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Glossary and Links
Affidavit – A written declaration, made under oath and notarized by a Notary Public. Affidavits are no longer required in Washington; instead, the courts use Declarations.
Alimony – see support or spousal support paid to a former spouse. There are four types of spousal support: temporary or interim support - while litigation is pending, term - for a set number of years after the divorce, rehabilitative - intended for re-education and training of a dependent spouse, and permanent support - usually for very long term marriages or when one spouse is unable to support themselves.
Answer – a formal pleading filed in response to a complaint.
Appearance - informing the court of your whereabouts and your desire to participate in your case, either in person, at a Court hearing, or in writing by filling out a Notice of Appearance.
Appraisal – a document stating the opinion of value of real property or personal property.
Bailiff - a member of the judge or commissioner’s staff who is in charge of courtroom procedure and security. The bailiff may sometimes be the same person as the clerk.
Calendar - The court’s schedule of cases to be heard, also called a Docket.
Case Information Statement (CIS) – a form required to be filed within 20 days after the answer is filed in court, which includes information about the parties, the family, their finances, assets and liabilities, and other pertinent information that enables the court or the other side to get a thumbnail sketch of the issues in dispute in a family law case.
Case Management Conference – usually the first appearance in court by the parties and their attorneys after a complaint and answer are filed. The judge assigns a track to the case (see “Track” below), reviews the CIS, and sets a schedule for the exchange of financial information, formal discovery and settlement conferences.
Certified Copy - a copy of a document from a court file made by the court clerk, which has an official stamp on it. There is usually a fee for a certified copy.
Clerk of the Court - an officer of the court who handles clerical matters like keeping records and entering judgments. Usually, there is one head clerk, but many people who work in the Clerk’s Office are also clerks.
Child Support – the monetary support paid by both parents to dependent children. The amount of support is statutory, and is based on net income of both parties and a number of factors. Calculation of support should be done by a professional with the use of updated software.
Child Support Worksheet – a form by which the parties' net income, taxes and other deductions, and other pertinent financial information is used to calculate each party’s child support obligation.
Cohabitation – when two people live together in a relationship tantamount to marriage and involving mutual financial support. Cohabitation can trigger the termination or modification of spousal support.
Commissioner/Court Commissioner - similar to a judge, but only makes decisions relating to a particular subject matter. Many counties have family law commissioners who decide cases only about family law.
Comparative Market Analysis – an informal opinion regarding the value of real property, based on a review of houses that have sold and that are currently offered for sale.
Complaint – a pleading that sets forth the allegations that constitute grounds for divorce or annulment or other relief (such as domestic violence, custody, adoption)
Continuance - delaying your court hearing to a later date.
Counterclaim – a request for relief from the party answering a complaint.
Custodian – the person the children live with the majority of the time.
Custody Mediation – court-ordered participation in a program with a trained mediator to assist the parties in resolving disputes over custody and visitation or parenting time.
DCS - Division of Child Support. The state office (part of DSHS) that creates enforces and sometimes modifies child support obligations. Used to be called CSD, OSE and SED.
Declaration - a written statement made to the court under oath.
Default Order - an order that can be obtained if the responding person does not respond on time.
Deposition – the gathering of sworn testimony of a party or witness, usually done in a lawyer’s office. The testimony is transcribed verbatim by a court stenographer, who produces a written booklet for use at trial. All parties to the case are given notice of the date, time and place of a deposition and have the opportunity to ask questions of the witness and to interpose objections.
Discovery – also called “pre-trial discovery,” this is the formal exchange of information between the parties and disclosure of all factual issues in dispute in a case. The purpose is to streamline the trial and also to assist the parties in achieving a settlement with each providing fully informed consent.
Dissolution - the legal term for divorce in the State of Washington
Domestic Violence Complaint – a civil action against a spouse, family member or a person with whom the plaintiff has a present or past dating relationship, alleging that the defendant committed a specified criminal act. All domestic violence complaints are reviewed by a judge or hearing officer; if accepted for filing, the court will issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) prohibiting the defendant from contact with the victim. A hearing is scheduled within 10 days of the TRO. Important: If you think you or someone in your family may be a victim of domestic violence, call the police or the domestic violence hotline in your area. Do NOT wait to obtain legal advice.
Durable Power of Attorney – sometimes referred to as a living will, gives a party the right to represent a principle as their “attorney in fact” (as opposed to their “attorney at law”). Gives the party specific rights to do business as the principle (but not to represent them in a court of law). Usually a power of attorney is terminated once the principle no longer has the mental ability to consent or to terminate this arrangement. With a durable power of attorney, this right extends past this point, and may even be triggered to not be effective, until this point in time.
Equitable distribution – the division of community property assets and debts acquired by one or both parties during the marriage. Assets that are exempt from equitable distribution include gifts from third parties, inheritances, premarital assets, post separation assets, and any other asset defined by a prenuptial agreement.
Ex Parte - going before the court without notifying the other party.
Expert Witness – unlike a fact witness, an expert witness provides specialized testimony to assist the court in determining an issue that is not readily apparent to a lay person, such as the value of property, welfare of children, health of a party, fitness of a parent, employability of a party or other issue pertinent to the case. Expert witnesses are paid for court and to prepare for court. The employment of expert witnesses can add significantly to the expense of a family law case; they are often valuable tools in trial or settlement. Knowing when to hire an expert is something that a client should discuss with the attorney.
Filing - giving court papers to the Court Clerk to place in the case file.
Final Judgment of Dissolution – a final order that dissolves the marriage and often distributes property and sets support. A certified copy is needed for change of name, change of beneficiary or religious annulments.
