The divorce process is confusing enough for most people, but the legal jargon thrown around by attorneys and judges can be equally confusing. Below is a glossary of terms that you are likely to hear during your divorce or post judgment application for enforcement or modification. For more than a century, the attorneys at Morris, Downing & Sherred have helped families in transition understand their rights and obligations and guide them through the legal process.
Appeal. The process of contesting the judgment of the trial court by submitting the issue to the Appellate Division. An appeal of a final order or judgment must be made within 45 days of its entry.
Case Information Statement (CIS). A multipage financial document that must be completed by each party, describing the details of income, expenses, assets and debts. It is used by the court to evaluate and determine the marital lifestyle.
Certification. A sworn document describing facts of a particular issue, similar to an affidavit. A certification is filed with a Notice of Motion or in reply to a Notice of Motion brought by your spouse.
Deposition. Procedure during which an attorney questions a witness or a party to the divorce under oath and the questions and answers are transcribed by a court reporter.
Discovery. The exchange of information regarding all issues relevant to your divorce. The most frequently used forms of discovery are interrogatories, depositions, requests for documents and requests for admissions.
Early Settlement Panel (ESP). A conference at the courthouse attended by you, your spouse and both attorneys. The facts of your case are presented to a panel of experienced family law attorneys who volunteer their time to assist in the settlement of cases. These panelists consider the specific circumstances of your case and make a recommendation for settlement. While nonbinding, this recommendation frequently helps the parties and their attorneys reach a settlement agreement.
Equitable Distribution. The process for creating a fair distribution of the assets and debts acquired by the parties during their marriage.
Interrogatories. Written questions used as part of discovery that are answered and sworn to by each party.
Judgment of Divorce. A document that memorializes the granting of a divorce. The judgment may include the court’s decision following trial or the agreement reached by the parties on all relevant issues. The judgment will be certified by the court as a True Copy to be used for any official purpose.
Marital Settlement Agreement. A document that memorializes the terms of a settlement reached during a divorce. It typically covers all aspects of the divorce, including alimony, child support, child custody and visitation, equitable distribution, tax obligations and sharing of deductions for children, health and life insurance obligations, and other issues specific to your divorce. The marital settlement agreement is usually incorporated into and becomes an enforceable part of the Judgment of Divorce.
Notice of Motion. A written application to the court for an order for support, discovery, parenting time or other relief. The notice lists the relief requested and is supported by the certification of the party seeking the relief. The court will generally, though not always, allow attorneys to make an oral argument on behalf of their clients on the return date of the motion. Clients may appear in court on motion days to observe the procedure. The court makes its decision after reading the papers submitted. After the decision is entered, an Order is prepared to memorialize the judge’s decision.
Order. A document that reflects the court’s decision after hearing a Motion or Order to Show Cause. Orders are also entered after by the court on scheduling matters, such as discovery end dates.
Order to Show Cause. A request is filed with the court when emergency relief is sought, such as when one parent has taken or threatens to take a child out of the state. This places the burden on the other party to show why the requested relief (e.g., prohibiting the removal of the child from the state) should not be granted.
Return Date. The date the court hears, and sometimes decides, a Notice of Motion. Return Dates are prescheduled and established by the court each year. There are typically two Return Dates in a calendar month. In family law cases, a Notice of Motion must be filed and served on the opposing party 24 days before the Return Date. This 24-day requirement does not apply to an Order to Show Cause.
Trial. If the parties cannot resolve their differences through negotiation, mediation or some other alternative dispute resolution mechanism, the parties and their witnesses testify and present evidence in open court, subject to interrogation by the other spouse’s lawyer. At the conclusion of the trial, the court renders a decision called a Judgment of Divorce.
If you have questions about your divorce case, the Newton divorce attorneys at Morris, Downing & Sherred stand ready to assist you. Contact our Newton offices or call us at 973-383-2700 today to schedule a confidential consultation and learn more.