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Glossary of Divorce Terms

Absolute Divorce: In North Carolina a Divorce is an absolute divorce which breaks all marital ties and releases both parties from all the obligations and responsibilities of marriage.

Adultery: The act of one spouse engaging in intercourse with a partner other than their spouse.

Alienation of Affection: A claim that must prove that a third party lover acted maliciously to cause, or contribute to, the loss of affection that existed in a loving marriage.

Alimony: The payment for the support and maintenance of a spouse, either in a lump sum or on a continuing basis, based on several qualifying factors. Related terms, spousal support, post separation support.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): One of a number of out of court dispute resolution methods which are often less adversarial than trial. Typically Mediation or Arbitration is used in Family Law cases.

Arrearage: A past due amount of child support, spousal support, or alimony.

Beneficiary: A person documented to receive the benefit of a will or insurance policy. Usually a spouse or children of the willed or policy holder.

Best Interest of the Child: The discretion of the court with respect to support, visitation and custody of children in a divorce and / or separation.

Bigamy: A criminal offense involving marrying someone while a previous spouse is still living and no divorce has occurred.

Bill of Particulars: Specific information attached to a complaint or petition regarding the complaint.

Biological Parent: A true biological parent of a child by blood.

Brief: The document explaining the particular details of a case presented to the court.

Burden of Proof: Any claim made against an opposing spouse must be proven to the court with sufficient evidence.

Certificate of Service: Your verification that you sent the documents to your spouse in the manner specified.

Child Abandonment: A child can be considered abandoned when a parent has willfully abandoned the child for at least six consecutive months, or if the mother of the child was not living with the father at the time of birth, or was willfully abandoned by the father.

Child Custody: North Carolina custody laws require the court to award custody of a minor child to such person, agency, organization, or institution as will best promote the interests and welfare of the minor child. The court is not required to prove or find that one parent is unfit; therefore the minor child is placed in the best, most appropriate environment for the development of the child’s mental, physical, spiritual and moral faculties.

Child Support Guidelines (NC): Developed to determine the amount of support that a child is entitled to receive. Based on the day to day cost of living for the child, such as daycare, health insurance, and extraordinary expenses, and calculations of each parents income. Additionally, financial considerations are provided for other children that either of the parents may have.

Child Support: An agreement for the support of a minor child between the natural parents of the child, or a civil action for the support of a minor child.

Complaint for Divorce: This is the form that you file to start the divorce process. It is the lawsuit for divorce.

Criminal conversation: A civil lawsuit based on sexual intercourse between a spouse and the defendant, where the plaintiff is the other spouse. Criminal conversation is a “strict liability tort,: meaning that the defendant is responsible for the damages caused by his or her actions regardless of fault or intent.

Decree: The divorce decree, also known as the divorce judgment, is reached at the time that absolute divorce is granted by the clerk of the court who then sends the necessary information to the office of vital statistics.

Deposition: An element of discovery, wherein you will be asked questions which you answer in the presence of your attorney. A transcript of the deposition is prepared.

Discovery: An information gathering process that involves requests for documentation, interrogatories and depositions.

Dissolution: The legal termination of a marriage. Also, Divorce, Absolute divorce.

Divorce: Legal termination of a marriage relationship. In North Carolina the Absolute Divorce which breaks the marital contract and marital ties and releases both parties from all the obligations and responsibilities of marriage.

Divorce Judgment: This is the legal document that grants your divorce.

Domestic Violence: Acts upon an aggrieved party by a current or former spouse of the aggrieved or by a person of the opposite sex with whom the aggrieved lives or has lived as if married. Defined as, attempting to cause bodily injury or intentionally causing bodily injury; or placing the aggrieved or a member of the aggrieved household or family in fear of imminent serious bodily injury or continued harassment. Also called a 50B for the chapter designation in the North Carolina General Statutes that the law is codified in. A civil restraining order is the remedy. The restraining order can be awarded for up to one year and can be renewed prior to its expiration if needed.

Equitable Distribution: North Carolina views the marriage relationship as a partnership between the two spouses to which both make vital contributions, and to which each spouse is entitled to receive an equitable (usually meaning equal) share of the property acquired during the marriage. An action for equitable distribution must be filed prior to the divorce decree lest the right to file the action be lost forever. Property is classified, valued and then distributed. Also, Property Rights, Marital Property, Separate Property.

