Your attorney may use certain terms of art in the course of handling your case. It is important to always ask questions when you hear a term you do not understand (we always say that the only “dumb” questions are the ones you DON’T ask). Here is a list of some of the terms you may hear, with a cursory explanation of what they mean in most northern New Jersey courts. Please remember that these definitions are provided for informational use only – they do not constitute legal advice. You should not rely on these definitions alone, but should always consult an attorney in person to understand the facts of your particular case in your particular venue.
Affidavit – a sworn statement, signed in the presence of a notary (See “Certification”)
Alimony – support paid to a spouse. There are four types of alimony: pendente lite (interim support while litigation is pending), term alimony (for a set number of years after the divorce), rehabilitative alimony (intended for re-education and training of a dependent spouse) and permanent alimony.
Annulment – a declaration that a marriage was void from the beginning, usually the result of fraud or a failure to consummate the marriage.
Answer – a formal pleading filed in response to a complaint.
Appraisal – a document stating the opinion of value of real property or personal property.
Case Information Statement (CIS) – a form required to be filed within 20 days after the answer is filed in court, which includes information about the parties, the family, their finances, assets and liabilities, and other pertinent information that enables the court or the other side to get a thumbnail sketch of the issues in dispute in a family law case.
Case Management Conference – usually the first appearance in court by the parties and their attorneys after a complaint and answer are filed. The judge assigns a track to the case (see “Track” below), reviews the CIS, and sets a schedule for the exchange of financial information, formal discovery and settlement conferences. In some counties, case management is done over the telephone by court staff or by the submission of a consent order (see Case Management Order, below).
Case Management Order – a written order by a judge setting forth the deadlines for parties to obtain appraisals of property, complete pre-trial discovery and to return to court for either a second Case Management Conference or a settlement panel. In some counties, these orders are submitted by consent of both attorneys.
Certification – a sworn statement that is not notarized. (See “Affidavit”)
Certification of Non-Military Service – before default can be entered against a non-answering defendant, the plaintiff must certify that he or she is not in the military service. The attorney must also obtain written confirmation from the U.S. Department of Defense.
Certification of Verification and Non-Collusion – a sworn statement included in a divorce complaint that states the allegations of the complaint are true.
Child Support – the monetary support paid by both parents to dependent children. The amount of support is based on net income and a number of factors. Calculation of support should be done by a professional with the use of updated software.
Child Support Guidelines – the Supreme Court of New Jersey has adopted and published guidelines for the calculation of child support, which are updated from time to time.
Child Support Worksheet – a form by which the parties’ net income, taxes and other deductions, and other pertinent financial information is used to calculate each party’s child support obligation.
Cohabitation – as defined by New Jersey case law, when two people live together in a relationship tantamount to marriage and involving mutual financial support. Cohabitation can trigger the termination or modification of alimony.
Comparative Market Analysis – an informal opinion regarding the value of real property, based on a review of houses that have sold and that are currently offered for sale.
Complaint – a pleading that sets forth the allegations that constitute grounds for divorce or annulment or other relief (such as domestic violence, custody, adoption)
Confidential Litigant Form (CLF) – a form required to be filed with the first pleading, setting forth the social security number, birthdate, and place of birth of the parties and their children, as well as other identifying information. The information is kept confidential and is not disclosed to third parties.
Counterclaim – a request for relief from the party answering a complaint. For example, in answering a complaint for divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty, a defendant may also wish to assert a plea for divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty.
Custody Mediation – court-ordered participation in a program with a trained mediator to assist the parties in resolving disputes over custody and visitation or parenting time. Some counties (such as Bergen and Passaic) employ mediators on staff for this purpose.
Default Judgment – a final judgment entered against a party who has not filed an answer or other formal pleading in appearance in a case. A Default Judgment can be vacated by the defendant within a year after final judgment is entered, on good cause and a showing of inadvertent neglect and a meritorious defense.
Defendant – the answering party in a pleading; the person against whom a complaint is filed. If the defendant also files a counterclaim (see above), the defendant is also called a counter-claimant or a “plaintiff on the counterclaim.”
Deposition – the gathering of sworn testimony of a party or witness, usually done in a lawyer’s office. The testimony is transcribed verbatim by a court stenographer, who produces a written booklet for use at trial. All parties to the case are given notice of the date, time and place of a deposition and have the opportunity to ask questions of the witness and to interpose objections.
Discovery – also called “pre-trial discovery,” this is the formal exchange of information between the parties and disclosure of all factual issues in dispute in a case. The purpose is to streamline the trial and also to assist the parties in achieving a settlement with each providing fully informed consent.
