alternative to litigation in which a neutral third party assists the spouses in reaching an agreement. Mediators do not offer legal advice. Any agreement made is voluntary.

Motion to Modify.
An action only available after the entry of a formal court order. A motion to modify is used to modify an existing order and is only available under certain circumstances.

No-fault divorce.
A grounds for divorce based on irreconcilable differences. No blame is placed on either party for the breakup of the marriage.

Divorce Terms P to Q

Parenting plan.
A parenting plan or parenting time agreement is a court-ordered document which defines each parent’s rights and responsibilities regarding any minor children. Parenting plans include custody and visitation arrangements. Some are very specific, while others are more general, depending on parental cooperation.

Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.
A request that the court grant a divorce or dissolution of a domestic partnership.

The filing spouse in a divorce matter.

A QDRO or Qualified Domestic Relations Order is an order carried out by a pension plan administrator to distribute retirement funds to a non-plan holding spouse.

Quitclaim deed.
A document transferring the legal claim or title to real property from one name to another.

Divorce Terms R to S

Request for Production.
An element of the discovery process, a Request for Production is a formal request by the other party asking for specific documents. These are often financial records that will be used as evidence.

The respondent is the spouse who is served with divorce papers, not the spouse who filed the divorce.

A Response is a formal reply to the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. This must be filed within the time allotted, or the court could proceed with a default judgment.

Restraining order.
A restraining order prohibits a party from taking some action against a person or property. It is part of a temporary order in a divorce.

Separation date.
The date one spouse makes it clear to the other that the marriage is over by taking some kind of action. Often this is the date a spouse moves out of the marital home.

The legal term for the delivery of court or legal documents to a party or spouse.

Settlement conference.
A formal meeting of the spouses and their attorneys to discuss possible settlement of outstanding divorce issues.

Statement of Evidence
A document supplied to the court and the opposing attorney before trial listing all evidence that will be used during the trial.

A legal demand to appear in court on a particular day and time to give testimony or produce specific documents.

Written notification to appear in court or respond to a filed legal action.

Divorce Terms T to Z

Temporary Order
A court order temporarily resolving important issues until a final order is in place.

A complete and final hearing on all issues in a divorce.

Uncontested divorce.
A divorce with no disputed issues and no court assistance is necessary, except for a review and signature of an order.

The time a child spends with the noncustodial parent.

A written declaration relinquishing an individual’s legal right, claim, or privilege to appear or be heard in a matter.

Anyone who may have information regarding a court case.

Speak with an Experienced Attorney

If you are considering a divorce or are in the midst of a divorce and need professional legal help, contact the Los Angeles family law attorneys at Fernandez & Karney. Our attorneys can help you understand how California’s divorce laws apply to you and your circumstances.

At Fernandez & Karney, we care about our clients and want to know your divorce goals and expectations. Schedule a confidential consultation with a skilled attorney to have your divorce matter reviewed and get practical advice you can use.