Index of Legal Terms

Abandonment Abandonment is the act where one spouse leaves the marital home without justification, without the consent of the other spouse and without the intent of returning.
Absolute Divorce Dissolving the marriage tie and releasing the parties wholly from their matrimonial obligations. Also more commonly referred to as “divorce.”
Adoption Legal process pursuant to state statute in which a child’s legal rights and duties toward the natural parents are terminated and similar rights and duties toward the adoptive parents are substituted.
Adoption Petition A petition filed in an adoption proceeding requesting the courts to grant an adoption to a prospective adoptive parent.
Affidavit of Financial Standing A court form used in family law cases to explain a party’s needs and expenses. This form helps to determine child support, post-separation support, and alimony awards based on the parties’ respective incomes, expenses, and debt payments.
Alienation of Affections A civil action brought against a third party paramour, or lover, by one spouse for depriving that spouse of the love and affection that previously existed between married spouses.
Alimony Payments for the support and maintenance of a spouse, either by lump sum or on a continuing basis. Alimony is paid by the “supporting spouse” to the “dependent spouse.”
Alternative Dispute Resolution A procedure for settling a dispute by means other than litigation before a judge, such as mediation, arbitration, or the Collaborative Law process.
Cohabitation Living together in the same residence, generally either as husband and wife or for an extended period of time as if the parties were married.
Collaborative Law A formal process designed to minimize conflict while working toward the resolution of legal matters. Parties, their attorneys and any other professionals involved agree to make a good faith attempt to settle their claims without going to court.
Child Support Guidelines For parties whose combined monthly gross income is less than $25,000, North Carolina typically requires that child support be calculated by application of the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines. These guidelines act as a rebuttable presumption a parent’s child support obligation.
Complaint The pleading filed by a party (plaintiff) initiating a civil lawsuit. It is a request for relief from the court, and sets out the issues that the plaintiff wants the court to help resolve.
Consent Order An agreement made between parties that has been formalized as a court order and signed by a judge. A consent order is enforceable through the court’s power of contempt.
Contempt The refusal of a party to comply with the terms of a court order.
Criminal Conversation A civil action whereby a spouse sues a third party for having sexual relations with his or her spouse during their marriage and prior to separation. A spouse may initiate the lawsuit whether or not the third party knew that the person was married when he or she engaged in the adulterous behavior.
Dependent Spouse A spouse who is actually substantially dependent upon the other spouse for his or her maintenance and support or is substantially in need of maintenance and support from the other spouse.
Discovery A tool afforded to parties after a lawsuit has been initiated giving the parties the ability to request certain documents, answer a multitude of questions, and admit or deny various statements.
Divisible Property The passive appreciation or diminution in marital property created after the parties’ date of separation and before the date of distribution. Divisible property includes property or property rights which are received after the date of separation but before the date of distribution as a result of efforts prior to the date of separation. Finally, increases in marital debt, financing charges and interest related to marital debt, is a form of divisible property, and thus subject to equitable distribution.
Divorce from Bed and Board A court authorized separation. Essentially, a divorce from bed and board acts to establish a legal separation but does not actually dissolve the marital relationship.
Ex Parte Appearing before a judge without notice to, or the presence of, the other party. In family law, ex parte matters usually involve issues related to emergency child custody or domestic violence.
Expert A professional with specialized training and knowledge in a subject who presents his or her expert opinion relating to a lawsuit or criminal case. Experts in a family law case can include psychologists/psychiatrists, medical doctors, accountants, and substance abuse specialists.
Judgment A court’s final decision as to the parties’ rights and/or obligations.
Litigation Any lawsuit or other resort to the courts to determine a legal question or matter.
Marital Misconduct Negative behavior by a spouse during a marriage that may impact awards for spousal support. It could include conduct such as abandonment, abuse, cruel treatment of the other spouse, adultery, wasting of the marital assets, excessive use of alcohol or drugs, and/or any other conduct that could potentially be deemed wrong by the court.
Marital Property In North Carolina, marital property is defined as all property incurred, obtained, earned, and received during the course of the marriage. Marital property is subject to equitable distribution.
Order A court mandate instructing a person to perform or refrain from certain actions.
Pro Se To represent oneself in a lawsuit without an attorney.
Property Distribution A process also referred to as equitable distribution in North Carolina by which marital assets, property and debts are distributed between spouses.
Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) A court order that transfers retirement funds from one spouse to another incident to divorce. A QDRO is required to facilitate the transfer of funds from a qualified retirement plan in accordance with federal law.
Rebuttal Evidence introduced to counter, disprove or contradict the opposition’s evidence or a presumption, or responsive legal argument.
Self Help Center A public service center which helps pro se litigants draft, file, and/or respond to certain court documents a party wishes to file and/or needs to defend.
Separate Property All property acquired by a spouse before marriage, after the date of separation, or as a gift or inheritance from a third party at any time. Separate property is not subject to division through the equitable distribution process.
Settlement The resolution of a lawsuit (or of a legal dispute prior to filing a complaint or petition) without going forward to a final court judgment.
Supporting Spouse A spouse upon whom the other spouse is actually substantially dependent for maintenance and support or from whom such spouse is substantially in need of maintenance and support. In essence, the spouse who has the financial wherewithal to help the other spouse live a similar lifestyle he or she enjoyed during the marriage.
Temporary Parenting Agreement An agreement setting forth a temporary custody arrangement until a final custody determination is made.
Termination of Parental Rights A legal procedure which terminates the legal relationship between a child and the child’s biological or legal parent when the parent has demonstrated that he or she will not provide the degree of care which promotes the healthy and orderly physical and emotional well-being of the child.
Witness A person who sees, knows, or can attest to something. Typically, witnesses testify under oath at trials, in depositions or via affidavits.