Common Divorce Law Terms Explained

  1. Divorce law
  2. Divorce law basics
  3. Common divorce law terms

Divorce is a difficult process that can be made even harder when you don't understand the terms used by lawyers and the court. To make things easier, we have compiled a list of the most common divorce law terms and explained what they mean. In this article, you will learn what each term means and why they are important to know when dealing with divorce. Divorce can be a complicated process, and it's important to understand the language associated with it in order to navigate it successfully. This article will explain the common divorce law terms so that you can better understand the process.

Filing for Divorce: Filing for divorce is the process of officially asking for a divorce from the court. In most states, this involves filing a legal document known as a Petition or Complaint, which includes information such as the date and place of marriage, any children of the marriage, and other relevant information. Depending on the state, a spouse may also need to file an Answer or Appearance in order to respond to the Petition.

Legal Separation:

Legal separation is similar to filing for divorce in that it requires both parties to reach an agreement on issues such as child custody, alimony, and division of property.

However, unlike divorce, legal separation does not end the marriage. Instead, it allows couples to live apart while maintaining their marital status.

Grounds for Divorce:

Each state has its own set of grounds for divorce, which are legal reasons that a court can use to grant a divorce. These grounds can vary from state to state, but some common examples include adultery, desertion, cruelty, and mental illness.

In some states, couples may also be able to obtain a “no-fault” divorce if they have been living apart for a certain period of time.


An annulment is a court decision that declares a marriage null and void. This means that the marriage is considered never to have existed in the eyes of the law. Annulments are rare and are typically only granted when certain requirements are met, such as when one party was underage at the time of the marriage or if one party was already married.


Alimony is a type of financial support that is paid by one spouse to the other after a divorce has been finalized.

The purpose of alimony is to help one spouse maintain their standard of living after divorce. The amount and duration of alimony payments depend on factors such as the length of the marriage, each spouse’s income, and each spouse’s assets.

Child Support:

Child support is money paid by one parent to the other to help cover the costs of raising children. It is typically paid until the child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever comes first. The amount of child support is determined by each state’s child support guidelines and may be modified if there are changes in either parent’s income or circumstances.

Visitation Rights:

Visitation rights are rights granted by a court that allow one parent to spend time with their child even if they do not have physical custody of the child.

Visitation rights may be granted on either an informal or formal basis and may be modified if necessary.

Division of Property:

Division of property is a process in which all assets and debts acquired during the marriage are divided between both parties. This includes both tangible items such as cars, furniture, and jewelry as well as intangible items such as stocks and investments. The division of property depends on each state’s laws and can be negotiated between the spouses or decided by a judge in court.

Divorce Process:

The divorce process begins when one spouse files for divorce with their state’s court system.

Once this has been done, both parties will need to reach an agreement on issues such as alimony, child support, visitation rights, and division of property. After this has been done, both parties will need to file paperwork with the court in order to finalize the divorce. It is important to work with an experienced lawyer in order to ensure that all paperwork is completed correctly. Navigating the divorce process can be daunting and stressful, but understanding these common divorce law terms can help make it easier. Working with an experienced lawyer can also help ensure that all paperwork is completed correctly and all issues are resolved as quickly as possible.


Annulment is a legal process that is different from divorce.

It is a process that seeks to void the marriage and declares it to have never existed. This means that no legal rights or obligations exist between the couple, as if they had never married in the first place. In order to obtain an annulment, certain criteria must be met. Generally, this includes proving that the marriage was not valid in the first place, such as if one of the parties lacked the legal capacity to marry, if it was a bigamous marriage, or if it was based on fraud.

Additionally, some states may require that a couple has not cohabitated for a certain period of time. It is important to note that annulment laws vary by state. If you are considering an annulment, you should consult your state’s laws to determine what your rights and obligations are.

Visitation Rights

Visitation rights refer to the time a non-custodial parent or guardian is given to visit and spend time with their child.

Visitation rights are typically specified in a divorce settlement or court order, or may be granted in a joint custody arrangement. In joint custody arrangements, both parents have legal and physical custody of the child, and the court will determine the amount of time each parent is given for visitation. State laws vary on visitation rights, so it is important to research the laws in your state before making any agreements. Generally, the court will consider what is in the best interest of the child when determining visitation rights.