Domestic Violence Complaint – a civil action against a spouse, family member or a person with whom the plaintiff has a present or past dating relationship, alleging that the defendant committed a specified criminal act. All domestic violence complaints are reviewed by a judge or hearing officer; if accepted for filing, the court will issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) prohibiting the defendant from contact with the victim. A final hearing is scheduled within 10 days of the TRO. In New Jersey, the following are acts of domestic violence: homicide (murder), assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, sexual assault, lewdness, criminal sexual contact, criminal mischief, burglary, criminal trespass, harassment, or stalking. Important: If you think you or someone in your family may be a victim of domestic violence, call the police or the domestic violence hotline in your area. Do NOT wait to obtain legal advice.
Economic Mediation – A mandatory program whereby the parties are sent to a volunteer attorney for assistance in settling the financial aspects of their case, if the case is not settled after the Early Settlement Panel (See “MESP” below). The first two hours are provided free of charge; thereafter, the mediator’s fee is paid equally by each party.
Entry of Default – If a defendant does not file and serve a formal answer (with or without counterclaim) within 35 days of service, the court may enter “default” against the defendant, which indicates that he or she is not permitted to file any defensive pleadings. This is the first step toward obtaining a final judgment by default.
Equitable distribution – the division of assets and debts acquired by one or both parties during the marriage. Assets that are exempt from equitable distribution include gifts from third parties, inheritances, premarital assets, and any other asset defined by a prenuptial agreement.
Expert Witness – unlike a fact witness, an expert witness provides specialized testimony to assist the court in determining an issue that is not readily apparent to a lay person, such as the value of property, welfare of children, health of a party, fitness of a parent, employability of a party or other issue pertinent to the case. Expert witnesses are paid by the day or half day for court and by the hour to prepare for court. The employment of expert witnesses can add significantly to the expense of a family law case; they are often valuable tools in trial or settlement. Knowing when to hire an expert is something that a client should discuss with the attorney.
Final Judgment of Divorce – a final order that dissolves the marriage and often distributes property and sets support. Occasionally, a written settlement agreement is attached to and incorporated within a Final Judgment of Divorce. The court clerk can certify a true copy of the original judgment for each party to the divorce, by affixing a gold seal. The certified copy is needed for change of name, change of beneficiary or religious annulments.
Final Restraining Order (FRO) – a permanent order entered after a hearing on a complaint for domestic violence, which prevents a defendant from having contact with a victim of domestic violence. An FRO can also grant other relief, such as custody and visitation of children of the relationship, monetary support, possession of a home or vehicle, and protection of other family members.
Forensic Accountant – an expert witness who investigates a party’s finances to determine whether the reported income or assets is truthful and accurate. They are useful in many situations such as when one party is self employed and is believed to be under-reporting income.
Four-way conference – an informal meeting among the parties and both attorneys to attempt to settle as many issues as possible. This can occur at the office of one of the party’s attorneys or in the courthouse, and is usually requested early in a case after the CIS forms are exchanged by both sides.
Hearing Officer – a person appointed by the Court to conduct factual hearings and receive testimony from the parties, on cases of domestic violence or support, and to make an initial decision on the merits. The decision can be appealed and the case will be referred to a judge the same day, at the request of either party.
Insurance Certification – a sworn statement from a party, disclosing the extent of all insurance coverage available to a family and its members, including automobile, homeowners (or apartment dwellers), personal liability (umbrella), disability, health and life insurance, and disclosing pertinent facts such as the amount of coverage, the cost of premiums, and whether there have been any recent changes to the policies. It is required to be filed along with each party’s initial pleading.
Interrogatories – written questions regarding pertinent facts of a case, answered under oath, usually due within 30 to 60 days of service. The schedule for serving and answering interrogatories is usually set by the judge at the Case Management Conference.
Joint Legal Custody – not to be confused with shared residential custody, this refers to the legal rights and responsibilities of the respective parents and recognizes that both parties should have equal say in major decisions (medical, higher education, etc) affecting a child. Mostly all divorces and separations result in a determination of joint legal custody.
Joint Residential Custody – A somewhat outdated term, more commonly called shared parenting, this is a custody and visitation arrangement that attempts to equalize the time spent between two parents. If it is done by consent, the time can be shared in any manner the parties think is in the best interests of the children – every other week, every other day, alternating three or four days with each parent, etc.
