FAMILY LAW GLOSSARY OF COMMON TERMS AND DEFINITIONS

Note:   The following definitions are intended to be helpful, BUT they are not intended to constitute legal advice or address every possible meaning of the term(s) contained in this glossary.

Affidavit – a written statement in which the facts stated are sworn or affirmed to be true.

Answer – written response by a respondent that states whether he or she admits (agrees with) or denies (disagrees with) the allegations in the petition.  Any allegations not specifically denied are considered to be admitted.

Appeal – asking a district court of appeal to review the decision of a trial court.  There are strict procedural and time requirements for filing an appeal.

Asset – anything owned by you or your spouse, including property, cars, furniture, bank accounts, jewelry, life insurance policies, businesses, or retirement plans.  An asset may be marital or nonmarital, but that distinction is for the court to determine if you and your spouse do not agree.

Attorney – a person with special education and training in the field of law who is a member in good standing of The Florida Bar and licensed to practice law in Florida.  An attorney is the only person who is allowed to give you legal advice.  An attorney may file your case and represent you in court, or just advise you of your rights before you file your own case.  In addition to advising you of your rights, an attorney may tell you what to expect and help prepare you for court.  In family law matters, you are not entitled to a court-appointed lawyer, like a public defender in a criminal case.  However, legal assistance is often available for those who are unable to hire a private attorney.  You may consult the yellow pages of the telephone directory for a listing of legal aid or lawyer referral services in your area, or ask your local clerk of court or family law intake staff what services are available in your area.  You may also obtain information from the Florida Supreme Court’s Internet Site located at http://www.flcourts.org/courts/supct.

Bond – money paid to the clerk of court by one party in a case, to be held and paid to an enjoined party in the event that the first party causes loss or damage of property as a result of wrongfully enjoining the other party.

Central Governmental Depository – the office that is responsible for collecting and disbursing court-ordered alimony and child support payments.  The depository also keeps payment records of support paid and/or not paid.

Certificate of Service – a statement showing to whom you are sending copies of the document.

Certified Copy – a copy of an order of final judgment, certified by the clerk of the circuit court to be an authentic copy.

Certified Mail – mail which requires the receiving party to sign as proof that they received it.

Child Support – money paid from one parent to the other for the benefit of their dependent or minor child(ren).

Clerk of the Circuit Court – elected official in whose office papers are filed, a case number is assigned, and case files are maintained.  The clerk’s office usually is located in the county courthouse.

Constructive Service – notification of the other party by newspaper publication or posting of notice at designated places when the other party cannot be located for personal service. Constructive service is also called “service by publication.”  However, when constructive service is used, the relief the Court may grant can be limited. 

Contested Issues – any or all issues upon which the parties are unable to agree and which must be resolved by the judge at a hearing or trial.

Contingent Asset – an asset that you may receive or get later, such as income, tax refund, accrued vacation or sick leave, a bonus, or an inheritance.

Contingent Liability – a liability that you may owe later, such as payments for lawsuits, unpaid taxes, or debts that you have agreed or guaranteed to pay if someone else does not.

Counterpetition – a written request to the court for legal action, which is filed by a respondent after being served with a petition.

Default – a failure of a party to respond to the pleading of another party.  This failure to respond may allow the court to decide the case without input from the party who did not appear or respond.

Delinquent – late.

Dependent Child(ren) – child(ren) who depend on their parent(s) for support either because they are under the age of 18, they have a mental or physical disability that prevents them from supporting themselves, or they are in high school while between the ages of 18 and 19 and are performing in good faith with reasonable expectation of graduation before the age of 19.

Deputy Clerk – an employee of the office of the clerk of court, which is usually located in the county courthouse or a branch of the county courthouse.

Dissolution of Marriage – divorce; a court action to end a marriage.

Enjoined – prohibited by the court from doing a specific act.

Ex Parte – communication with the judge by only one party.  In order for a Judge to speak with either party, the other party must have been properly notified and have an opportunity to be heard.  If you have something you wish to tell the Judge, you should ask for a hearing or file information in the clerk of court’s office, with certification that a copy was sent to the other party.

Filing – delivering a petition, response, motion, or other pleading in a court case to the clerk of court’s office.

Filing Fee – an amount of money, set by law, that the petitioner must pay when filing a case.  If you cannot afford to pay the fee, you must file an Affidavit of Indigency, to ask the clerk to allow you to file your case with a payment plan.

Final Hearing – trial in your case.

Financial Affidavit – a sworn statement that contains information regarding your income, expenses, assets, and liabilities.

Final Judgment – a written document signed by a Judge and recorded in the clerk of the circuit court’s office that contains the Judge’s decision in your case.

Guardian ad Litem – a neutral person who may be appointed by the court to evaluate or investigate your child’s situation, and file a report with the court about what is the best interests of your child(ren).  Guardians do not “work for” either party.  The guardian may interview the parties, visit their homes, visit the child(ren)’s school(s) and speak with teachers, or use other resources to make their recommendation.

Hearing – a legal proceeding before a Judge or designated officer (general magistrate or hearing officer) on a motion.

