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Glossary of


  • Ad Litem
    A person appointed in a suit on behalf of a party incapacitated by infancy or otherwise.
  • Adoption
    A legal process wherein the parental rights of one or both natural parents of a child are terminated and a parent-child relationship is created between the adoptive parents and the child.
  • Affidavit
    A written statement given under oath; a sworn statement.
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”)
    Procedures for settling disputes by means other than litigation (e.g., mediation and arbitration), which are usually less costly and more expeditious than contested litigation.
  • Answer
    A written response to a complaint, petition, or motion which is filed with the court.
  • Annulment
    A proceeding to dissolve and declare a marriage as void as though the parties were never married. Texas law allows annulments under very limited circumstances. (Note that a legal annulment is not the same as a religious annulment. Even if you do you not qualify for a legal annulment, you may still qualify for a religious annulment.)
  • Appeal
    A request by a party contesting the outcome of a case, and asking a higher court to review the decision of the trial court. Appellate courts have jurisdiction to review the law applied by the trial court.
  • Arbitration
    A form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) where the parties to a dispute agree to refer it to an arbitrator, who reviews the case and imposes a decision that is legally binding on the parties.
  • Associate Judge
    A judge of the court, other than the presiding judge. Family courts in some Texas counties (including Dallas and Tarrant counties) select and employ an associate judge in each family court to assist them with certain matters (usually including all temporary orders hearings and discovery hearings) before the court. (Note that each party has a right to appeal any recommendation made by an Associate Judge to the presiding judge of the court and is entitled to a trial de novo before the presiding judge.)
  • Attorney Ad Litem
    An attorney appointed by the court to represent a child's best interests and wishes. However, if the child's best interests are different from the child's wishes, the Attorney Ad Litem will represent the child's wishes and a Guardian Ad Litem will be appointed to represent the child’s best interests.
  • Bench Trial
    A trial without a jury where the judge rules on any contested issues.
  • Child Support
    Money paid to one parent to assist the other parent in supporting their child or children.
  • Child Support Guidelines
    A formula set forth in the Texas Family Code that determines how much support can be awarded to a parent by the court. Unless specific circumstances warrant deviation from the child support guidelines, the Court can only order support within the child support guidelines.
  • Citation
    Notification of the existence of a lawsuit issued by the court and served the party being sued by a constable of private process server.
  • Collaborative Law
    Collaborative Law is a dispute resolution model in which both parties to the dispute retain separate, specially-trained lawyers whose only job is to help them settle the dispute. If the lawyers do not succeed in helping the clients resolve the problem, the lawyers are out of a job and can never represent either client against the other again. All participants agree to work together respectfully, honestly, and in good faith to try to find "win-win" solutions to the legitimate needs of both parties. No one may go to court, or even threaten to do so, and if that should occur, the Collaborative Law process terminates and both lawyers are disqualified from any further involvement in the case.
  • Common Law Marriage
    When a man and woman agree to live together as husband and wife without a formal ceremony or marriage license signifying their marriage. Common law marriages are not recognized in most states, but are recognized in Texas if the parties: 1) agreed to be married, 2) lived together as husband and wife, and 3) held themselves out as husband and wife.
  • Community Property
    In general, community property is all property acquired during marriage other than by gift or inheritance. However, due to legal concepts such as commingling, mutation and reimbursement, this can be much more complicated.
  • Conservtorship
    Conservatorship orders divide various parental rights and duties, including (1) the right to make major decisions regarding the children; (2) the right to have physical possession of the children; and (3) the duty to financially support the children among the parents after the divorce by paying child support, providing health insurance and paying for uninsured medical expenses of the children.
  • Contempt
    A ruling by the court stating that a party willfully violated a written order of a court that can result in a fine, jail time, or both.
  • Counter-Petition
    A counter-petition is a pleading filed by a Respondent that amounts to a counter-claim against the Petitioner. The answering party (i.e., the Respondent/Counter-Petitioner) can file the same types of counter claims against the filing party. (Note, the filing of a counter-petition by a Respondent prevents the Petitioner from taking a non-suit and dismissing the lawsuit without notice to the Respondent).
  • Counter-Petitioner
    The party filing a counter-petition.
  • Decree of Divorce
    A document signed by a judge granting a divorce under the specific terms laid out in that document. The Decree will include provisions 1) dividing the parties’ community property, 2) confirming either parties’ separate property, 3) addressing payment of debts and taxes, and 4) for spousal maintenance (if available). If minor children are involved, the decree will also include a parenting plan that sets out the rights and duties of parents and includes provisions relating to conservatorship, possession of and access to a child, child support, and a dispute resolution process to minimize future disputes.
