Glossary of Family Law Terms

The Wright Firm, LLP, located in Texas provides the following glossary of terms to assist our clients and web site visitors in understanding common family law terminology.

Arbitration — An alternative dispute resolution method in which parties involved in a controversy hire an impartial person, called an arbitrator or a group to help them resolve their differences.

Automatic Restraining Orders — 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 — Means to separate legal issues for a court decision.

Child Custody — The legal term which defines the relationship between a parent and his or her child(ren) after a divorce and determines the parent’s rights to make decisions and duty to care for the child(ren). The court may assign sole custody, joint custody or other custody arrangement. In Texas, child custody is referred to as “conservatorship.”

Cohabitation — An emotionally and physically intimate relationship, which includes a common living place and 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 — An act of disobeying a court order.

Conservator — In Texas, a conservator may be appointed for an elderly or incapacitated person, but the term also applies to forms of child custody. See: “Sole Managing Conservatorship, “Possessory Conservatorship” and “Joint Managing conservatorship.’

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, which are known to other parties or witnesses or obtain documents in the possession and control of other parties or witnesses.

DNA Testing — A medical procedure used to determine the parents of a child by testing the chromosomes of each parent and child.

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. Different from an attorney, a guardian ad litem makes a recommendation to the court about what he thinks is best for the child.

Income and Expense Declaration — A form on which each party, for example, in a divorce, discloses his or her income and expenses under penalty of perjury and gives a report to the other party.

Interim Order — An interim order is sometimes called a temporary order, and refers to any order made in a legal case before the final order or decree is made. In family cases, interim orders 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 court order may be entirely different.

Joint Managing Conservatorship —In Texas, joint managing conservatorship refers to the child custody arrangement in which both parents by agreement or by court order share the rights, duties and privileges concerning their children after a divorce.

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.

Possessory Conservatorship — In Texas, possessory conservatorship refers to the child custody arrangement in which one parent by agreement or by court order is given some rights in a child’s upbringing, when the other parent is designated as sole managing conservator and has the primary responsibility for a child or children after a divorce.

Respondent — The person who responds or by law is required to respond to a 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.

Sole Managing Conservatorship — In Texas, sole managing conservatorship refers to the child custody arrangement in which one parent by agreement or by court order is given the sole rights, duties and privileges concerning a child or children after a divorce.

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 and creates an enforceable order.

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

Temporary Restraining Order — 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 Hearing — 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 are facing contentious family issues, an experienced family law attorney can answer your questions, explain your legal options, protect your rights and help you find workable solutions for your private family conflicts.

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