Breaking Down the Jargon: here’s what these commonly used legal terms mean

Making sense of what goes on in Court or legal filings can often seem like trying to understand a foreign language.  When you add the emotion of divorce into the mix, things can get pretty messy.  Unlocking the secret language of divorce will not only help you understand what the judge and lawyers are saying, but also assist you in making informed decisions about your future and your family.  The following are commonly used terms in divorce/custody cases:

  1. Summary Dissolution: When there is a marriage of less than 5 years, no children, combined debt of less than $6,000 and combined assets of less than $47,000 (not including cars), parties are eligible to file a Joint Petition for the Summary Dissolution of their marriage.  The process is easier than a traditional dissolution, requiring forms to be submitted jointly.  Of course, you need to be on relatively good terms with your ex to do take this route, but it is an economical option if you qualify.
  1. Alimony:  Now referred to as spousal support comes in two forms, temporary and permanent.  Temporary spousal support is meant to maintain the financial status quo until either a final agreement of the parties or completion of trial.  Permanent spousal support is meant to assist the supported party in maintaining the marital lifestyle/standard of living until the supported party can become self-supporting.  Permanent spousal support is usually ordered for half the term of the marriage for marriages of 10 years or less and for marriages lasting 10 years or more, support can be ordered for the supported person’s lifetime or remarriage.  The Court considers many factors when ordering spousal support including the health, education and training of the supported spouse, duration of the marriage and even if there were proven instances of domestic violence.  When requesting spousal support, the Court has the ability to make orders retroactive to either the date the request was filed or when the Petition for Dissolution was filed. 
  1. No- Fault:  California is a no-fault jurisdiction state, which means that you do not have to prove “fault” when getting a divorce.  Issues of infidelity etc… are irrelevant as to whether or not you can get a divorce, support, and they do not affect the distribution of property.  In some states, if a party is caught being unfaithful, they can lose the right to receive spousal support or an equal share of the marital estate.
  1. Dissolution: This is the term of art used to describe a divorce.  When filing for divorce, you are filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. 
  1. Contested: Simply means that the other party is challenging what you are requesting.  In a “contested divorce” both sides cannot agree on the terms to end their marriage and need a court to decide and make an order.
  1. Discovery:  This is the term used for legal fact finding.  Each and every time a case is filed, the parties have the right to engage in discovery i.e., “discover” what assets exist as well as what evidence the other side has and plans to present in court.  Both sides also have the right to flesh out what claims the other side will make at trial and what they plan to use to prove their case.  Evidence that is not produced in discovery can be excluded at trial in the form of discovery sanctions.
  1. Deposition: A deposition is a discovery tool used to ask the other party or third-party witnesses questions under penalty of perjury before you examine them at trial.  Unless you have a judicial officer present at the deposition to rule on objections, the deponent must answer all questions asked unless their attorney instructs them not to answer.  Depositions are useful tools to gather information and know how a witness will answer at trial. Also, depositions can be videotaped which often captures the attitude and demeaner of both the deponent and their attorney which can be useful in a request for sanctions and/or to unmask a dishonest witness.

Adjourned: Simply means to conclude.  A matter can either be adjourned for the day to resume on another designated day or a matter can be adjourned after both parties have rested; thereafter the Court will issue a ruling.