Family Law Terms Index

Our goal is to help our clients understand the legal process. We know that court documents are often full of unfamiliar legal jargon, so we have created this index to help define some common terms.

Adjudication – a term used in Child in Need of Care cases that refers to the hearing to decide whether a child is a Child in Need of Care. If the judge decides that there is not enough evidence, the case ends. If the judge decides that the child is a Child in Need of Care, the next step is disposition, which may occur at the same hearing.

Arrearage- past due child support or spousal maintenance that has been ordered by the court, but has not been paid in full.

Case Management- occurs when a neutral third party is appointed by the court on a long-term basis to assist parties in negotiating agreements regarding disputed issues, or to write a recommendation regarding what the court should order if no agreement is reached

Child in Need of Care (CINC) – CINC is the acronym commonly used to refer to a Child In Need of Care case filed in juvenile court alleging that a child is not being properly cared for by his/her parents and should be removed from a parental home

Common Law Marriage- a marriage that occurs through the parties representing themselves to the public as being married and agreeing that they are married, rather than through a formal ceremony

Contempt- violation of a court order

Custody- the legal right to make decisions regarding a child, including school enrollment and medical treatment

Direct Expenses- necessary expenses incurred to support a child, which may include school expenses, extracurricular activity expenses, and clothing, but do not include food or housing expenses\

Disposition – a term used in a Child in Need of Care case that refers to the court hearing in which the judge decides what orders are appropriate to enter for the parents and the service providers to follow. The judge has many choices and the judge’s decision will be based on the evidence and the best interests of the child. The disposition will set a goal for the child to have a permanent home that is healthy and safe. In most cases, the goal is to keep a child with the parents or to make it healthy and safe for the child to return to the parents.

Divided Residency- when one or more children reside with one parent while their sibling(s) reside with the other parent

Guardianship of a minor – when a person other than a child’s parent has been appointed by the court to act on behalf of a minor, (referred to as the “ward” in these cases), in order to manage the minor’s personal health, safety, and welfare

Joint Custody- equal rights to make decisions regarding a child

Limited Case Management- occurs when the parties meet with a neutral third party, who will attempt to assist the parties in negotiating an agreement, but will write a recommendation regarding what the court should order regarding a limited number of disputed issues if no agreement is reached

Mediation- occurs when the parties meet with a neutral third party to attempt to negotiate an agreement

Parenting Time- previously called “visitation,” this is the time that the non-residential parent spends with the child

Paternity- a legal determination of a child’s father

Permanency Hearing – A permanency hearing is a court hearing in a Child in Need of Care case that checks on the progress that has been made toward the goal set at the disposition.  If the judge decides parents have not made enough progress, the goal may be changed to termination of parental rights.

Police Protective Custody – when law enforcement takes physical custody of a child due to a situation that law enforcement has deemed unsafe for the child to remain in.  This is commonly how a CINC case begins.

Primary Residential Placement- when a child resides primarily with one parent, but may have parenting time with the other parent

Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)- a court order drafted to divide a retirement account after the division of the account is ordered in a decree of divorce or separate maintenance

Residential Placement- designation of which parent the child resides with, which may be primary residential placement, shared residential placement, or divided residency

Separate Maintenance- a third alternative to divorce or annulment that results in a married couple being legally separated, but continuing to be married

Shared Residential Placement- when a child resides with both parents an equal, or nearly equal, amount of time

Sole Custody- the sole right to make decisions in the best interest of a child

Spousal Maintenance- also known as “alimony,” spousal support is based when the court finds that one spouse needs financial support to pay his or her monthly bills following a separation, and that the other spouse has the ability to provide financial support

Termination of Parental Rights – in a CINC case, if the court determines that enough progress to return a child to the home a parent has not been made, then the court can permanently sever a parent’s rights to parent their child

Ward – a person for whom a guardian has been appointed


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