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Family Law Glossary

Alimony, maintenance and spousal support are legal terms for payments, usually made monthly, from one spouse to the other, often for a certain number of years. Payments may be ordered on a temporary basis during the pendency of the divorce. They also may be permanent obligations. At present, in most states, spousal support payments are used as a means of catching up for those spouses whose circumstances have kept them out of the workplace for a significant period.

Child support is a phrase that generally refers to the amount of money one parent pays to the other to help support their common-children when the parents are not living together. The current state of the law takes most of the contention out of the child support issues. Child support guidelines in most states make it primarily formulaic to determine whom is ordered to pay support, and in what amount.

Physical or legal custody and visitation are terms used when determining the amount of time children spend with each parent and how decision-making authority for major issues is assigned. For instance, a parent may have joint legal custody, the right to share in making decisions, such as in what religion the children will be raised, or what schools they will attend, whether or not they may get their driver license, join the military, or get married, but may have the children physically with them as little as every other weekend.

Divorce or dissolution of marriage is terms for the process by which the marriage of two people is terminated. It may also establish their right to remarry, distribute their property between them according to the law of the state in which they reside, determine whether either party will pay spousal support, and, if they have children, with whom the children shall live and whether one party will pay child support.

Domestic violence is sometimes referred to as intimate partner violence because it is not limited to parties living together. Domestic violence is the control of another through physical, verbal, emotional, psychological and spiritual violence. Intimate partner violence figures broadly in many family law issues, including child custody and visitation. Studies have shown that the period between initial separation and divorce can be the most dangerous for victims of domestic violence and their children.

Prenuptial agreement is a legal term for a contract entered into by parties still contemplating marriage setting forth their intentions how their individual property will be divided should they ultimately separate. If not patently unfair to one party, most prenuptial agreements will be enforced in court so long as the court is convinced the parties entered into the agreement with full disclosure and no coercion, and if the agreement does not work a hardship on either of the parties.

Community property is a legal term that describes the law in some states setting forth the prescribed division of that property that was acquired by the parties, either individually or as a couple, and includes the income of the parties. Some states divide community property equally, while others first make a determination of what constitutes community property and then make an equitable division of the property.

Equitable division is a term that describes the law in most states that provides a process for the division of property of the parties. Taking into account all of the circumstances of the parties division or property is completed according to the equities of those circumstances.

Collaborative law is a process in which divorcing couples and their attorneys make a commitment to alternative dispute resolution instead of resorting first to court. If either party consequently decides to go to court all attorneys must withdraw, and the parties must find new legal counsel.

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