Glossary of Terms - Divorce & Custody

Glossary of Terms


Custody (Allocation of Parental Rights): Custody is the legal right and responsibility awarded by a court for the possession and care of a child. Legal custody refers to decision-making responsibility. Physical custody relates to where the child will live or physical access to the child.

Shared parentingShared parenting can mean equal joint custody of a child or any other reasonable agreement the parents make. The court will decide if a Shared Parenting Plan is in the best interest of a child. A Shared Parenting Plan can be written so that the child sees one parent 85% of the time and the other 15%. It could also be that the child spends the school year with one parent and the summer with the other. The Court may still order child support payments with a Shared Parenting Plan. A court will not order Shared Parenting unless the parties agree. Don’t agree to Shared Parenting before talking with your attorney.


Guardian ad litem (GAL)A GAL is usually a lawyer appointed by the court to represent the best interest of the child. The best interest of the child may be different than what the child wants. The GAL is not the child’s attorney.


DiscoveryDiscovery is a process of finding out information about your spouse, your spouse’s assets and what your spouse wants. Informal discovery is done without a formal request. This can include getting copies of bank statements or titles from your home. Formal discovery has rules and is done through interrogatories, document requests or depositions. Your spouse may use discovery to require you to produce information about you or your assets.

Status conferenceA status conference is scheduled after your divorce complaint is filed. The purpose of this conference is for the lawyers and court magistrate to review case progress. You may be required to attend the status conference. Your attorney will advise you.


Pre-trial conferenceA pre-trial conference is usually the first meeting with the lawyers and the judge. It’s scheduled after the last status conference. The lawyers are required to submit a pre-trial statement with information about the marriage, asset values, debts and contested issues. A final trial date is set at this conference.


OrderThe court’s ruling on a motion. It can require the parties to do certain things or set out rights and responsibilities. An order is in writing, signed by the judge and filed with the court.


Temporary ordersThe Court may issue temporary orders for parental rights, child support, maintenance of insurance or other important issues. These temporary orders remain in effect only until your divorce is final. Final orders may be different than temporary orders.





This article is meant to give you general information and not to give you specific legal advice.
Prepared by Community Legal Aid Services, Inc. Updated May 2012.