When you are going through any legal matter, the lawyers at Cohen & Cohen emphasize having a strong understanding of the terminology that will be used throughout the process. Whether it’s a personal injury matter or a family law matter, knowing the lingo will help you feel more confident as you navigate difficult waters.

Here are some key family law terms you should know if you are going through a divorce or custody situation:

Child Support and Child Custody

Child support: Whether or not you and your child’s parent were married, you both have an obligation to financially provide for your child. When parents separate and one parent has physical custody of the child, the non-custodial parent typically has to pay court-ordered child support payments.

Custody: There are several facets within the term “custody.” Firstly, there are two major types of custody: physical custody and legal custody.

  • The parent with physical custody is the parent with whom the child lives.
  • The parent with legal custody has the ability to make major life decisions about the child, particularly ones pertaining to education, religion, and medical care.

One parent may have sole custody of the child and may hold both types of custody. In other cases, parents may choose to have joint custody and act as joint custodial parents for both physical and legal purposes.

Visitation rights: When a parent does not have physical custody of their child, a judge may award this parent visitation rights. These rights ensure that the parent is able to spend a reasonable amount of time with their child.

Emancipation: For legal purposes, individuals automatically become adults on their 18th birthday. However, children under the age of 18 may become emancipated from their parents if they can show the court that they have an alternate source of financial support. This allows the minor the ability to make decisions for themselves that they would normally need a parent’s permission to do.

Temporary custody order: Temporary orders may be put into place until a permanent order is created. A temporary custody order allows for child support payments and visitation arrangements.

Marriage and Divorce

Petition for divorce: This is the first document that an individual files when they wish to seek a divorce. The petitioner may be allowed to provide a reason for the divorce and include any evidence they may have.

Alimony (also called spousal support): If a couple divorces and one partner had been financially dependent on the other spouse, the court may order the breadwinner of the marriage to make alimony payments. Alimony is calculated by taking many factors into consideration. An original alimony agreement can be amended if one or both individuals undergo significant life changes that may impact their financial wellbeing.

Equitable distribution: Many states follow equitable distribution guidelines when dividing a couple’s property after a divorce. These guidelines say that property should be divided fairly — not necessarily equally.

Uncontested divorce: The majority of divorces today are uncontested divorces. This simply means that both spouses wish to get a divorce. In ideal situations, they are willing to agree on matters like child support and child visitation, division of property, alimony, and the division of debt.

Mediation: Many couples choose to try divorce mediation before going to court. Mediation allows the couple and their lawyers to attend informal discussions with an impartial third-party mediator. This mediator listens to both sides, considers the circumstantial factors, and makes a recommendation to the couple about how to divide property and parenting responsibilities.

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