No, not that language!  This article is entirely about the types of new terminology that you’re need to familiarize yourself with.  Understanding these new words and phrases will help you to avoid confusion during what is normally a long and painful divorce and/or child custody process.  Below is a handy list of the most common family court terms and phrases you’ll likely deal with and a brief explanation of each.

  • Family Court – often the name given to where child custody and/or child support matters are heard before a judge.
  • Legal Custody – refers to the decision-making on all important matters pertaining to the children, such as health, education, religion, etc.  It’s unusual for legal custody to be ordered anything but joint, but it does happen under certain circumstances.  Sole legal custody or joint legal custody with someone being given “final decision-making authority.”
  • Physical Custody – refers to the physical location and parent with whom the children will reside.  In most cases, joint physical custody (in any number of configurations) is awarded.  Under certain circumstances, sole physical custody may be awarded to one parent.
  • Custody Evaluation – a costly and lengthy process where a person, often a licensed clinical psychologist, social worker, experience family law attorney, among others meets with and interviews the parents, children, and necessary collateral contacts to assess each parent’s parenting ability.
  • Mediation – a process whereby both parties meet with an independent, neutral third-party to resolve most or all issues between them and avoid family court altogether.
  • Custody Agreement or Parenting Agreement – the name given to a child custody arrangement that has been agreed to by both parents, approved by the court, and entered as the court order.
  • Child Custody Order – if an agreement hasn’t been worked out between the parents and a full child custody hearing is undertaken, the outcome, often decided by the family court judge, becomes the custody order with which both parents must abide.
  • Contempt of Court – much like it sounds, when a party willfully fails to follow the terms of the court’s order, they are showing “contempt” for the order and therefore the contempt for the court.  They are in contempt of court.  This is the name given the petition/proceedings to address a party’s failure to abide with the court’s lawful order.
  • Child Support Order – the order of the family court in conjunction with a given state’s child support calculations that specifies how much money will flow from one parent to another in financial support of the children or household.

Understanding these common terms and phrases and how to use them will make discussions with your attorney and any court related personnel a bit easier.