Divorce Glossary

Learn the definitions of Divorce Terms & Terminology and Get Savvy About Your Divorce

Feeling overwhelmed by all the divorce terminology? Our legal and finance experts have got you covered from A to Z. And if you have further divorce-related financial questions, our Free Financial Helpline is here to help. Submit your question today!

The Savvy Ladies Divorce Glossary from A-Z


An affidavit is a written statement of facts made under oath and signed before a notary public. A divorce affidavit, also known as a petition for divorce, is a legal document in which parts express under oath and before a notary public their wish to dissolve their marriage.


A court-ordered allowance that a spouse is legally obligated to pay their spouse or former spouse, during or following legal separation or divorce. Also known as spousal support, its goal is to provide financial support to the part that has a lower or no income. 

As explained by Stacy Francis in this article, “While not a given right, US law mentions that parties in a divorce should be able to live ‘according to the means to which they have become accustomed.’ The length during which an ex-spouse receives alimony depends on many things, from age to how long the marriage lasted.” Learn how alimony works here.


Annulment occurs when a court declares a marriage or domestic partnership not legally valid. A partnership can be declared invalid for many reasons, like age at the time of marriage, prior existing marriage, fraud, force, among others.


A sum of alimony or child support money that was not paid when due and is owed.


Resource or property with economic value that is owned by an individual, corporation, or country.

Asset Titling

Asset titling refers to the way in which you own an asset—such as in your individual name, jointly with someone else, in a trust or entity. The way in which assets are titled can determine who controls the assets, tax consequences, whether the assets are subject to creditors’ claims, and who will receive the assets once you pass away, which is a critical part of estate planning.

Property acquired during the marriage is generally considered to be marital property, even if it is just in the name of one spouse (i.e. – A 401(k) that was funded during the marriage). If a spouse is claiming that an asset in their name is separate property, the burden is on them to prove that the asset was acquired before the marriage, or purchased with non-marital funds such as an inheritance or a gift.

Business Valuation Specialist

Professional whose work focuses on determining the value of a business or company. Reports produced by Business Valuation Specialists are commonly used in divorce proceedings, as well as other litigation processes, and in business transactions like the sale of a company. 

Certified Divorce Financial Advisor

A certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA) is a professional who, with a deep understanding of tax law, asset distribution, and financial planning, provides in-depth financial analysis for divorcing couples and helps them and their attorneys reach a fair divorce settlement. The certification is offered by the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts (IDFA) and it requires applicants to pass an exam and have many years of relevant work experience.

Certified Fraud Examiner 

Professionals who carry a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credential are qualified to investigate financial cases in order to identify fraud. These professionals usually have years of experience in the fields of accounting, auditing, criminology, and law, among others. In some divorce cases, a CFE may be called as an expert witness if the judge suspects that a spouse is hiding or misrepresenting marital assets.

Certified Financial Forensic

Certified Financial Forensic (CFF) professionals are specialized in forensic accounting. Their skills are utilized in a variety of scenarios, such as bankruptcy, fraud prevention, family law, valuations, and economic damages calculations, among others. 

Certified Valuation Analyst

A professional that holds a Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA) credential is qualified through his training and experience to carry out business valuations. They usually work in business, tax, and litigation environments. In divorce cases where businesses are part of the marital estate, a CVA might be required to conduct a valuation.

Child Support

Payments that the non-custodial divorced parent must make to the custodial parent to support the coverage of the children’s basic living expenses, such as food, housing, healthcare, clothing, and education. These court-ordered payments are only mandatory until the children turn 18 years old. 

Covell Agreement

A “Covell” agreement grants privileged communication between the attorney, expert, and client. Privileged communications are protected from disclosure in court actions.


Parental responsibility that is allocated to divorcing parents. Custody can be awarded to both parents (joint custody), or one of the parents (sole custody). These arrangements can be done voluntarily or through a court. In some cases, a court may order to remove a child from an environment that poses a danger to them. There are two kinds of custodies: legal and physical.

  • Legal custody refers to the right and responsibility to make important parenting decisions regarding the health, education, development, and welfare of the children. This includes school or child care, religious activities, doctor appointments, mental health, sports, extracurricular activities, vacations, etc. 
    • Sole legal custody means only one parent is responsible for making these decisions and may make them without the other parent’s input.
    • Joint legal custody means both parents share this responsibility, making communication and cooperation essential. 
  • Physical custody refers to who the children live with. 
    • Sole physical custody means the children reside with only one of the parents 100% of the time. The other parent may have the right of visitations, subject to a court’s decision.
    • Joint physical custody means that the children live with both parents. However, this arrangement doesn’t necessarily have to be 50/50. In most cases, children spend more time with one parent, and that parent is referred to as the primary custodial parent. 
    • Split custody is a rare child custody arrangement in which one parent has sole custody of one or more children while the other parent has sole custody of the remaining siblings.