Filing Fees: The fee paid to the county clerk’s office to begin a lawsuit. For a divorce, the filing fee is $90.00.

Garnishment: The process of moving the money of a debtor to a person who is owed a debt from a controlling other, such as an employer. In family law this may pertain to child support or alimony, where one spouse may have wages garnished ensuring payment of a debt to the other spouse.

Good Cause: Standard used to excuse a welfare recipient from cooperating with Child Support Enforcement because in cooperating the welfare recipient and their children may be in danger. Usually a result of violence and abuse by the non custodial parent.

Grounds: An acceptable reason for a complaint or petition There are only two grounds for divorce in North Carolina: a one-year separation and incurable insanity. There are several grounds for legal separation: (1) adultery (2) alcoholism and/or drug addiction (3) abandonment (4) cruel and inhuman treatment (5) turning a spouse out-of-doors and (6) personal indignities rendering life burdensome and intolerable.

Guardian Ad Litem: A trained social worker or counselor appointed by the court to represent the non legal interest of a minor during a divorce.

Hardship: A parent’s inability to support children due to financial strain or inability.

Health Insurance Order: Order of the court that a non custodial parent shall purchase and provide health and or dental insurance for a minor child.

Hearing: A proceeding taking place in a court where testimony and arguments are given and heard.

Home State: The birth state of a child under six months old, or the state in which the child has lived for six consecutive months or more.

Interrogatories: Questions written by the opposing spouse or spouse’s attorney and served that must be answered in writing and “under oath”. Part of the Discovery process.

Joint Custody: North Carolina courts must consider joint custody if it is requested by one of the parents. Can refer to Joint Legal Custody, or Joint Physical Custody, may be ordered when both parents request sole custody. According to the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines the parents have Joint Custody if each has more than 123 overnights with the minor child(ren).

Joint Legal Custody: Joint decision-making authority, independent of physical custody of minor children.

Joint Physical Custody: An equal share of physical custody of a minor child, most often one parent has physical custody, while the other parent has visitation.

Jurisdiction: The power of the court to decide a matter in controversy. A North Carolina court has jurisdiction over your divorce action if one of the parties, either plaintiff or defendant, has lived in North Carolina for 6 months immediately prior to the filing of the divorce action.

Legal Custody: A court order will determine the person(s), agency, organization, or institution into whose custody a child will be placed.

Marital Misconduct: More than Adultery, can consist of any of the following which may occur during the marriage and prior to or on the day of separation: illicit sexual behavior; involuntary separation due to a criminal act; abandonment without the intention of resuming cohabitation; barring access to the home of a spouse by the other spouse, maliciously; cruel or endangering actions toward a spouse by the other spouse; domestic violence, abuse, humiliation, unacceptable behavior; reckless spending; substance abuse; failure to provide subsistence.

Marital Property: All real or personal property presently owned and acquired by either spouse during the marriage and prior to the date of separation.

Mediation: The use of a trained mediator to help two parties resolve their issues. Can be held with or without the presence of attorneys. A mediator does not have decision making authority; therefore mediation is only binding where a compromise is reached resulting in signed court orders or agreements.

Non-custodial parent: A parent who does not have physical custody of a child, but has visitation rights (or custodial time) with the child.

Non-marital Property: Separate Property which is not subject to equitable distribution.

Notice of Hearing: Give formal notice of the date, time and place of the actual divorce hearing. For an absolute divorce, notice must be given at least 5 days before the hearing and an additional 3 days are added to account for the time it takes to mail the document. Thus, 8 full days of notice must be give before the divorce hearing.

Order after Hearing: An order written after a hearing signed by the judge overseeing that hearing.

Order of Examination: A proceeding where a debtor is questioned, under oath, regarding his or her assets.

Order of Protection: Assigned by the court, this order prevents one spouse from doing what is described in the order. Typically regarding harassment, refusal to abide by the order may result in an arrest.

Order to Show Cause: An order scheduled by the court requiring a person involved in a civil case to appear in court to explain why the court should not take a specified action regarding the case.

Petitioner: Plaintiff, the spouse that initiates separation and / or divorce proceedings.

Physical Custody: Refers to a situation where one parent has the minor child residing or living with them for the majority of the time.

Plaintiff: The spouse who initiates separation and / or action for divorce. Petitioner.