  • Default
    The failure of a party to a lawsuit to answer a complaint, motion, or petition.
  • Deposition
    Sworn answers (testimony) in response to questions asked by an attorney of another party recorded by either a court reporter and/or videotaped.
  • Discovery
    Before a case comes to trial, all parties are given a chance to seek relevant information from each other through requests for production and inspection of documents, depositions, interrogatories (written questions), requests for disclosure and other reasonable means.
  • Expert Witness
    A witness, who by virtue of education, training, skill, or experience, has expertise and specialized knowledge in a particular subject beyond that of the average person, sufficient that others may officially and legally rely upon the witness's specialized (scientific, technical or other) opinion about an evidence or fact issue within the scope of his expertise, referred to as the expert opinion, as an assistance to the fact-finder.
  • Fault
    "Fault" grounds for divorce include adultery or cruel treatment. A court may consider "fault" in the breakup of a marriage as a factor in deciding how to divide the property and debts, a party may also choose to plead a "fault" ground for divorce. Even if “fault” grounds for divorce exist, it is not uncommon for a court to grant a divorce on the no-fault grounds of insupportability, while at the same time considering the “fault” as a factor in deciding how to divide the property and debts.
  • Filing
    The process of handing over legal papers to the appropriate clerk of the court handling your case.
  • Guardian Ad Litem
    An attorney that focuses on the child's best interests in making recommendations to the court, even if that is not what the child says he or she wants. The Guardian Ad Litem may complete written reports for the court and testify in court.
  • Grounds for Divorce
    The specific reasons that allow for a court to grant a divorce which must be proven before a divorce can be granted by the Court. This is also known as the legal basis for a divorce.
  • Inequitable Division
    A property division that is disproportionate in favor of one spouse over the other spouse.
  • Insupportability
    A "no-fault" grounds for divorce expressly set out in the Texas Family Code. Most divorces are founded on the no-fault ground of "insupportability" (i.e. incompatibility), which can be granted to either spouse if that spouse feels that the marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict in personalities which makes any reasonable expectation of reconciliation impossible.
  • Intervenor
    An individual who is not already a party to an existing lawsuit but who makes himself or herself a party to the lawsuit.
  • Inventory & Appraisement
    A sworn listing of all community and separate assets and debts prepared in a divorce action by the parties.
  • Joint Managing Conservatorship
    Joint conservatorship is the default arrangement for child custody in Texas. Under joint managing conservatorship, parents share responsibility for major decision making on behalf of the child in matters such as education, religion, and medical crises. One of the parents is appointed as the primary managing conservator. The child may live primarily with this parent, who has the day-to-day responsibility for caring for the child. The primary managing conservator usually receives child support from the other parent.
  • Judgment
    A decision made by the court.
  • Jurisdiction
    The power of the court to make judicial decisions regarding your case. Every court does not have jurisdiction over family law cases and issues, so they cannot make decisions in your particular case and must be assigned to the appropriate court with jurisdiction.
  • Just and Right Division
    On dissolution of marriage by divorce, community property is subject to a “just and right” division (which is not necessarily 50/50). The factors in a just and right division may take into account , and other factors the court deems relevant.
  • Jury Trial
    A trial before a jury comprised of members of the community who make determinations on issues submitted to them.
  • Mediation
    A process where parties attempt to resolve issues and reach an agreement outside of a courtroom with the assistance of a mediator.
  • Mediator
    A neutral party who facilitates discussion in order to reach an agreement during mediation.
  • Mutual Injunction
    An injunction commonly issued before the start of a divorce preceding that prohibits each spouse from acting in a way that would be destructive to the other spouse. This can include hiding assets, destroying community property, harassment, or kidnapping of the child.
  • Negotiations
    Attempts to reach a settlement agreement.
  • Non-Binding
    The process of trying to reach an agreement that does not penalize the parties if they cannot agree on the issues being discussed.
  • Motion
    A written request to the court (that usually requires a hearing before the judge) to decide upon the issues specified in the motion. Once the judge makes a decision on those issues, a written order (the decision of the court) is signed by the court.
  • Movant
    The person who files a motion with the court.
  • Obligor
    The parent ordered by the court to pay child support.