Common Law Marriage

In certain states, a couple can be considered married without undergoing a civil or religious marriage ceremony. Currently, Common-Law Marriage only exists in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, and the District of Columbia, as well as under military law.

Community Property 

Community property refers to all the assets that a married couple or domestic partners own together. This includes:

  • Earnings that either spouse earned during the marriage
  • Anything bought with those earnings
  • Anything acquired during that marriage
  • Debt incurred during the marriage

It does not include gifts or inheritances.

There are nine community property states (Louisiana, Arizona, California, Texas, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin) that consider all property acquired during the marriage to be equally owned by each spouse, and it is split 50/50 in a divorce. Read about financial assets during divorce here.

Court Order

Document issued by a court directing a party to do something. Some examples of court orders in the realm of divorce are:

  • A restraining order, in which the court orders a person not to contact another person
  • Child support order, instructing a parent to pay child support
  • Custody order, formalizing the custody arrangement
  • Spousal support order, directing a spouse to provide spousal support to their ex-spouse


Discovery is a stage in the divorce legal process that comes right after divorce has been filed for. During discovery, both sides are required to share documents, evidence, and any information that lawyers need to prepare for settlement or trial.

Dissolution of Marriage

Often used as a synonym of divorce, but not quite the same. Dissolution of marriage is the legal process that ends a marriage, in which no parts are required to show evidence of wrongdoing. In this sense, it’s similar to a no-fault divorce.


The ending of a marriage by a legal process.

Divorce Decree

Legal document issued by a divorce court, that contains the terms that must be obeyed by the parties, like alimony, child support, custody, visitation, property division, etc. If the case was settled outside of court, the terms in the divorce decree will be the ones agreed upon in the divorce settlement. If the case went to trial, the decree contains terms decided by the judge.

Divorce Certificate

A short document stating that a person is divorced, the name of both former spouses, and the date and place of the divorce. Unlike a divorce decree, a divorce certificate is not issued by a court, but by the state’s health department or bureau of statistics.

Divorce Coach

Mental health professional who is trained to guide and give advice to clients navigating divorce. Their guidance encompasses navigating the divorce process, co-parenting, the impact of divorce on children, and other divorce-related matters. While divorce coaching is not therapy, divorce coaches are licensed, mental health professionals.

Domestic Partner

Also known as a civil union, a domestic partnership refers to an unmarried couple living under the same roof, who have registered their partnership with their state. While it’s different from the institution of marriage, it provides similar benefits to its partners.

Domestic Violence

As defined by the United Nations, domestic abuse or domestic violence is “a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” It can take many shapes: physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological. Any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound an intimate partner fall under the category of domestic abuse.

Equitable Distribution 

The legal theory used by most states in the US provides guidelines on how to divide property during divorce. This approach takes into consideration different factors when dictating how to divide assets and debts, some of which are:

  • Length of the marriage
  • The financial situation of each party
  • Financial contribution made by each party during the marriage
  • Educational attainment and employability of each party
  • Standard of living

Learn more on how to protect your personal finances during divorce here


Any demonstrative material such as a testimony or document. Only evidence that is admissible under the rules of evidence will be considered in court.

Executive Compensation

It is important to ask questions about your spouse’s executive compensation: Stock options, restricted stock, and other forms of executive compensation are among the easiest assets to hide, or even to “overlook.” Many clients who are not in charge of household finances might not realize that their spouse has these potentially high-income benefits. As more companies offer varied compensation packages, it is imperative to be sure your attorney is skilled in these more complex financial matters.

Forensic Accountant

Accounting professional with skills and training to conduct a thorough examination of an individual or business’ finances. Forensic accounting analysis is commonly used in legal settings, usually to break down and explain financial crimes like fraud or embezzlement. 

Joint Property

Property held by two or more parties, such as two spouses. It can take several different legal shapes, like a joint tenancy, community property, or a trust.

Legal Separation

Ordered by a court or mutually agreed upon, legal separation is an arrangement in which a couple stays legally married while living apart. This arrangement could be done for religious reasons, or practical ones, like keeping insurance benefits.

