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Family Law Legal Glossary

Glossary of Family Law Terms


Ab Initio: Latin for “from the beginning.”

Action: Judicial proceeding.

Adultery: Sexual relations between a married person and another who is not that person’s spouse.

Affidavit: A written statement under oath.

Agreement: Mutual assent between two or more parties; normally leads to a contract; may be verbal or written.

Answer: Pleading filed by the defendant that responds to a complaint, petition, or motion.

Alimony: Money or other property paid to support one’s spouse after a divorce or separation.

Annulment: A declaration by the court that a valid marriage never existed.

Appeal: A request to the higher court for review of the lower court’s decision and reversal of the judgment.

Arbitration: Submitting a dispute to a third party who will help resolve the issue between the parties.

Beneficiary: Person named in a document, such as a will or insurance policy that receives a benefit.

Biological Parent: A parent by blood.

Child Support: A legal responsibility that both parents have to provide adequate financial support for the children until each reaches the age of emancipation (In Ohio, this is at the age of 18). The goal is to keep the children in the same quality of lifestyle that they would have experienced had the divorce not taken place.

Common Law Marriage: Two people agree, live together and hold themselves out to the public as husband and wife, but do not go through a ceremonial marriage. Common Law Marriages are no longer recognized in Ohio.

Complaint: A document filed in a court by one party against another that states a grievance, called a “cause of action.”

Condonation: An express or implied forgiveness by the innocent spouse of the marital fault committed by the other spouse.

Contempt Of Court: Obstructing the authority of the court by intentionally violating a court order.

Corroboration: Additional evidence (sometimes in the form of a witness) of a point beyond what is offered by the person asserting the point.

Custodial Parent: The parent who has physical custody of the child.

Custody: Legal guardianship of the children. Frequently, in a divorce proceeding, custody will be shared between the parents (“shared parenting”). Less frequently, there will be a reason to award custody only to one parent (“sole custody”).

Default Judgement: A judgment rendered when the other side failed to appear in court.

Defendant: The person against whom a claim is brought.

Deposition: A pretrial discovery device in which one party verbally answers questions from the other party, under oath.

Discovery: Steps that a party takes before trial to obtain information from the other side in order to prepare for trial.

Dissolution: A proceeding to terminate a marriage wherein fault is not alleged by either party, and the parties have reached an agreement as to all issues prior to filing a petition for dissolution with the court.

Domicile: The place where a person has been physically present with the intent to make that place a permanent home. A “residence,” on the other hand, is the place where you are living at a particular time. A person can have more than one residence, but only one domicile.

Emancipated: Legally independent of one’s parent or legal guardian.

Equitable Distribution: The fair, but not necessarily equal, division between former spouses of property acquired during the marriage.

Executed: Carried out according to the terms of an agreement.

Fault Grounds: Marital wrongs that will justify the granting of a divorce such as adultery, habitual drunkenness, extreme cruelty, gross neglect of duty, and living apart for more than 1 year.

Fornication: Sexual relations between unmarried persons or between persons who are not married to each other.

Garnishment: A proceeding whereby a debtor’s money, or other property, which is under the control of another is given to a third person to whom the debtor owes a debt. In family law this often applies to child support or alimony. One spouse may have their wages garnished to assure that a debt to the other spouse is paid.

Grounds: See “Fault Grounds” above.

Home State: The state where the child has lived for at least six consecutive months or since birth if the child is less than six months old.

Injunction: A court order requiring a person to do or to refrain from doing a particular thing.

Intentional Infliction Of Emotional distress: Intentionally causing severe emotional distress by extreme or outrageous conduct.

Interrogatories: A written set of written questions sent from one party to the other during the discovery process.

Judgment: A court’s decision.

Jurisdiction: The power of a court to act in particular case.

Legal Custody: The right and duty to make decisions about raising a child.

Legal Separation: A declaration by a court that the parties can live separate and apart even thought they are still married to each other. Orders with respect to spousal support, children, property division, and debt are all addressed by the Court, just as though the parties were divorcing.

Marital Property: Marital property is defined as all assets acquired during the marriage. All marital property is subject to fair distribution between the marital partners. Assets owed at the time of the marriage, or assets inherited during the marriage, are not considered to be marital property.

Minor: Someone under the age of majority.

Motion: An application to the court requesting an order or rule in favor of the applicant.

Neglect: Failure to provide support, medical care, education, moral example, discipline and other necessaries.

Necessaries: Basic items needed to maintain a standard of living.

Noncustodial Parent: The parent with whom a child is not living.

Obligor/Obligee: The person who has an obligation is the obligor. The person to whom this obligation is owed is the obligee.

Pendente Lite: Latin for “while litigation is going on.”

Petition: A formal request that the court take some action; a complaint.

Plaintiff: The party bringing the case against another.

Property Division: The distribution of marital property accumulated by spouses as a result of their joint efforts during the marriage. Sometimes referred to as a “property settlement.”

Pro Se: On one’s own behalf; not using an attorney.

Quitclaim: A transfer of whatever interest you may have in real property.

Reconciliation: Resuming the martial relationship.

Restraining Order: A form of injunction used to restrain someone from doing a threatened act.

Service of Process: Formal notice from the Court to the defendant that orders him or her to appear in court to answer plaintiff’s allegations.

Sole Custody: One parent has the complete physical and legal custody of the children.

Spouse: Husband or wife.

Subpoena: A document issued by the court or an attorney requiring someone to appear in court or at deposition. Duces Tecum: A request to bring documents.

Supervised Visitation: Visitation by a parent with his child while another adult (other than the custodial parent) is present.

Uncontested Divorce: Not disputed or challenged.

Unemancipated: Legally dependent on one’s parent or legal guardian.

Venue: The place of trial.

Visitation: The right of a non-custodial parent to visit and spend time with his or her children.