The court may also consider a variety of factors such as the age of the child, the relationship between the parent and child, and the preference of the child when making a decision. The court may also consider any previous criminal convictions or history of substance abuse when making a decision on visitation rights. In some states, it is possible to modify visitation rights if either party feels that there has been a significant change in circumstances. If you have any questions about visitation rights, it is important to speak with an experienced divorce attorney who can provide legal advice and represent your interests in court.

Division of Property

Division of property is an important part of the divorce process.

Community property laws, equitable distribution laws, and other state laws all come into play when it comes to dividing assets. Community property laws dictate that any assets that are acquired during the marriage are owned equally by both parties. This includes both assets that were acquired jointly, such as a home or a car, as well as any individual assets such as a 401K or stock portfolio. The division of these assets should be equal unless the parties agree to a different arrangement. Equitable distribution laws are based on the idea of fairness rather than equality.

This means that the court will look at factors such as income, contributions to the marriage, and the length of the marriage in order to determine how to divide the assets. Finally, it is important to note that each state has its own laws regarding the division of property in a divorce. It is important to understand these laws in order to ensure that you receive a fair settlement. When it comes to dividing property in an amicable manner, communication is key.

It is important to have an open dialogue with your spouse about what you both want and need out of the divorce. Additionally, it is important to be realistic about what you can and cannot expect from the division of assets. A good lawyer can help guide you through this process and ensure that you receive a fair settlement.


Alimony is a form of spousal support paid by one spouse to the other. It is typically awarded when a marriage ends and one of the spouses has been financially dependent on the other.

The purpose of alimony is to ensure that both parties can continue to enjoy a certain standard of living after the divorce. There are three different types of alimony: temporary alimony, permanent alimony, and rehabilitative alimony. Temporary alimony is paid for a specific period of time and is meant to provide financial assistance during and immediately after the divorce. Permanent alimony, on the other hand, is paid until either party dies or until the recipient remarries.

Rehabilitative alimony provides financial assistance to the recipient spouse to help them gain education or training that will allow them to become financially independent. Alimony payments are determined based on the length of the marriage, the incomes of both parties, and any marital assets that are divided during the divorce process. The courts may also take into consideration any additional factors such as age, health, and earning potential when making a determination on how much alimony should be paid. Once an amount for alimony has been determined, it must be enforced by the court in order for it to be legally binding.

This means that if one spouse fails to make their court-ordered alimony payments, they could face serious penalties including wage garnishment or even jail time.

Child Support

Child SupportChild support is a payment made by one parent to the other in order to help cover the costs of raising a child, such as food, clothing, medical care, and other expenses. In most cases, the parent who has primary physical custody (i.e., the parent who has the child living with them most of the time) is eligible to receive child support payments from the other parent. It is important to note that the law regarding child support varies from state to state, so it is important to understand any relevant state laws that may apply. In most cases, child support payments are calculated according to a formula based on each parent’s income and other factors.

The court will consider a variety of factors when determining the amount of child support payments, such as the number of children involved, the parents’ income and resources, each parent’s financial needs and obligations, and any special needs of the child. If necessary, the court may also order the non-custodial parent to pay additional amounts for medical or educational expenses. If a parent fails to make the required child support payments, there are a number of options for enforcing payment. Depending on the state in which you live, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the non-paying parent or request assistance from your local child support enforcement agency. Additionally, certain states may have laws that allow for wage garnishment or tax refunds to be seized in order to pay overdue child support.

Legal Separation

Legal separation is a court-recognized separation between two married people that does not legally end their marriage.

It is similar to divorce in that it allows couples to live apart and divide their assets, but it does not legally terminate the marriage. It is often sought when couples want to live separately for religious reasons, as in the case of some Christian faiths. Filing for legal separation typically requires the same steps as filing for a divorce. Usually, one spouse files a petition with the court and serves it to the other spouse. The petition will include information on the reasons for the separation and any requests for asset division or spousal support.

Both spouses must then agree to the terms set forth in the petition before the court can grant legal separation. State laws vary on legal separation, and some states do not recognize it at all. In states where it is recognized, the laws regarding legal separation are often very similar to those for divorce. For example, some states require a certain amount of time to elapse after filing before a legal separation can be granted. In addition, many states consider legal separations when making decisions about child custody and support. While legal separation provides some of the same benefits as divorce, it does not fully terminate a marriage.

Therefore, if spouses reconcile and wish to remain married, they typically do not need to do anything else to ensure the marriage remains intact. However, if spouses wish to divorce after a legal separation, they will need to file additional paperwork with the court.