Marital Assets or Marital Property 

Property that was acquired by a couple while they were married. This does not include:

  • Property owned by an individual before their marriage (separate property)
  • Inheritances or third party gifts received during a marriage
  • Property that has been excluded from the marital property on a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement

The laws that dictate how this property is split during divorce vary by state:

  • Common law property states consider that whoever’s name is on the property title or deed is the sole owner. 
  • Community property states (Louisiana, Arizona, California, Texas, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin) consider both spouses to own the marital property equally. (See also: community property)

Matrimonial Attorney

A matrimonial or divorce attorney is a family law attorney that has specialized in the areas of divorce, child custody, and spousal support. While it’s not mandatory to retain a lawyer in divorce proceedings, the expertise and guidance of a matrimonial lawyer can make an enormous difference when navigating the complexities of divorce.


An instance in which two divorcing spouses can, with the help of a mediator, reach an agreement on different issues like custody, alimony or property division, without going to divorce court.

No-fault Divorce

Unlike traditional fault divorce, no-fault divorce does not require the petitioner to show wrongdoing from the other spouse in order to end the marriage. In the former, some of the most common grounds for divorce are adultery, cruelty and desertion. Contrarily, in a no-fault divorce, the petitioner files for irreconcilable differences or irreparable breakdown of the marriage. Recognized by all US states, no-fault divorce is the most common modern type of divorce.

Noncustodial Parent

The parent without physical custody of their children, meaning the kids live with the other parent for all or most of the time. Noncustodial parents can still visit their children, either freely or following an agreed schedule, and in many cases still hold financial responsibility and legal custody of their kids.

Orders of Protection

A Family Court order of protection is issued as part of a civil proceeding. Its purpose is to stop violence within a family, or within an intimate relationship, and provide protection for those individuals affected. All Family Court proceedings are confidential.

Petitioner or Plaintiff

The spouse that files for divorce. The other spouse is referred to as the Respondent.

Prenuptial Agreement

As explained by our friends at HelloPrenup, a prenuptial agreement “is a legal contract made between two people who plan to marry. A prenup agreement outlines certain property rights and financial agreements that the engaged couple agree to as a condition of getting married. A prenuptial agreement allows the parties to contract around state divorce laws with respect to what is considered marital property, or separate property in the case of divorce or death.”

A postnuptial agreement is similar to a prenuptial agreement, but it’s signed after the marriage. Currently, postnuptial agreements are not an option in all US states. 

Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)

As explained by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA in this article, “to get part of your spouse’s pension or 401(k), you’ll need a lawyer to draw up a qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO. There are several options, including a one-time payment, monthly payments at retirement, or a lump-sum payment that you would transfer directly into your own IRA, where your money would continue to grow, tax-free, until you retire.”


The spouse that has been served with the divorce petition. They must respond to the petition within a timeframe of, usually, three weeks. 

Restraining Order

Usually issued in cases of domestic violence, a temporary court order that prohibits a person to contact or approach another person. 

Rules of Evidence

Legal principles determine how evidence such as testimony or documents can be utilized in a legal proceeding.

Separate Property

Property owned by an individual before a marriage or domestic partnership. Inheritances and gifts are also considered separate property, even if they were received during a marriage.

Settlement Agreement

A divorce settlement agreement, also known as Separation Agreement, Custody, Support, and Property Agreement or Collaborative Settlement Agreement, among other names, details all the agreements achieved by the divorcing couple concerning child custody, alimony, child support, and property division.

Settlement Conference

An instance before divorce trial used to try to achieve a settlement without the involvement of a judge.

Spousal Benefits

Social security retirement benefits that a spouse can receive on their spouse’s or ex-spouse’s record. The monthly amount an ex-spouse is qualified to receive may vary depending on various factors. Read this article to learn everything about divorced spousal benefits. 

Spousal Support

Also referred to as alimony. 

Statement of Net Worth

Sworn statement that lays out the income, assets, expenses, and outstanding debts of each party in a divorce setting. It’s usually done at the beginning of the divorce process and it works as the starting point to split the marital property.

Uncontested Divorce

A divorce proceeding in which several parts of the adversarial litigation process are skipped, either because of an agreement between the divorcing spouses to resolve their disputes outside of court or by default, meaning that there is no response from the defendant.


Permission granted to a noncustodial parent by a judge to visit their children.

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