Premarital Agreement: An agreement made prior to marriage which states the spouse’s rights and responsibilities in the event of death or divorce. Prenuptial agreement.

Prenuptial Agreement: Premarital agreement.

Pro Se: Appearing for oneself, as in the case of one who does not retain a lawyer and appears for himself / herself in court.

Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO): A court order declaring that a spouse is entitled to a portion of the other spouse’s retirement benefit as it is considered marital property. This order allows for the transfer (not cash out) of retirement assets without incurring the taxes or other penalties so long as the money is transferred to a like account.

Respondent: Defendant. The spouse who is served by the Petitioner with a divorce complaint.

Restraining Order: A court order restraining one spouse from doing something with regards to the other spouse or the children of the two spouses. Typically in conjunction with domestic violence or a custody dispute.

Separate Property: Any real and personal property acquired before marriage and during premarital cohabitation is considered separate property, even if separate funds are deposited into a joint bank account, its status will remain separate.

Separation: Living separate and apart with at least one spouse intending that separation to be permanent. Having separate address qualifies as separation, separate bedrooms, or one spouse sleeping on a couch does not qualify as separation.

Separation Agreement: A binding contract that defines the terms of the separation of husband and wife. Certain prerequisites exist: separation must occur before or immediately follow execution of the agreement; the agreement must be reasonable and fair to both spouses with respect to the circumstances and conditions at the time of the agreement; and the agreement must be in writing and duly notarized.

Settlement Conference: A meeting between the spouses and their attorneys in an attempt to settle a divorce case before trial. Frequently ordered by the court.

Sole Custody: One parent, or entity, is granted both legal and physical custody of a minor child. Meaning possession and most, if not all, decision making authority.

Split Custody: A situation in which both parents share legal and physical custody of a minor child through agreed upon scheduling for residence and schooling.

Spousal Support or Maintenance: Payment for support and maintenance of a spouse or former spouse that is ordered by the court or agreed upon by two spouses during an action for a divorce.

Stipulation: An agreement between divorcing spouses that settles disputes between them and is usually entered into the Divorce Decree.

Summons: This form serves as formal notice that a civil lawsuit has been instituted. It is attached to the complaint and verifies service when a sheriff’s office is used.

TPR: Termination of Parental Rights, also “legally free” a child whose parents’ rights have been terminated, by the state, or for some other reason. The state acts as the child’s guardian until an adoption, or other permanent plan is decided.

Tax Intercept: The process of diverting the tax refunds of a child support judgment debtor to pay child support that is in arrears.

Temporary Custody: A parent’s time with his or her child(ren). Including overnights and extended stays, this is a right of the parent who does not have primary custody.

Temporary Restraining Order: A court order that prohibits a party from participating in any number activities relevant to another person or persons. Prohibited activities are typically related to threats, harassment, physical abuse of a spouse or child(ren), selling personal property, taking money from accounts, or prohibiting use of a motor vehicle.

Testimony: Statements delivered under oath at a hearing or deposition.

Transitional Child Care: A program through which recipients of welfare who no longer receive AFDC because of employment, and can not afford the costs of childcare, receive a subsidy for assistance for a limited period of time, usually one year.

Uncontested Divorce: A case where the defendant is does not attempt to stop the divorce, and there are no factors for the court to decide regarding children, money or property.

Un-Emancipated: Any person who is a legal dependent on a parent or guardian.

URESA (Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act): Statute enabling a state to request assistance from another state in order to establish or enforce a court ordered child support judgment against a parent who is located in the other state.

Use and Possession: The parent who has primary custody of a minor child of a marriage has a right to reside in the family home for as many as three years from the date of divorce under specific circumstances.

Verification: Your written statement that the facts as alleged in your complaint, or other documents, are true and accurate to the best of your knowledge.

Visitation: Time spent with a child by a noncustodial parent. Also known as custodial time, it is awarded to the parent who does not have primary physical custody.

Wage Assignment or Wage Withholding: A court order that requires an employer of a non-custodial parent to deduct an amount from the wages of that parent for child support. Also called a garnishment.

Waiver: A waiver is written to relinquish an individual’s rights. In family law usually pertaining to alimony or property division.

Writ of Execution: Also called a levy, this court order authorizes seizure of an asset or assets of a non-custodial parent who owes past child support. Typically the order authorizes seizure of assets up to the amount of past due child support owed based on the child support judgment.

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