Divorce Legal Term Glossary

Agreed Order: A court order that is entered by agreement of the parties. In this situation the judge just approves the agreement.

Attorney: A professional licensed to practice law and who can represent you (speak for you)  in court.

Case: A lawsuit.

Court Order: (1) A ruling issued by a judge in an ongoing case that directs somebody to do something. It could be something as simple as rescheduling a hearing or something as coercive as a Temporary Restraining Order. (2) A official paper where the court’s ruling was written down.

Court Reporter: A person who records and transcribes testimony. They usually record stenographically but may also record the testimony through other means. Court reporters are generally used for depositions, hearings, and trials.

Deposition: Out-of-court testimony that is transcribed by a court reporter. This is used for discovery or to impeach a witness.

Discovery: The legal process used to find information relevant to a case. Some common types of discovery include interrogatories, depositions, request for admissions, and request for production of documents.

Expert Witness: A witness whose knowledge, skill, experience, or education allows them to render an opinion about the evidence or facts before the court.

Hearing: A hearing is like a trial. However, the issue addressed in the hearing is pertinent to the progress of the case but does not resolve the underlying dispute that caused the case to be filed. Also, in a legal proceeding you can have many hearings but only one trial. An example of a hearing is when a spouse files for temporary maintenance to maintain their standard of living during the divorce proceeding. The hearing does not address the issue of maintenance after the divorce, but rather addresses temporary issue of supporting a spouse during the divorce proceeding. Another example of a hearing would be to compel discovery when one party has not provided adequate discovery. The judge’s decision in a hearing is called a “ruling”.

Impeach: To discredit the truthfulness of a witness.

Judgment: (1) A court’s final decision in a trial. There is only one judgment in any legal proceeding. (2) A official paper where a court’s ruling was written down. (A judgment is to trial as an order is to a hearing).

Lawsuit: A legal proceeding by one or more parties against one or more parties.

Litigation: The process of resolving a dispute through the adversarial proceeding of the court system.

Mediator: A neutral third party who attempts to get the disputing spouses to reach an agreement.

Motion: A written or oral request to the court to rule a certain way.

Petition (n): The first pleading in a lawsuit (i.e.., the document that you file to begin your divorce). This document should state the law that applies to your case, background information about your case, and the relief that you want the court to give you).

Petition (v): To formally request something from the court.

Prenuptial Agreement: An agreement made before a couple marries that resolves the issues of spousal maintenance and division of property in case the marriage ends in divorce or death of a spouse.

Ruling: A court’s decision after a hearing or trial. In Cook County a judge’s ruling is written down in an order or judgment (for example,”show me the judgment so I can see what the judge ruled.”)

Serve: To present a legal document to someone in a specific formal way required by law.

Status Date: A court date where you update the judge on the progress of your case. This may also be referred to as a status hearing.

Subpoena: An enforceable document that commands a party to appear before a court or to produce certain documents.

Testify: The facts that a witness says in a legal proceeding, usually when under oath.

Transcript: Oral testimony that has been put in writing.

Trial: The process where  two or more sides to a dispute present their argument to a judge so that the judge, after careful consideration of the facts, may issue a judgment permanently resolving the dispute.

Witness: A person who gives testimony under oath.

Child Representative: This attorney advocates for what they believe to be in the best interests of your child. In determining what is the bests interests of the child the child representative is supposed to meet with the child and the parents, investigate the facts of the case, and encourage you and the other parent to reach an agreement that is in the best interests of the child.

Guardian ad litem: This person, often an attorney or social worker, testifies or submits a written report to the court regarding his or her recommendations in what is best for your child.

Custody Evaluation: This is a report written by an expert, usually a psychologist or social worker, that gives a recommendation to the  court as to what custody decision is in the best interests of the child. Among the issues that the report must include are: (1) a description of the process used for the evaluation, (2) recommendations to the court for the allocation of parental responsibilities, (3) an explanation of any perceived shortcomings of  the report by its author.

Child Support: Payment from one parent to the other to cover the day to day living expenses related to the child.

Spousal Maintenance: This was previously known as alimony. This is a payment from the higher earning spouse (or former spouse) to the lower earning spouse (or former spouse) during a divorce proceeding or after a divorce.