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Glossary of Legal Terms

We understand that if you’ve never had cause to engage in a family law matter before, there may be legal terms that you do not understand. It can be frightening and overwhelming to face a negative legal situation and try to learn a new vocabulary at the same time. We provide the following list (compiled by our Savannah Attorney, Mr. Dave Purvis) as a resource that we hope will be helpful as you progress on your legal journey with us.

Please remember: These are just a few legal terms of art that arise on a regular basis in the context of family law. Additionally, there are very specific state and federal laws that shape how these terms come into play in a case.

Advanced Directives for Health Care: These are often also referred to as “living wills.” These documents allow for people to let their wishes be known should they become unable to communicate, such as being in a coma or on life support.

Answer: This document is filed with the Court to respond to the Complaint or Petition.

Child Support: This is the financial support paid from one parent to the other to financially provide for the child.

Complaint: This is the document filed with the Court that begins a civil case or lawsuit. Sometimes, the term “petition” is used instead of “complaint.”

Contempt: In the arena of family law, contempt actions are brought when one party is not complying with a previous court order. These are most common in situations involving child support or parenting time.

Estate Planning: This term encompasses planning for disability or death. Documents related to estate planning include: wills, trusts, advanced directives for health care (also known as living wills), and financial powers of attorney.

Equitable Division: This term of art is used to refer to how property, assets, and debt are divided in a divorce proceeding. It does not mean that property and/or debt will always be divided 50/50 or to an exact ratio. It simply means that the property, assets, and debt will be divided as fairly as possible which often means 50/50.

Financial Powers of Attorney: This document allows for a loved one to care of a person’s financial needs while they are living.

Mediation: In almost all contested domestic relations cases, the court will require the parties to attend mediation before a final hearing is held before a judge. Both parties will attend mediation where a neutral mediator will seek to find any common ground or possible compromises to resolve some or all of the issues in the case. This is one of the few opportunities in which the parties can have a say in how their case is resolved; once it goes before the judge, the judge gets to make the decisions and the parties must live with those decisions.

Modification: Modifications are lawsuits filed after the divorce has been finalized. What may have worked several years ago regarding child support or parenting time may no longer be workable for the parents. A Petition to Modify can be filed to address the changed circumstances.

Parenting Time: This is simply the custody and visitation schedule between the parents. Using the term “primary physical custody” which simply means one parent has the child for some amount longer rather than the other parent, courts are beginning to use the term “parenting time”. This is the “time on task” each parent has with the child.

Spousal Support: This is the same as alimony. This can take on a number of different forms, from a lump sum amount to an ongoing regular payment.

Trusts: Trusts can take on a number of forms and be used for a number of different goals. Sometimes they are used in the place of a will depending on some important financial considerations. Other times, they may be used to insure financial gifts to minor children are maturely administered until the child reaches an age that they can be responsible for managing the money themselves.

Wills: This is the document that disposes of a person’s property after they die. A will may be deemed a “simple will” or a “comprehensive will” depending on the size of the person’s estate and their specific requests.

If there are other legal terms you would like to see addressed here, please leave us a comment and we will address what we can.

Additionally, our firm offers consultations, so if you have found yourself in a family law case and need to speak with an attorney, please call!