Forensic Accountant – an expert witness who investigates a party’s finances to determine whether the reported income or assets is truthful and accurate. They are useful in many situations such as when one party is self employed and is believed to be under-reporting income.
Hearing - going before a judge or commissioner to request a court order.
Interrogatories – written questions regarding pertinent facts of a case, answered under oath, usually due within 30 to 40 days of service.
Joint Legal Custody – not to be confused with shared residential custody, this refers to the legal rights and responsibilities of the respective parents and recognizes that both parties should have equal say in major decisions (medical, higher education, etc) affecting a child. Mostly all divorces and separations result in a determination of joint legal custody.
Joint Residential Custody – also called shared parenting, this is a custody and visitation arrangement that attempts to equalize the time spent between two parents. If it is done by consent, the time can be shared in any manner the parties think is in the best interests of the children – every other week, every other day, alternating three or four days with each parent, etc.
Jurisdiction - the court’s authority to make decisions regarding certain people and issues. If a court does not have jurisdiction, it does not have the power to make orders.
Motion - a formal request to the court for an order.
Motion Docket - the court’s schedule of motions to be heard.
Note or Notice of Hearing - a written request to the clerk to schedule your case for hearing.
Order: A court document signed by a judge or commissioner that requires someone to do or not do something. If you disobey an order of the court, you can be held in contempt of court.
Parentage - the legal name for the legal relationship between an unmarried parent and their child (paternity). Also the name of the type of court case.
Paternity Affidavit - a special form, also known as an Acknowledgment of Paternity or Paternity affidavit; typically used by unmarried parents to state who the father of the child is. In Washington, these forms are often offered to the mother in the hospital right after a child’s birth. The form must be signed by the mother and father (and presumed father) of a child and filed with the Washington State Department of Health. If the form is filed after July 1, 1997, and is not rescinded, it a final legal determination of parentage. If the form was filed before July 1, 1997, there is a legal presumption that the father named on the form is the child’s father, but the form is not a final legal determination of parentage.
Pendente Lite (PL) – a Latin term meaning “while the case is pending.” This usually refers to an interim or temporary order for child support, spousal support.
Petitioner - the person who first files a legal case. The petitioner in the caption of a form does not change even when motions are filed later by the other party.
Permanent Support – spousal support that will continue indefinitely until it is modified by a new court order. The word “permanent” means until further order of a court, not necessarily “forever.” The amount of support can be adjusted up or down due to a permanent and material change in circumstances, such as an increase in the need of the dependent spouse or the ability to pay of the supporting spouse.
Post-Judgment Motion – a motion filed to seek enforcement or modification of a final judgment of dissolution and/or a property settlement or support agreement, filed after the parties are divorced.
Presumed Father - a man who is recognized under law as the father of a child until the parent-child relationship is either established (or disestablished) by court order or paternity affidavit. Under the new Uniform Parentage Act, generally, there are two ways to become the presumed father of a child: (1) be married to the child’s mother at the time of, or 300 days before, the child’s birth; or (2) have signed a paternity affidavit before July 1, 1997.
Pro Se - acting without aid of an attorney; representing yourself in court.
Parenting Plan – a written document that sets forth the schedule for visitation and parenting (sometimes referred to as custody), and the terms and conditions under which the parties will resolve mutual decisions regarding education and other important parenting issues. It is prepared by the attorneys or by a mediator after the parties have reached an agreement in the best interests of the children.
Process - written notice to appear in court.
Rehabilitative Support – spousal support that is temporary in nature and intended to raise the dependent spouse’s ability to earn income. Usually it is designed to assist a dependent spouse in returning to school or achieving specialized training in a field. The advantage to the paying spouse is that the end result is to make the dependent spouse independent, or less dependent, on support and to reduce alimony in the long run. It is especially useful for a spouse who has put his or her career “on hold” to raise a family or is out of touch with the technological training or skills needed in the workplace.
Respondent - the person against whom a legal case was originally filed.
Response - a formal written answer to a petition filed with the court.
Requests for Admissions – written statements that a party is required to admit or deny within 30 days of receipt.
Request for Production – similar to interrogatories, this is a written request for the production of relevant documents, such as business records, bank account statements and ledgers, copies of titles, mortgage and Deeds, and other documents that will provide mutual disclosure of the issues in dispute in a pending case. In anticipation of a notice to produce, the parties may voluntarily exchange relevant documents.
Retainer Agreement – a written document setting forth the manner in which an attorney is hired (retained) and paid. Usually a payment of money in advance is deposited in the attorney’s trust account and drawn against as fees are earned. Future payments are paid in advance to maintain a minimum balance in the trust account. The reason for advance payment is to ensure that the parties do not run out of funds to pay counsel fees while the divorce is pending, which could result in the inability to afford an attorney.
Service - giving court papers to the other party.
Shared Parenting Agreement – see “joint residential custody,” above.
Support or Spousal Support – The legal term for alimony.
Temporary Order - a court order entered after a case is filed and before it is finished which is only in effect while the case is going on.
Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) – an interim order restraining a party from doing something or ordering a party to do something. Usually in the context of a domestic violence complaint, the TRO is by its very nature, temporary, and intended to preserve the status quo. In a pendente lite motion, either party may request a TRO preventing the dissipation of assets or destruction of documents.
Vacating Judgment or Default – when default is entered against a party for failing to answer, the court may “vacate” or negate a previous order or judgment, upon a showing of excusable neglect and a meritorious defense.
Venue - the county where the case should be filed
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