  • Obligee
    The parent who receives child support.
  • Orders
    Written documents signed by a judge (upon agreement of the parties or after a hearing) that are binding upon the parties to the case. Orders can be temporary orders (which apply during the pendency of a case) or final orders (which apply once the case is finalized, unless later modified by the court).
  • Parenting Coordinator
    An “impartial” third-party appointed by the court to assist the parties in resolving issues relating to parenting and other family issues arising from an order in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship.” Texas law prevents parenting coordinators from being compelled to produce work product from parenting coordinating appointments, being required to disclose the source of any information, and submitting into evidence anything other than a written report to the court and the parties (as often as ordered by the court), which may only provide an opinion regarding whether the parenting coordination is succeeding and should continue.
  • Parenting Facilitator
    An “impartial” third-party appointed by the court to assist the parties in resolving issues relating to parenting and other family issues arising from an order in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship.” The Parenting Facilitator mediates, monitors, educates and refers to additional services as needed. While both parenting coordinators and parenting facilitators help co-parents identify a parenting plan and assist the family in dispute resolution to minimize disputes in the future, a parenting facilitator has a great scope of responsibility in a case. The facilitator may report to the court and be called to testify.
  • Parenting Plan
    A “Parenting Plan” is a temporary or final court order in a divorce or other suit-affecting the parent child relationship that sets out the rights and duties of parents in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship and includes provisions relating to conservatorship, possession of and access to a child, and child support, and a dispute resolution process to minimize future disputes.
  • Parties
    Any person who has been served or filed an appearance with the court pertaining to a lawsuit. In a divorce action, the parties are typically just the spouses involved in the case, but sometimes also include other parties such as intervenors.
  • Paternity
    A court’s ruling determining the legal father of the child in question.
  • Petition For Divorce
    A document filed with the court that begins a divorce case. The petition informs the court that the petitioning spouse wants the divorce, the grounds for divorce and basic statements regarding the relief requested by the petitioning spouse. Under Texas law, the petition for divorce must be on file with the court for at least sixty days before the court may grant a divorce, even if both parties are in agreement and the divorce is uncontested.
  • Petitioner
    The party who files a petition for divorce or other lawsuit in the family law courts.
  • Petition To Modify
    A request that asks the Court to change an existing written decree or order. The modification requested usually relates to conservatorship, child support, or possession issues between former spouses.
  • Pleadings
    A request filed with the court that can take the form of a petition, motion, or an answer to a petition or motion.
  • Possessory Conservator
    The parent who does not have primary custody of the child, but has the right to visitation and possession through a fixed schedule determined by the court. This parent is usually responsible for paying child support to the other parent.
  • Property Division
    The division of community property and debts of the parties by the court in a divorce action. The division must be “just and right”. “Just and right” is not always 50/50 under Texas law. In making a “just and right” division, the court may take into account factors such as fault in the break up of the marriage, disparity of earning power between the spouses, health or the spouses, education and future employability of the spouses, the spouse to whom conservatorship of the children is granted. Most importantly, the court cannot award the separate property of one spouse to another in the division of property.
  • Pro Se
    A person who has chosen to represent themselves, and not to have an attorney representing them in court.
  • Prove Up
    The process of finalizing your divorce which legally ends the marriage. To prove-up the divorce, one of the parties to the divorce (most commonly the Petitioner) appears with their attorney in front of the judge at a hearing and recites certain necessary information required for the court to approve the terms of the divorce and grant the divorce.
  • QDRO
    A "qualified domestic relation order" (QDRO) is a domestic relations order that creates or recognizes the existence of an alternate payee's right to receive, or assigns to an alternate payee the right to receive, all or a portion of the benefits payable with respect to a participant under a retirement plan, and that includes certain information and meets certain other requirements.
  • Reimbursement
    Under Texas law, either party to a divorce suit may assert a claim for reimbursement under certain circumstances. Reimbursement is a procedure through which a spouse can obtain an accounting between the community and separate estates of the spouses. The concept of reimbursement stems from the notion that the community should be responsible for community debts, and a spouse's separate estate should be responsible for the separate debts of that spouse.
  • Residency Requirements
    At least one spouse must have been "domiciled" in Texas for six months, and a "resident' of the county where the suit is filed for ninety days, before the petition may be filed. It need not be the party filing the divorce action who meets the residency requirements.
  • Respondent
    The person who is a suit is brought against by the Petitioner.
