Legal Terms

During the course of an attorney/client relationship, there may be certain terminology within correspondence or documents that you don’t recognize. The glossary below contains some of the most common terms you may encounter during the course of your legal proceedings. If you receive documents from our office and still have questions about legal terms within, please contact our office. 



Affidavit – A written statement of facts made under oath and signed before a notary public.

A.D.R. – Alternative Dispute Resolution. Settlement techniques used to resolve a case without a trial.

Alimony – See: Rehabilitative Maintenance

Alimony pendent lite –  A temporary order of court that provides support for one spouse and/or children while the divorce is in progress.

Annulment – Also called a “declaration of Invalidity”, this is a lawsuit or legal action that results in the court’s judgment that a marriage never existed on the grounds that the marriage is not, or never was, legally valid.

Appeal – A legal procedure in which the losing party of a divorce asks that  higher court re-evaluate the decision of the lower court.

Change of Venue or Change of Judge – A request to transfer the case to a different court for reasons of convenience or bias.

Child support – Financial support for a child (not taxable to the recipient or deductible to the payor spouse).

Community property – Generally, property acquired during a marriage as a result of the parties’ work and effort. Applied in states known as community-property states.

Contempt of court –  The willful and intentional failure to comply with a court order, judgment, or decree by a party to the action, which may be punishable in a variety of ways.

Court order –  A written document issued by a court, which becomes effective only when signed by a judge.

Custody – The legal right and responsibility awarded by a court for the care, possession, and rearing of a child. Distinctions are sometimes made between legal custody, which relates to decision making responsibility, and physical custody, which relates to residence or physical access.

Deposition –  Used to question the opposing spouse or another possible witness in a court case (including a divorce) and gather information about that person’ knowledge, a deposition is the formal testimony of a witness made out-of-court and under oath and recorded by a stenographer.

Discovery – The legal process of obtaining important information, such as financial statements, during a divorce or other court case. Spouses use it to gather information from each other or from other sources such as employers and banks. Discovery can also be used after divorce to collect relevant facts about a person’s current income and expenses as necessary to adjust child support and maintenance.

Emancipation –  The point at which a child may be treated as an adult and in some states when the duty to support may terminate. In Indiana the age is 19, however it could be earlier depending on certain circumstances.

Evidence –  Documents, testimony, or other demonstrative material offered to the court to prove or disprove allegations.

Guardian ad litem (GAL) –  A lawyer or mental health professional appointed by the court to represent the children.

Hearing: Any proceeding before the court for the purpose of resolving disputed issues through presentation of testimony, offers of proof, and argument.

Hold-harmless –  A situation in which one spouse assumes liability for a debt or other obligation and promises to protect the other spouse from any loss or expense in connection with it.

Indemnification – The promise to reimburse another person in case of an anticipated loss; the same as hold-harmless.

Interrogatories – A series of written questions served on the opposing party to discover certain facts regarding the disputed issues in a matrimonial proceeding. The answer to interrogatories must be under oath and served within a prescribed time.

Joint Legal Custody – A legal arrangement in which parents have joint decision making power regarding a minor child’s education, religious teachings, and medical care. Joint custody requires the parents to consult with each other and attempt to reach agreement before making important decisions regarding the child.

Legal Separation  – A legal action, leading to a judgment or decree of legal separation, that is similar to a divorce or dissolution of marriage suit, but a legal separation does not terminate the parties’ marital status. In a legal separation action a court can order the same relief to the parties as in a divorce including a division of the parties’ assets, responsibility for the parties/ liabilities, spousal support, child custody, parenting time rights, child support, or other relief available in a divorce or dissolution of marriage.

Marital property –  Accumulated income and property acquired by spouses, subject to certain exclusions in some states.

Marital settlement agreement –  The parties’ settlement is reduced to a written document or orally placed on the record in open court. This agreement also may be called a property settlement agreement or separation agreement.

Mediation – A process by which a neutral third party facilitates negotiations between the parties. The mediator generally has no decision-making authority.

Motion –  A written application to the court for some particular relief, such as temporary support, injunction, or attorney’s or expert’s fees.

Motion to modify – A party’s formal written request to the court to change a prior order regarding custody, child support, alimony, or any other order that the court may change by law.

Notice of hearing –  A paper that is served on the opposing lawyer or spouse listing the date and place of a hearing and the motion or motions that will be heard by the court.

Prenuptial Agreement – Also called a premarital agreement, is a contract between persons who intend to marry that defines the respective parties’ rights and responsibilities if they subsequently divorce. These agreements usually serve to limit a spouse’s right to premarital property, the proceeds of premarital property, spousal support or maintenance, and inheritance in the event of divorce. A prenuptial agreement will not impact issues regarding child custody, parenting time, or child support.

Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) – A Qualified Domestic Relations Order is typically a court order granting one spouse an interest in the other spouse’s retirement account as part of the distribution of assets following a divorce or legal separation. A QDRO can provide for an interest in a pension plan or another type of retirement account, such as a 401(k) account. A QDRO must be reviewed and approved by the retirement plan in order to be qualified. A QDRO may also direct payment for child support or spousal support under certain circumstances.

Quit Claim Deed – A Quit Claim Deed is a document that transfers the legal claim or title to real property. Usually it involves transferring the interest in a home from two individuals or a marital community to one spouse.

Rehabilitative Maintenance – Also called “maintenance” or “spousal support”, it is the financial support payments made by one spouse to the other. These payments  are generally made on a monthly basis and they can last for just a few months or for a person’s lifetime.

Request for Production of documents –  A series of written requests served on the other party seeking the production of documents, such as financial records. Responses must be provided within a fixed time.

Retainer – A fee paid to an attorney in advance in anticipation of a need for future services, as in a divorce. The attorney will bill against the retainer for work performed.

Settlement Conference – A settlement conference is a meeting for the parties, and their attorneys if they have attorneys, to discuss possible settlement of their case. Many courts require the parties to participate in a settlement conference or mediation before their case goes to trial.

Stipulation- An agreement between the parties or their counsel.  

Subpoena- A document served on a party or witness requiring appearance in court. Failure to comply with the subpoena could result in punishment by the court. A subpoena duces tecum is a subpoena requesting documents.

Temporary Spousal Maintenance – A specific type of spousal support,. meant to maintain the supported spouse “ in a manner not overly disproportionate to that enjoyed during the marriage” for either a fixed or indefinite period of time while the divorce is pending.

Trial: A formal court hearing to decide disputed issues raised by the pleadings.

Withdrawal – A withdrawal is an attorney’s formal withdrawal from representing a party in a case.