Judge – an elected official who is responsible for deciding matters on which you and the other parties in your case are unable to agree.  A Judge is a neutral person who is responsible for ensuring that your case is resolved in a matter which is fair, equitable, and legal.  A Judge is prohibited by law from giving you or the other party any legal advice, recommendations, or other assistance, and may not talk to either party unless both parties are present, represented, or at a properly scheduled hearing.

Judicial Assistant – the Judge’s personal staff assistant.

Liabilities – everything owed by you or your spouse, including mortgages, credit cards, or car loans.  A liability may be marital or nonmarital, but that distinction is for the court to determine if you and your spouse do not agree.

Lump Sum Alimony – money ordered to be paid by one spouse to another in a limited number of payments, of often a single payment.

Mandatory Disclosure – items that must be disclosed by both parties except those exempted from disclosure by Florida Law Rule 12.285.

Marital Asset – generally, anything that you and/or your spouse acquired or received (by gift or purchase) during the marriage.  For example, something you owned before your marriage may be nonmarital.  An asset may only be determined to be marital by agreement of the parties or determination of the Judge.

Marital Liability – generally, any debt that you and/or your spouse incurred during the marriage.  A debt may only be determined to be nonmarital by agreement of the parties or determination of the Judge.

Mediator – a person who is trained and certified to assist parties in reaching an agreement before going to court.  Mediators do not take either party’s side and are not allowed to give legal advice.  They are responsible for helping the parties reach an agreement and putting that agreement into writing.  Mediation of certain family law cases may be required before going to court.

Modification – a change made by the court in an order or final judgment.

Motion – a request made to the court, other than a petition.

Nonlawyer – a person who is not a member in good standing of the Florida Bar.

Nonmarital Asset – generally, anything owned separately by you or your spouse.  An asset may only be determined to be nonmarital by either agreement of the parties or determination of the Judge.

Nonmarital Liability – generally, any debt that you or your spouse incurred before your marriage or since your separation.  A debt may only be determined to be nonmarital by either agreement of the parties or determination of the Judge.

Nonparty – a person who is not the petitioner or respondent in a court case.

Notary Public – a person authorized to witness signatures on court related forms.

Obligee – a person to whom money, such as child support or alimony, is owed.

Obligor – a person who is ordered by the court to pay money, such as child support or alimony.

Order – a written decision signed by a Judge and filed in the clerk of the circuit court’s office, that contains the Judge’s decision on part of your case, usually on a motion.

Original Petition – see Petition

Parenting Course – a class that teaches parents how to help their child(ren) cope with divorce and other family issues.

Party – a person involved in a court case, either as a petitioner or respondent.

Paternity Action – A lawsuit used to determine whether a designated individual is the father of a specific child or children.

Payor – an employer or other person who provides income to an obligor.

Permanent Alimony – spousal support ordered to be paid at a specified, periodic rate until modified by a court order, the death of either party, the remarriage of the Obligee, or substantial support of the spouse by a third party, whichever occurs first.

Personal Service – when a summons and a copy of a petition (or other pleading) that has been filed with the court are delivered by a deputy sheriff or private process server to the other party.  Personal service is required for all petitions and supplemental petitions.

Petition – a written request to the court for legal action, which begins a court case.

Petitioner – the person who files a petition that begins a court case.

Pleading – a formal written statement of exactly what a party wants the court to do in a lawsuit or court action.

Primary Residence – the home in which the child(ren) spends most of his/her (their) time.

Pro Se Litigant – a person who appears in court without the assistance of a lawyer.

Reasonable Visitation – visitation between the nonresidential parent and child(ren) that provides frequent and unhampered contact with the child(ren).  Such visitation is designed to encourage a close and continuing relationship with due regard for educational commitments of child(ren), any health or social factors of the child(ren), business and personal commitments of both parents, and home arrangements of both parents.

Rehabilitative Alimony – spousal support ordered to be paid for a limited period of time to allow one of the parties an opportunity to complete a plan of education or training, according to a rehabilitative plan accepted by the court, so that he or she may better support himself or herself.

Respondent – the person who is served with a petition requesting some legal action against him or her.

Rotating Custody – physical custody of child(ren) after divorce, which is alternated between the mother and father at specified periods of time, as determined by the court.  Rotating custody allows each parent equal time with the child(ren).

Scientific Paternity Testing – a medical test to determine who is the father of a child.

Secondary Residential Responsibility (Visitation) – the time that the parent with whom the child(ren) does (do) not have primary residence spends with the child(ren).

Service – the delivery of legal documents to a party. 

Shared Parental Responsibility – an arrangement under which both parents have full parental rights and responsibilities for their child(ren), and the parents make major decisions affecting the welfare of the child(ren) jointly.  Shared Parental Responsibility is presumptive in Florida.

Sole Parental Responsibility – a parenting arrangement under which the decision making responsibility for the minor child(ren) is given to one parent by the court.

Specified Visitation – a parenting arrangement under which a specific schedule is established for the visitation and exchange of the child(ren).

Spouse – a husband or wife.

Supervised Visitation – a parenting arrangement under which visitation between a parent and his or her child(ren) is supervised by either a friend, family member, or a supervised visitation center.

Supplemental Petition – a petition that may be filed by either party after the Judge has made a decision in a case and a final judgment or order has been entered.  For example, a supplemental petition may be used to request that the court modify the previously entered final judgment or order.

Trial – the final hearing in a contested case.

 

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