Family Law and Divorce Legal Terms

AAbandonment (of a child or spouse)
The voluntary act of leaving a child or spouse with no plan to return. Parents are considered to have abandoned a child if they do not provide financial support or have no contact with the child over a period of time. Abandoning a child is grounds for losing parental rights. Abandonment of a spouse occurs when one spouse leaves the marital home without the consent of the other. Abandonment of a spouse is grounds for divorce.
Alimony
More accurately referred to as spousal support, alimony is a financial award sometimes granted during a divorce, to be paid by the higher wage earner spouse to the lower or non-wage earner spouse. Spousal support is often granted to offset the negative economic consequences of divorce for the lower or non-wage earner spouse and to allow that spouse some time to become self-sufficient. Spousal support awards can be either life-long or limited to a certain amount of time and they are often discontinued if the recipient spouse remarries. The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act recommends that spousal support awards be considerate of the age, physical condition, emotional state, and financial condition of the former spouses; the length of time the recipient would need for education or training to become self-sufficient; the couple's standard of living during the marriage; the length of the marriage; and the ability of the payer spouse to support the recipient and also support himself or herself.
CCollaborative Law Divorce
A newer divorce process where both spouses are represented by lawyers but an agreement is created and signed in advance (by both spouses and their attorneys) about the way in which the divorce will be conducted. Collaborative divorce agreements include goals of having spouses and their attorneys meet together to try to negotiate a settlement and participants make a promise not to threaten each other, play games, or end up going to court. If the parties can’t find agreement without ending up in court, Collaborative Law attorneys agree to withdraw from the case, creating financial motivation for them to help the process work. The Collaborative Divorce process is designed to be faster, less expensive, more private, and less confrontational but it may not be appropriate if the spouses are too adversarial or unable to negotiate in good faith.
Common law marriage
When two people become legally married by living together for a long period of time. There is no ceremony or license. The couple must intend to be married and present themselves as a married couple for the common-law marriage to be valid. Common-law marriage is valid in eleven states. It is not valid in Florida. Common-law marriage can only be ended by annulment, divorce, or death.
Custody
Also known as the Allocation of Parental Rights and Responsibilities. Custody refers to the legal status within a divorce that details who will be responsible for day-to-day care of the child, with whom the child will live most frequently, who will have the right to make long-term decisions about the child, and when/how often the child will spend time with each parent as well as where the child will attend school. Shared Parenting agreements address the various factors individually, often granting one parent physical custody (meaning the child lives primarily with them but visits the other parent every other weekend and holiday) but having both parents share legal custody (the legal right to make long-term decisions for the child). Sole custody agreements (with one parent holding all physical and legal decision-making power for the child) are unusual but may be awarded if one parent is particularly unfit or incapable of responsibility (i.e. due to drug addiction).
DDivorce Mediation
A process wherein a neutral third party, who may or may not be an attorney, helps spouses try to reach an acceptable divorce agreement. Divorce Mediation is typically faster, less expensive, more private, and less confrontational than a traditional divorce but it may not be appropriate if the spouses are too adversarial or unable to negotiate in good faith. Sometimes spouses go through a divorce mediation process but have a family law attorney review the divorce agreement before it becomes final.
IIrreconcilable differences
Severe differences between spouses that can not be worked out. These differences lead to a breakdown of the marriage. Most states let couples state irreconcilable differences as a reason for divorce.
NNo Fault Divorce
A divorce where the spouse suing for divorce does not have to prove that the other spouse did something wrong in order to be granted the right to legally end the marriage. Florida is a no fault divorce state
QQualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs)
A law passed by Congress which helps with division of pensions after a divorce. Once the worker is legally allowed to receive pension distributions, QDRO’s require the plan administrator to divide the pension, without penalty. If the worker is still working and contributing to the pension at the time of divorce (and creation of the QDRO), the portion that will eventually be distributed to the ex-spouse only includes the marital portion.
SSole custody
An arrangement where only one parent has full control and care of a child. This parent makes all the decisions about the child’s life, including health care, education, religion, and where the child will live. The other parent makes no decisions about how the child will be cared for and raised.
Spousal Support
Commonly referred to as alimony, is a financial award sometimes granted during a divorce, to be paid by the higher wage earner spouse to the lower or non-wage earner spouse. Spousal support is often granted to offset the negative economic consequences of divorce for the lower or non-wage earner spouse and to allow that spouse some time to become self-sufficient. Spousal support awards can be either life-long or limited to a certain amount of time and they are often discontinued if the recipient spouse remarries. The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act recommends that spousal support awards be considerate of the age, physical condition, emotional state, and financial condition of the former spouses; the length of time the recipient would need for education or training to become self-sufficient; the couple's standard of living during the marriage; the length of the marriage; and the ability of the payer spouse to support the recipient and also support himself or herself.
TTemporary Restraining Order
A court order banning certain actions. In Family Law, it is often used in cases of domestic violence. The order forbids one person from harassing, harming, or even contacting another person. The person being harmed must request the temporary restraining order from a judge. After the temporary restraining order has been issued, the court holds a second hearing to hear the other person’s side of the story. The court will then decide if the order should be made permanent.