Family law covers a wide range of legal matters associated with couples and families, and knowing important terms can help you understand the facts of your case. By staying informed about the legal terms that may influence your situation, you can be prepared and make wise decisions to seek a beneficial solution. What are some common family law terms you should be familiar with?

Here are some important family law terms and their descriptions:

  1. Alimony: Also known as spousal support, alimony refers to the payment of one spouse to the other after a separation or divorce. Alimony awards depend on several factors, including the length of the marriage, health of each spouse, ability of the payer spouse to support the receiving spouse, and the standard of living to which the recipient is accustom.
  2. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): This term refers to alternative methods of seeking resolutions in family law matters, including mediation or arbitration. ADR allows disputes to be settled without going to trial.
  3. Annulment: An annulment refers to the judicial recognition that a valid marriage never existed. There are two categories of marriages that may be eligible for an annulment, void marriages, that are invalid from their inception, and voidable marriage, that require one or both of the parties have to assert the marriage is void.
  4. Child Support: Child support is payment made to support children of a separated or divorced couple until the child is emancipated. Child support is usually provided by the party who is awarded a minority of the custody time.
  5. Child Custody: There are two types of child custody, legal and physical. Legal custody grants power over decisions related to decision making involving a child’s health, education, and welfare, including religious training. Physical custody refers to the time allocated to each parent to exercise custody. Both physical and legal custody can be awarded to both parents jointly or to one parent solely.
  6. Commissioner: A position within certain counties that has the authority to hear cases and make decisions as a judge does, but their decisions must be reviewed and approved by a judge.
  7. Custody Evaluation: A process in which a mental health professional evaluates a family, including the mental health of those involved, in order to make a recommendation for custody and visitation.
  8. Divorce: This refers to the dissolution of a legally valid marriage. In Missouri, a couple seeking divorce must prove that the marriage is irretrievably broken and beyond any hope of restoration. If both parties agree that the marriage relationship is irretrievably broken, the court will review the petition and often order a dissolution. As part of a dissolution, the parties separate property is set aside to its respective owner, marital property is divided in a “fair and equitable” fashion, and a parenting plan is implemented for all unemancipated children of the marriage.
  9. Equitable Distribution: This term describes a fair distribution of marital assets and property. This does not necessarily mean the property will be divided equally among both partners, but courts will encourage the partners to reach a settlement out of court. If an agreement cannot be made between the parties, the court will step in and declare a property award.
  10. Guardian ad Litem: A court appointed representative of a minor child’s best interests. Missouri requires the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) in cases where abuse or neglect has been alleged. They are called upon to investigate what is truly in a child’s best interest, which may differ from what that child desires.
  11. Mediation: Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that allows parties to reach a settlement without going to court. In mediation, a neutral third party will facilitate communication in an organized manner to help the partners come to an agreement regarding important decisions.
  12. Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI): A test performed by mental health professionals in many Physiological or Custody Evaluations in order to aid in analyzing a personals mental health.
  13. Next Friend: A court appointed representative of a minor child or a mentally or physically infirmed person in certain civil cases. A next friend will most frequently appear in a family context within a paternity action.
  14. Parenting Plan: A parenting plan is an exhibit to a Paternity Judgment or a Judgment of Dissolution, when children are involved. It describes what custody and visitation rights are allocated to each of the parents or in some circumstances third parties.
  15. Prenuptial Agreements: Also called premarital agreements, prenuptial agreements are made prior to marriage. These agreements set forth the responsibilities and rights of each partner should the marriage end, either by death or divorce.
  16. Psychological Evaluation: An evaluation performed by a mental health professional in certain custody cases. The investigation frequently involves norm-referenced testing, interviews, observations, and informal assessments to analyze behavior, personality and capabilities.
  17. Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO): A QDRO is often issued by a court in divorce cases. This order divides retirement benefits fairly between both parties and takes into account various factors to determine a proper distribution.
  18. Settlement Conference: This term refers to a meeting, often ordered by the court, between each of the parties and their attorneys. This can allow the parties to reach a settlement without going through litigation.

These glossary terms can provide valuable information about family law matters. Whether you are facing divorce, child custody, or another family law situation, knowing these terms can help you understand your situation and seek a beneficial outcome. At Coulter Lambson, our St. Louis County family law attorneys have helped thousands of clients navigate family law and divorce cases, and we are prepared to walk you through the legal process.

Call today at (314) 309-2377 for a free consultation.