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Decoding Divorce Language: Top 10 Divorce Terms You Need To Know

Top 10 Divorce Terms You Need To Know | Attorney Jeffery M. Bloom

Legal matters shouldn’t add to the confusion when you’re going through a divorce. However, unless you’re a lawyer yourself, the professional jargon used by the attorneys involved in your case is bound to cause a little head scratching.

Let’s talk about the top 10 terms you should know if you’re going through a divorce.


Also referred to as Maintenance or Spousal Support, Alimony is payment of support (not child support) from one spouse to another so that the spouse receiving the payment can maintain the lifestyle that they were accustomed to during the marriage.

Child Support

Child Support is the amount of money that the non-custodial parent pays to the custodial parent to help pay for the everyday needs of the children including food, clothing, housing, etc. Also see joint custody, non-custodial parent, and sole custody below.

Community Property

As part of property division, community property is a rule which divides equally all property acquired during the term of the marriage, without regard to whose name it is held. Inheritances and gifts are excluded in some jurisdictions and states.

Contested Divorce

In contrast to an uncontested divorce, a contested divorce is when one party sued opposes the divorce. This might be because either he or she denies the asserted grounds or they do not agree to the terms of the divorce such as the distribution of property, child custody, child support, spousal payments, the assumption of debts, etc.

Court Order

A court order is a legal document issued by a court ordering someone to perform a particular act or prohibits them from performing an act. Anyone who knowingly violates a court order can be held in contempt of court.


Discovery is the process in which lawyers seek information (or discover) from the other party. It can involve requests for documents and the answering of questions. It is time-consuming but is an essential tool in ensuring that fair settlements are reached based on full knowledge of all the assets — such as retirement accounts, investments, pensions, savings, property — both parties have in their possession.

Equitable Distribution

Equitable distribution is the distribution of all the property and assets acquired during the marriage in a way that is fair to both parties. It involves the valuation and division of joint assets: including the house, retirement accounts, pension funds, stock options, furniture and furnishings, vacuums, cars and the like that were acquired during the marriage. It also involves the division of liabilities — credit card debt, mortgage and the like.

Joint Custody

Joint Custody is when the children live with the one parent (residential custodian) and visit with the other (non-residential) parent. Both parents have an equal say in major decisions affecting the children. Also see child support, non-custodial parent, and sole custody here.

Marital Assets

Marital assets are the property that is acquired during the marriage regardless of who owns or has title to it. It includes but is not limited to the following: house, cash, jewelry, furnishings, stocks, bonds, vehicles, pensions, profit sharing plans and insurance.


Divorce mediation is an alternative to litigation whereby a neutral third party facilitates the creation of a separation agreement tailored to and agreed upon by the divorcing couple. A divorce mediator is not required to be an attorney.


A motion is a written request asking the court to grant a ruling to resolve issues you and your ex cannot agree on or to require the other party to do something. During the motion hearing, the judge will listen to arguments from both sides for or against the motion. The most frequent use of motions during divorce are for matters relating to child support, alimony and custody.

Non-Custodial Parent

The non-custodial parent is the parent who does not have physical custody of their, i.e. their children do not live with them the majority of the time. It is possible for a non-custodial parent to have legal custody of their children. Also see child support, joint custody, and sole custody here.

Settlement Agreement

At the end of a divorce, one will have a Judgment of Divorce – the legal paper that says you are divorced. You’ll have a Settlement Agreement (also called a Property Settlement Agreement or Marital Settlement Agreement) which specifies how you and your ex will divide your assets; what financial support should be paid; and — if you have children — the custody and parenting time you’ve agreed upon.

Sole Custody

Sole custody is both legal and physical custody by one parent. It is not a common practice anymore to give one parent sole custody unless there are extenuating circumstances. Also see child support, joint custody, and non-custodial parent here.


A court order to attend a legal proceeding such as a trial or deposition. If documents are also requested, the subpoena is called a subpoena duces tecum, Latin for “bring with you.” Sometimes a subpoena duces tecum states that you must produce certain documents by a particular date without having to appear.

Seek A Divorce Attorney If You Have Questions

There are a lot of tricky language traps out there, and it’s important to be clear and understand what’s happening. If you’re in New Jersey and faced with a divorce, contact Attorney Jeffery M. Bloom for help. Mr. Bloom will review all of your documents with you and make sure that you understand each and every word.

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