When I meet with clients, I often have to ensure that I explain the various options and legal terms without using “legalese.” Though I may use these terms every day, the client does not, and the client has a right to an explanation so she can make informed choices. Some terms that clients should know:
Petition: Starts either the divorce or paternity action. It is the basically the same as the complaint in a typical civil case. The petition includes basic vital statistics about the family, establishes jurisdiction, and requests a remedy.
Temporary Order: Establishes custody, placement, support, debt payment, and use of assets between the divorce filing and the actual divorce judgment. A Temporary Order is not required, but I estimate that 50% of my cases have such orders. They are not set in stone, and are not simply adopted as the final order. They are helpful to give the parents rules to follow during the case.
Custody: The right to make decisions for a child.
Placement: Actual time a child spends with each parent.
Child support: Payments between parents, based on a formula using parents’ incomes and placement time.
Maintenance: Payments for the support of a spouse (a/k/a alimony).
Family support: A combination of child support and maintenance.
Property division: The allocation of assets and debts between the spouses.
Custody study: An investigation by a family counselor (particularly in Dane County) to determine how custody and placement should be allocated between the parents. The counselor makes a recommendation to the court, which is often adopted.
Final hearing: If the parties agree on all issues in the divorce, the court holds a brief hearing to adopt the agreement. If the parties do not agree, a trial occurs.
Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Judgment of Divorce (or Paternity): The court’s final order addressing all issues in the divorce or paternity matter.
Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO): Separate order dividing retirement accounts.
Each client will encounter these terms throughout their case, and a good understanding can help ease the client’s mind and manage the case. The discovery process is its own animal, and will be addressed in a subsequent blog.