Mandatory Early Settlement Panel (MESP) – a panel of two or three practicing family law attorneys who voluntarily review cases in the courthouse and make recommendations for settlement. Attendance and participation in the panel is mandatory, but settlement is not. The panel encourages the parties to settle by offering their opinion as to how a judge may rule on the issues. A week before the panel date, the parties are required to submit a written settlement proposal, prepared by their attorneys, and updated CIS forms, to assist the panel in helping them settle their cases. The panel’s recommendation is non-binding but if the parties don’t reach a settlement, they are sent to mandatory Economic Mediation (see above). Panelists see numerous cases each morning they are in session and rarely spend more than 30 minutes with each case; economic mediators offer three hours of free time and 50-50 payment thereafter. Motions, Cross Motions and Motion Day – Every two weeks, all judges in the state set aside one day for hearing “motions” which are requests for interim or post-judgment relief, made on no less than 16 days prior notice to the other party. It is commenced by filing and serving on the opposing part a written Notice of Motion summarizing the relief requested and is supported by a sworn certification by a party with or without exhibits. A cross motion is a request for relief filed in response to a motion. Either the plaintiff or the defendant can be the moving party. Typically, a motion will request interim relief, such as support, or compliance with a previous order or judgment. It may also require a legal memorandum known as a “brief” in which the attorney analyzes the applicable statutes, case law and rules that apply in the case. The other side must file and serve a responding certification in opposition within a time period set by the rules; a client should always be mindful of the deadline to file opposition so as to provide the attorney with facts needed to prepare it.
Notice to Produce – similar to interrogatories, this is a written request for the production of relevant documents, such as business records, bank account statements and ledgers, copies of titles, mortgage and Deeds, and other documents that will provide mutual disclosure of the issues in dispute in a pending case. In anticipation of a notice to produce, the parties may voluntarily exchange relevant documents.
Order – a written pleading, signed by a judge, that decides an issue (usually following a motion) and either commands a party to do something or to refrain from doing something. Orders may be entered on consent of the parties, such as when the parties agree to modify a support order due to the emancipation of a child.
Parent of Primary Residence – the parent with whom the child(ren) reside more often. In a 50-50 shared custody arrangement, this is a fairly arbitrary designation, used primarily for school enrollment.
Pendente Lite (PL) – a Latin term meaning “while the case is pending.” This usually refers to an interim order for child support, alimony or “unallocated” support that is neither designated as alimony or child support.
Permanent Alimony – spousal support that will continue indefinitely until it is modified by a new court order. The word “permanent” means until further order of a court, not necessarily “forever.” The amount of alimony can be adjusted up or down due to a permanent and material change in circumstances, such as an increase in the need of the dependent spouse or the ability to pay of the supporting spouse. Alimony always ends upon the remarriage of the supported spouse.
Plaintiff – the person who files the complaint.
Post-Judgment Motion – a motion filed to seek enforcement or modification of a final judgment of divorce and/or a property settlement or support agreement, filed after the parties are divorced. A post judgment motion must be filed on 28 days notice to the other side and the response schedule is different.
Probation – the agency that enforces and monitors collection of child support. If you are the payor or payee of child support, you can access information about your account on the State of New Jersey website.
Property Settlement Agreement (PSA) – also known as “Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA)” – a written document that sets forth the terms and conditions under which parties resolve their financial issues in a divorce. It also includes the terms and conditions of support of spouse and/or children, distribution of debt and assets and also may include a parenting plan.
Parenting Plan – a written document that sets forth the schedule for visitation and parenting, and the terms and conditions under which the parties will resolve mutual decisions regarding education and other important parenting issues. It is prepared by the attorneys or by a mediator after the parties have reached an agreement in the best interests of the children.
Rehabilitative Alimony – spousal support that is temporary in nature and intended to raise the dependent spouse’s ability to earn income. Usually it is designed to assist a dependent spouse in returning to school or achieving specialized training in a field. The advantage to the paying spouse is that the end result is to make the dependent spouse independent, or less dependent, on support and to reduce alimony in the long run. It is especially useful for a spouse who has put his or her career “on hold” to raise a family or is out of touch with the technological training or skills needed in the workplace.
Requests for Admissions – written statements that a party is required to admit or deny within 30 days of receipt.
Retainer Agreement – a written document setting forth the manner in which an attorney is hired (retained) and paid. Usually a payment of money in advance is deposited in the attorney’s trust account and drawn against as fees are earned. The reason for advance payment is to ensure that the parties do not run out of funds to pay counsel fees while the divorce is pending, which could result in the inability to afford an attorney.
Shared Parenting Agreement – When parents agree to share custody of their children, with anywhere from 104 overnights to 183 overnights to the Parent of Alternate Residence. Also see “joint residential custody,” above.
Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) – an interim order restraining a party from doing something or ordering a party to do something. Usually in the context of a domestic violence complaint, the TRO is by its very nature, temporary, and intended to preserve the status quo. In a pendente lite motion, either party may request a TRO preventing the dissipation of assets or destruction of documents.
Term Alimony – spousal support that endures for an agreed number of years and then automatically terminates.
Vacating Judgment or Default – when default is entered against a party for failing to answer, the court may “vacate” or negate a previous order or judgment, upon a showing of excusable neglect and a meritorious defense.
Please be advised that by visiting this website, you have not entered into an attorney-client relationship with Gina A. Calogero.The information provided on this website is provided for informational use only. It does not constitute legal advice. No warranty is made, either express or implied, as to the accuracy of the information and links on this website.
For specific legal advice on your own situation, you should contact an attorney in person for a consultation.
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