  • The “Rule”
    A motion before the start of testimony in a case that can be made by any party through their attorney. If any party invokes the rule, the court is required to swear in all lay witnesses who will testify in the trial in the case and excluded them from the courtroom. The “Rule” does not apply to expert witnesses.
  • Rule 11 Agreement
    A binding agreement signed by both parties or entered into the court’s record acknowledging the parties agreement to resolve certain disputed issues.
  • Separate Property
    All property that either party to a divorce action can provide that they owned prior to marriage or property acquired during the marriage by gift or inheritance. The burden of proof to establish that property is a spouses’ separate property is “clear and convincing evidence”. If this burden is met with respect to an item property owned by a spouse, the court is required to set aside and award that property to the spouse who has established that they owned the property prior to marriage or acquired it during marriage by gift or inheritance.
  • Service
    The act of providing the other party, through their attorney of record, with a copy of the documents you have filed with the court.
  • Service Of Process
    The procedure employed to give legal notice to the other party of the filing of the lawsuit and of the court’s exercise of its jurisdiction over that them so as to enable that person to respond to the proceeding before the court, body or other tribunal. Usually, notice is furnished by delivering a set of court documents (called "process") along with a citation to the person to be served
  • Social Study
    A survey of home life and surrounding circumstances of the parent and child ordered by the court.
  • Standard Possession Order
    This is the possession plan created by the legislature that is deemed to be in the best interest of a child. LINK.
  • Standing Order
    In certain counties, including Dallas, Collin, Rockwall and Denton county, a standing order must be attached to the initial pleading filed in any divorce or suit affecting-the parent child relationship. Unless modified by the court, the standing order is in effect throughout the pendency of the case, and gives the court’s rules regarding prohibited and permitted conduct of each party during the case. LINKS TO DALLAS COLLIN ROCKWALL AND DENTON ORDERS.
  • Subpoena
    A document issued by the court requiring a witness to appear in that court and/or provide documents related to the case at hand.
  • Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (“SAPCR”)
    Court orders that divide parental rights are called Suits Affecting the Parent - Child Relationship (SAPCR orders) . SAPCR orders can be part of a divorce or paternity case. If paternity is already established and the parties aren't divorcing, the case is simply called a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. SAPCR cases are governed by Subtitle B of the Texas Family Code.
  • Temporary Hearings
    Hearings held before the case goes to trial to determine rules and orders that will apply to each party during the pendency of the lawsuit and before the final judgment.
  • Temporary Orders
    These orders come out of temporary hearings before the court, but can also be made through agreement of the parties, and give the court’s rules regarding the conduct of each party during the trial. These orders can determine spousal maintenance, visitation and custody rights, child support, spousal maintenance and use of the marital residence during the pendency of the case.
  • Temporary restraining order
    Also known as a “TRO”. This order is usually entered at the start of the divorce proceeding and prohibits one spouse from harassing or harming the other spouse or their child. It may also apply to property held by the other spouse.
  • Temporary Maintenance
    Support paid to a spouse only during the time the divorce is pending.
  • Tracing
    If either party had separate assets before and during the marriage, tracing may be required to prove the property claimed is separate property by “clear and convincing evidence”. Tracing may be required if separate and community assets have been commingled. The rules can become very complex and require the testimony of expert witnesses versed in accounting and sophisticated financial transactions.
  • Trial
    The formal hearing before the court in which both parties are allowed to present witnesses and evidence that support their claims. The parties and any witnesses they call give sworn testimony and present evidence to the court. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge or jury issues it ruling on the evidence present.
  • Trial De Novo
    A new trial by a different tribunal (de novo is a Latin expression meaning 'afresh', 'anew', 'beginning again,' hence the literal meaning "new trial").
  • Uncontested Divorce
    A case in which the other spouse does not plan on stopping the proceeding by the court in order to dispute any issues related to the ending of the marriage.
  • Waiting Period
    Under Texas law, a petition for divorce must be filed with the court for at least sixty days before the court may grant that divorce, even if both parties are in agreement and the divorce is uncontested.
  • Waiver Of Citation/Service
    A document that a party signs which acknowledges that they have received the original petition. Waiver of service is a document in which the party acknowledges that they have received the original petition filed in the case and wishes to waive the service of process. (Meaning they do not wish to have a private process server or police officer show up at their door step at an awkward time to serve them with papers which indicates “they have just been sued”.) It also acknowledges to the court that they have entered an appearance known as an answer.
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