Filing for Divorce

Filing for divorce is the first step in officially dissolving a marriage. Depending on the state, there may be different filing fees, paperwork requirements, and other important details to consider. Before filing, couples should be sure to understand their state's laws regarding divorce. In some states, one spouse will need to reside in the state for a certain period of time before they can file for divorce.

All states require that couples fill out specific forms to file for divorce, including forms that provide information on the division of assets and debts. In some states, the filing spouse must also provide proof that they gave notice of the divorce to their spouse. Some states also require couples to attend counseling before filing for divorce. This is typically done in an effort to ensure that the spouses have considered all options for reconciliation before making a final decision. Additionally, some states have a mandatory waiting period before a divorce can be finalized. In terms of filing fees, it is important to note that they vary from state to state.

In addition to filing fees, couples may be required to pay other costs such as court costs, service fees, and attorney’s fees. It is important to research the specific fees associated with filing for divorce in your state. Filing for divorce can be an intimidating process, but understanding the language associated with it can help make it easier. Knowing the common divorce law terms can help you navigate the process and ensure that you are making informed decisions.

Grounds for Divorce

Divorce can be a complex process and requires a thorough understanding of the divorce laws in the state where the divorce is taking place. Different states have different divorce laws, but most recognize a few common grounds for divorce.

This section will explain the various grounds for divorce that are recognized in most states. The two main types of divorces are fault-based and no-fault divorces. A fault-based divorce is when one spouse is deemed to have caused the dissolution of the marriage. The spouse who is not at fault is referred to as the “innocent” or “injured” spouse.

Generally, fault-based divorces require that one spouse prove the other did something wrong, such as adultery, abandonment, cruelty or abuse. No-fault divorces are based on the idea that neither spouse was at fault for the marriage ending. In these cases, the couple simply agrees that the marriage has broken down and cannot be saved. No proof of wrongdoing is necessary and the couple can file for a no-fault divorce without blaming each other.

In some states, irreconcilable differences are also recognized as a basis for divorce. This means that even if neither spouse is at fault, the court may grant a divorce if it finds that there are irreconcilable differences between the spouses. To obtain a divorce based on irreconcilable differences, the spouses must prove to the court that they have fundamentally different views on important aspects of their marriage that make it impossible to continue living together. Finally, some states allow couples to obtain a divorce based on separation.

To obtain a divorce based on separation, the couple must prove to the court that they have been living separately for a certain period of time and have no intentions of reconciling. Divorce can be a difficult process to navigate, but understanding the language associated with it is key to making sure you get a fair outcome. This article has provided an overview of common divorce law terms, such as filing for divorce, legal separation, grounds for divorce, annulment, alimony, child support, visitation rights, and division of property so that you can better understand the process. By having a basic understanding of these terms, you can make sure your rights are respected throughout the process.

Bridget Alex
Bridget Alex

Bridget graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor's degree in Sociology in 1998. Following her passion for law and justice, she pursued further studies at Harvard Law School, where she earned her Juris Doctorate (JD) in 2001.

Bridget is a seasoned divorce attorney with more than two decades of experience under her belt. She kickstarted her professional journey as an Associate at a renowned law firm, Wright & Sullivan, where she handled various family law matters, with a focus on divorce mediation. In 2007, she moved to Gibson & Associates, a prestigious law firm where she headed the Family Law Division.

In 2012, driven by a deep desire to make a larger impact, she established her own law firm, Roanhorse Law Associates. Under her expert guidance, the firm has carved a name for itself in the field of family law, particularly divorce mediation. Her empathetic yet pragmatic approach has been instrumental in resolving numerous challenging divorce cases, and she has consistently been recognized as one of the top divorce attorneys in her city.

Bridget's extensive knowledge and practical experience have also led her to share her wisdom with a broader audience. She has written several influential books on divorce mediation, which have become valuable resources for both practicing attorneys and individuals going through divorce.

Her first book, "Navigating the Divorce Storm: A Guide to Mediation" (2010), demystifies the divorce mediation process. This was followed by "Children First: Prioritizing Kids in Divorce" (2013), focusing on the importance of considering children's needs during the divorce process.

Her most recent book, "From Adversaries to Allies: Transformative Divorce Mediation" (2021), further deepens the conversation by examining how divorce can be a transformative journey for all parties involved if handled with understanding and respect.

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