family law terms and definitions

Glossary of Terms for Family Law

There are many legal terms relating to family law that identify specific parties in legal disputes and describe particular legal actions. Each state, including Colorado, has a glossary of legal terms, provided to make the understanding and interpretation of the law clearer for all parties involved. To navigate the complexities of family law, it is recommended that you seek legal consultation services. In order to stay informed and knowledgeable of the laws and terms that apply to your case, see the glossary below.

Absolute divorcethe final termination of a marriage on legal grounds after which both parties are legally able to remarry.
Actiona lawsuit or proceeding in a court of law.
Affidavita written statement penned under oath.
Agreement a resolution of disputed issues; may be written or verbal.
Alimonya financial support payment provided by one spouse to the other.
Allocation of parental responsibilitiesin cases of divorce, legal separation or custody actions, the Court allocates parental rights and responsibilities for the care of the children.
Annulmenta legal proceeding that declares a marriage void or legally non-existent; only available only under certain limited circumstances.
Answerthe written response to a motion, petition or complaint.
Appeala legal action from a losing party requesting the decision be reviewed by a higher court.
Assignmenttransfer of legal rights, such as the amount of time left on a lease, from one party to the other.
Childany human being under 18 years of age.
Child and Family Investigator (CFI)a court-appointed expert who investigates and reports to a Judge concerning the best interests of the child in controversial divorce or custody cases.
Child supportrecurring scheduled payments made by a parent for the financial support of the child following the end of a marriage or relationship.
Child Support Enforcement (CFE)a government agency that helps collect current and past-due child support.
Child support guidelineseach state has its own child support guidelines governing the financial support of a child. Standard guidelines are formulaic, and any divergence of reward amounts from the guidelines are determined by a court. Colorado Child Support Guidelines can be found here.
Civil Uniona relationship entered into by two consenting persons that entitles them to receive the benefits, protections, and responsibilities of spouses.
Cohabitationwhen two unwed individuals live together in an intimate relationship that resembles a marriage.
Collusionan agreement between two or more persons for one of the parties to falsely charge the other. For example, if a wife and husband seek to speed up a divorce process, either the wife or husband might make charges of adultery even though such transgressions never occurred. Collusion is illegal.
Common Law Marriagea marriage without a license that comes about when two parties co-habit for a period of time and present themselves as “married” without ever obtaining a license. Not all states recognize common law marriage. The state of Colorado recognizes common law marriages.
Complainantthe plaintiff or party filing the suit.
Complaint (formally known as Bill of Complaint)a document submitted to the court by the complainant to initiate legal action.
Condonationthe act of forgiving a spouse who has committed a wrongdoing that could constitute a ground for divorce with the understanding that such injury shall not be repeated. It often is used as a defense to a divorce.
Confidential Intermediarya person authorized to inspect confidential relinquishment and adoption records.
Contempt of courtthe offense of failing to respect or comply with a court of law and its officers.
Corroborative Witnessa testifying person whose testimony supports or confirms testimony that has already been given, e.g. In divorce proceedings, the complainant must bring in a corroborative witness to support the grounds for divorce.
Custodialthe person who provides food, clothing, shelter and other care for the child.
Custodianthe individual appointed to manage and dispense funds for the child.
Custody (Sole and Joint)a court-determined decision of which parent, relative or adult guardian shall have legal responsibility and control for a child.

There are two meanings of custody, physical and legal. Physical custody entails where the child will live. Legal custody pertains to the right of the legal custodian(s) to make decisions concerning the child’s welfare.

Defaultfailure to file an answer or response to a summons, motion, petition or complaint.
Defendanta person or party defending or denying against whom relief or recovery is sought.
Depositionpart of a pre-trial discovery demanding the sworn testimony of the opposing party, usually in person and recorded.
Discoverya method of obtaining information from the other party in the form of interrogatories (written questions) or depositions
Dissolutiontermination of a contract or legal relationship, such as the legal end of a marriage or civil union.
Divorcethe termination of a marriage, which requires a petition or complaint for divorce to be filed with the local Colorado district court. Various forms to file for divorce in Colorado can be found here.
Family Lawan area of legal practice that concerns familial relationships such as divorce, child support, child custody, and other related issues.
Filingturning in legal papers to the court clerk.
Grounds for divorcethe legal basis for a divorce. Grounds for a no-fault divorce can include irreconcilable differences, the breakdown of a marriage, or a period of separation.

Grounds for a fault divorce are constituted by cruel and inhuman treatment, and can include but are not limited to adultery, sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic violence, abandonment, mental illness and criminal conviction.

Judgementthe decision of a court.
Jurisdictionthe authority of a court to hear a case.
Limited Divorcea legal action whereby a couple’s separation and legal responsibilities are supervised by the court but does not actually end the marriage.
Marital propertyinclusive of all property acquired during the marriage, regardless of if the property is titled in one or both names.
Mastera judicial officer who hears cases like a judge, and whose decision is reviewed by a judge before being finalized.
Motiona request to the court.
Parenta mother, father or as otherwise may be defined by statute such as through adoption.
Pendente Lite(Latin for “pending the litigation) refers to the temporary arrangements pending a final hearing on matters such as custody child support, alimony, visitation, etc.
Petitiona legal document filed to begin a case.
Plaintiffthe person or group accusing the other party.
Reconciliationthe act of a married but separated couple returning to cohabitation.
Serviceproviding copies of the documents being filed to the other party.
Spousea husband or wife.
Subpoenaa writ issued by the court which summons the receiver to appear in court and/or provide documents.
Uncontested Divorcewhen the defendant decides not to take action to stop the divorce, no judgments from the court are necessary concerning children, property, and money.
Use and possessionrefers to the right of a parent who has custody of a minor child to remain in the family home for a set period of time following the date of the divorce.
Venuethe county in which the case is heard.
Visitation Rightspermission granted by the court to noncustodial parents and grandparents to visit with the child or children.
Writ of Summonsa document issued by the court ordering a party to respond to a petition, motion or complaint.

The glossary of family law terms can help you better prepare and educate yourself when it comes to your rights and the Colorado legal statutes concerning family law. However, knowing the definitions is not enough to truly understand the intricacies of family law. For an expert consultation, contact us today.

The information in this post is not legal advice—it is only legal information.  To obtain legal advice by hiring the attorneys of Broxterman Alicks McFarlane PC as your counsel, please contact the firm at or 303-331-6432.

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