Do you “speak” divorce? Let's face it, the legal system is filled with words and phrases that are strange and foreign sounding. Lawyers spend a good part of their years of education learning the “language” of the law. If you are getting ready to participate in a divorce action, or, perhaps, have already started your divorce case, it is VERY IMPORTANT for you to learn the language of divorce. Not only will it help you to understand the documents you will see as your case progresses, it will improve communication with your lawyer, impress the Judge, and show the other side of the case that you mean business.
Here is your vocabulary list:
PETITION: A legal document filed with a Court asking for something, like a divorce. You are “petitioning” the Court for a certain action. Also called a “complaint” or “lawsuit.”
PETITIONER: This is the person who first files the Petition with the Court. It is the person asking (petitioning) the Court to grant a divorce.
RESPONDENT: The person against whom the case has been filed. They are “responding” to the request for divorce.
ANSWER: The Respondent files an Answer to the Petition, responding to the divorce Petition. The Respondent may agree with some parts of the divorce petition, deny others, or say “I don't know.”
PROPERTY: In a divorce action, you are asking the Court to divide the stuff (property) belonging to the couple. Property falls into one of two categories: MARITAL PROPERTY: The stuff you have acquired during the time of the marriage. NON-MARITAL OR SEPARATE PROPERTY: The stuff you had prior to the marriage, or stuff you got during the marriage, but it was a gift from someone, or an inheritance.
CUSTODY: Custody refers to issues regarding your children. There is legal custody and physical custody. Custody can also be joint or sole. Custody arrangements are written down in a Parenting Plan. Please see the article: Learn the Language of Custody Cases (coming soon!!) for more detail.
DISCOVERY: A hunt for information in a case. This “hunt” can come in a variety of forms: INTERROGATORIES: The Petitioner, or Respondent, asks written questions of the other party to be answered in writing, under oath.
REQUEST FOR PRODUCTION OF DOCUMENTS: A request for documents, like bank statements or photographs.
DEPOSITION: An interview done under oath in front of a court reporter where the witness (deponent) gives testimony. The person giving testimony is “sworn in” just like in Court.
O.K. Your 5 minutes is up. Although this certainly does not cover every single “legal” word you may encounter in your case, it does give you the basic information necessary to improve your comfort level. Remember, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!
Ann Littell Mills Attorney firstname.lastname@example.org