A Family Law Vocabulary Lesson Everyone Can Use

Family law

If you are considering getting a divorce, you are not alone. It has been estimated that, in the United States, there is one divorce evert 36 seconds. That makes almost 2,400 divorces every 24 hours, 16,800 divorces every seven days and 876,000 divorces each year. By some estimates, anywhere between 40% and 50% of all first marriages end in divorce. Approximately 60% of second marriages end this way. Whether you are or are not looking to end a marriage, there are some words that should not remain solely in the heads of family law lawyers.

Now Lawyers.comandnbsp;has compiled a list of the family law terms that are crucial for the process. Sometimes people confuse one term for another. In general, making a mistake with word choice but when it comes to legal matters, that all changes. Before you seek out family law legal advice from divorce attorneys or ponder hiring child custody attorneys, taking the time to look up some terminology can help a lot. At the very least, you will know what the family law attorneys are talking about.


The world alimony is sometimes confused with “child support.” It comes from the Latin word, alimonia, which is from alere. Alere means “to nourish.” The American idea of alimony is a combination of that and the term from Scots law, ailment. That law required a husband provide his wife with shelter, sustenance, clothes and other items that she would need after they split up. In the American legal system, this term is used to describe payments from one spouse to the other after a divorce. As every state governs divorces that take place within its borders, the rules that govern this vary from place to place.

Spousal Support

This is not the same thing as alimony but it is close. When one spouse provides any financial assistance to the other, after the couple has separated but before their divorce is final, it is called “spousal support.”

Child Custody

Most people are familiar with the general meaning of this legal term. It refers to the rearing of any children that were born during the marriage. It is not a singular term as there are two types of custody. A parent can have either legal custody or physical custody. The custody agreement can include joint or sole custody. if you have to deal with issues around child custody, you definitely need to talk to family law attorneys before that process starts.

  • Physical Custody: This refers to where the child or children live.
  • Legal Custody: This refers to which parent can make decisions for the child or children.
  • Sole Custody: This is when one parent has complete say over the rearing of the child or children.
  • Joint Custody: This is when the parents share in the decision making raising of their child or children.
  • Discovery

This is a term that is used in both civil and criminal law cases. Both family law attorneys and criminal lawyers do research on their side to build their case. This is called “discovery.” Both parties in a civil or criminal case have to share information they find during this process with the other side.

Separation Date or Date of Separation

This may seem like a simple concept but it is very important to get this right when you are dealing with family law cases. This is not the date you left the residence, this is the date when you separated from your spouse legally. When you are dealing with your assets and any debts you have, knowing the right date will make a big difference. It can impact the amount of alimony one side gets and how the marital property and assets are split up.

Equitable Distribution

This means different things in different states. Because states have their own laws governing the divorce process. What is considered to be “equitable” may be very different in a community property state, like California.

Marital Property

Anything that has been obtained during the course of a marriage is considered to be a “marital asset.” This includes bank and retirement accounts, business holdings, real estate or anything.

When you are talking to family law attorneys, it is crucial to work with lawyers who can work in your state and have experience dealing with its divorce laws.



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