Glossary of Family Law Terms

The California Law Offices of James T. Raetz provides the following glossary of terms to assist our clients and web site visitors in understanding common family law terminology.

730 Evaluation – An evaluation conducted in child custody disputes pursuant to California Evidence Code §730, in which a child custody evaluator will perform a thorough investigation of the family dynamics and make a recommendation to the judge as to what the evaluator believes is the best interest of the child. The evaluation takes a few weeks. The parents, children and other pertinent persons must undergo various interview, evaluation, and testing procedures necessary for the evaluator to make an appropriate recommendation regarding custody.

Arbitration – Is a common alternative dispute resolution technique in which the parties hire an impartial person or a group to act as fact-finder and judge for the purpose of reaching a decision. An arbitration decision may be binding or non-binding upon the Parties depending on what the Parties agree or what the court orders.

Arrears – Money owed that is unpaid and overdue. Generally, you will hear this term as it relates to past due child and spousal support.

Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders (ATROS) – Orders that go into effect upon the filing of a petition for dissolution, legal separation or annulment. Such orders restrain each spouse from disposing of, wasting or encumbering property or taking minor children out of the State until further court order.

Bifurcation – To separate legal issues for a court decision.

Cohabitation – An emotionally and physically intimate relationship that includes a common living place and which exists without legal or religious sanction.

Collaborative Law – A binding, non-litigation approach to solving legal problems in which parties engage in a series of settlement meetings outside the courthouse.

Contempt of Court – Disobeyance of a court order.

Default – A party’s failure to answer a complaint, motion or petition.

Discovery – The procedures available to a party in a lawsuit to uncover relevant facts or information that are known to other parties or witnesses or obtain documents in the possession and control of other parties or witnesses.

Dissomaster – A program that calculates guideline child and spousal support.

DNA Testing – A way to determine the parents of a child by testing the chromosomes of each parent and child through taking a blood or tissue sample.

Garnishment – A legal remedy whereby a debtor’s property or money in the possession or under the control of a third person (garnishee) is withheld from the debtor and applied to the debt.

Guardian Ad Litem – A person appointed by the court to represent the interests of a minor child in a divorce or parentage case. Guardians ad litem are different from attorneys in that they make a recommendation to the court about what they think is best for the child.

Income and Expense Declaration – A form on which each party discloses his or her income and expenses under penalty of perjury and gives to the other side.

Interim Order – An interim order is sometimes called a temporary order and refers to any order made in a case before the final order or decree is made. In family cases, these are the judge’s short-term decisions about issues such as child support, child custody, visitation, possession of the family home, attorney fees, spousal support or payment of debts. The final order may be completely different.

Joint tenants – A tenancy in which one tenant has a right of survivorship to the property upon the death of the other tenant.

Judgment – The official final decision of a court about the rights and claims of each side in a lawsuit.

Jurisdiction – The authority of the court to hear a case.

Mandatory Settlement Conference – A conference held between the parties in a divorce action, and a judge in an attempt to settle any outstanding disputes.

Marital Settlement Agreement – A settlement agreement reached between parties to a divorce or legal separation, resolving all outstanding disputes between the Parties.

Mediation – Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process in which a neutral third-party facilitator (the mediator) helps people discuss difficult issues and negotiate an agreement. Parties in mediation create their own solutions. The mediator does not have any decision-making power over the outcome.

Minor’s Counsel – A court appointed counsel for a minor child.

Modification Order – An order of the court that alters, changes, extends, amends, limits, or reduces an earlier order of the court.

Motion – A request to the court.

Notice of Entry of Judgment – A notice issued by the judge that decrees that judgment has been entered in the case.

Order to Show Cause (OSC) – A motion to the court to obtain court orders regarding custody, support, visitation, attorney fees, or any other relief.

Parenting Plan – A written plan describing how custody will be shared between parents after the parents divorce or separate.

Pendente Lite Support – A temporary order regarding spousal support.

Petition – A legal paper that starts a case.

Petitioner – The person who files the petition to start a case.

Respondent – The person who responds or is to respond to the petition.

Response – A legal paper that responds to the allegations raised in a petition.

Schedule of Debts and Assets – A form on which each party must disclose all their assets and debts under penalty of perjury and give to the other side.

Service – Providing the other side a copy of the papers being filed with the court.

State Disbursement Unit – A California state agency and collects and disburses all child support.

Status Hearing – A hearing in which the court identifies what issues are contested, what discovery needs to be completed and what future hearings are needed.

Stipulated Judgment – An agreement between the Parties regarding resolution of all outstanding disputes between the Parties that is incorporated into the judgment and enforceable as a judgment.

Stipulation – An agreement between opposing parties on any matter relating to the proceeding or trial, such as an agreement on support, parental rights and responsibilities, parent/child contact and property division on either a temporary or final basis. A stipulation is submitted to the judge, who signs it into an enforceable order.

Subpoena – A court issued form requiring someone to appear in court and/or bring documents.

Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) – An order enjoining a person from taking certain action for a certain period of time. A temporary restraining order can order a person to cease any communication or contact with another person.

Tenants In Common – A type of joint tenancy of property in which two or more parties are co-tenants of the same property but do not have a right of survivorship; each tenant’s portion of ownership is separate and distributable by will or trust.

Trial Setting Conference (TSC) – A hearing in which the court sets the date for trial.

UCCJEA – An acronym for The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction And Enforcement Act, which is designed to assist people to receive child support from non-custodial parents living in other states.

When you need competent, caring legal help to protect your rights and resolve private family conflicts and domestic relations issues, we invite you to call our law firm at (310) 292-3087 or (949) 623-8410. At the Law Offices of James T. Raetz, you are treated with respect and your legal matters are always handled with the utmost discretion.