Divorce Glossary of Terms

Getting a divorce in Minnesota is a confusing process that is made more difficult with all the legal terminology. To help you, the divorce and family law attorneys at Tarshish Cody, PLC have compiled a handy Glossary of frequently used terms in the context of divorce and family law.


This term is applied when one married spouse leaves the marital home. In some states this may be grounds for divorce or may reflect adversely upon the spouse who moves. However, Minnesota has a no-fault system and the courts are not supposed to take this into consideration when deciding various factors in a divorce. However, the courts in Minnesota could look at abandonment in their decision on who gets awarded the homestead.


A lawsuit brought before the court.


Sworn statement by an individual in writing, usually made under oath or on affirmation before a notary public.

Affidavit of Service

A document signed by a non-party who has served any papers in a lawsuit such as the Summons and Petition for Dissolution, containing an oath that the papers were properly served on the other person. Once proper service is completed, the affidavit of service is filed (submitted) with the court along with the papers that were served.
Note: One party cannot serve the other party.  An Affidavit of Service in Minnesota must give the date, time, place, the method of service (usually personal service), and a description and/or the identity of the person who was given the documents.


Also called spousal maintenance or support, this is the old term and not used by the courts anymore in Minnesota. See Maintenance.

Alimony Pendente (Temporary Spousal Maintenance)

Spousal support to be paid by one spouse to the other during the divorce process prior to court issuing a final judgment and decree. See Temporary Spousal Maintenance.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

ADR refers to a variety of processes that help parties resolve disputes without going through the court.  The most common processes are mediation, arbitration, early neutral evaluation, financial early neutral evaluation. These processes are generally confidential, not as formal as court, and often less stressful than regular court proceedings.


An annulment is a legal process which cancels (terminates) a marriage between a married couple. Annulling a marriage effectively makes it as though the marriage never existed and it is completely erased. From a legal standpoint, it declares that the marriage never (technically speaking) existed and was never valid. It is very difficult to get a court in Minnesota to grant you an annulment.


In divorce cases, an Answer is a written pleading filed by the Respondent to respond to the Petition in the divorce served upon that Respondent. An answer generally responds to each allegation in the Petition by denying or admitting it, or admitting in part and denying in part. Often in a divorce in Minnesota, the Respondent will make a counter-petition within his or her Answer.


Requesting the Court of Appeals to review the decision by the District Court.


An attachment is a court order seizing specific assets. Attachment is used both as a pre-trial  security of the status quo, until the court issues a final judgment, and to enforce a final judgment, to prevent one of the spouses from being “judgment proof.”  For example, a court might attach part of a party’s bank account to prevent her from transferring all of her money to a hidden bank account.

Attorney for Child (Guardian ad Litem)

Guardian ad litem is different than an attorney for child

Burden of Proof

Often used to describe the threshold that a party seeking to prove a fact in court must reach in order to sufficiently establish it for the court.  In civil cases, such as divorce, the Petitioner has the burden of proving his case by a preponderance of the evidence.


The standardized heading of the legal documents and/or pleadings, such as a motion or a Petition, which sets forth the names of the parties in controversy, the name and jurisdiction of the court, the court file number, and the name of the case/action.

Change of Venue

Change of location (the county) your case is being heard. For example: Your spouse files your case in Hennepin County, but it really belongs in Carver County, then your attorney could ask for a change of venue.

Child Support

Money paid by one parent to the other parent for a child’s various expenses after a separation or divorce.

Clerk or Court Clerk

An officer of the court who is tasked with clerical responsibilities, such as keeping records, ensures the judicial processes, enters judgments and orders, provides certified copies from the records, as well as other responsibilities.


This is an abbreviation for Cost of Living Adjustment.

Collaborative Law

A divorce and family law dispute resolution process outlined in writing which includes a promise to negotiate and discuss terms in good faith, to exchange private and confidential information (without prejudice), and a encouraging commitment that the participating attorneys / law firms would withdraw if negotiations fail.


Commingling occurs when non-marital funds of one party are mixed with the marital accounts and/or funds, often where one individual has a responsibility to keep the funds separate. In the context of divorce law, commingling refers to instances described above, where the non-marital property can no longer be distinguished from the marital property. This is most common with bank accounts.


This is the common term for the document in civil and criminal cases that is filed with the court by a plaintiff to begin a lawsuit or action and it sets out the facts and legal claims.  The person bringing the Complaint and filing it with the court is called the plaintiff and the other party is called the defendant. In some types of legal actions, such as divorce and custody cases, complaints are referred to as petitions and the person filing a petition is called the petitioner. See below for Petitioner.

Contempt of Court

The failure to comply with the orders and/or directions of the Court.

Contested Divorce

Any issue on which the parties do not agree, which must then be decided by the court. In divorce and family law cases, these contested issues could be i) custody and parenting time, ii) division of assets and the marital estate, iii) spousal maintenance, iv) child support, and v) value of various assets, such as real estate, a business, etc.


To provide support or confirm a finding, often used to bolster a claim an individual is making in court.

Counter-Petition (Counterclaim)

A divorce petition that the respondent may file against the petitioner after the respondent has been served a petition, and this is where the respondent asserts his or her claims against the other party.

Custody (Legal)

The parent who has legal custody of the child. This allows the parent with legal custody to decide issues such as education, medical, and religious.

Custody (Physical)

The parent who has physical custody of the child. A parent can also have primary physical custody, in a joint physical custody situation, or sole physical custody, where one parent has the child living with them all the time.


Failure to respond in the prescribed manner within a given period of time. The Respondent in a Petition for Dissolution is said to be in default if he or she failed to respond within a set period of time, usually 30 days after the date of service.

Deferred Compensation Package

This includes all retirement assets, such as pension, 401K’s, IRA’s, and any variety of saving or postponed income which has been earned during the marriage.


An important tool used in pretrial discovery where one party takes testimony and ask questions of a witness or the other party in the case. Most commonly it is done in a lawyer’s office, the court, or a conference room, the person being deposed is required to answer under oath while a court reporter writes down everything that is said. The court reporter creates a deposition transcript, which the parties can purchase after the deposition. Nowadays, depositions may be videotaped. Any person being deposed has the right to be represented by a lawyer.

At trial, deposition testimony can be used to rebut a witness or put doubt on his or her testimony and/or to refresh the memory of a witness whom has trouble remembering. In rare instances, if the person previously deposed becomes unavailable at the time of the trial (i.e. if he or she has died), the deposition transcript may be read to the judge instead of live in-person testimony.

If you have little financial funds for your divorce, a deposition may not be affordable for you, due to the high cost. A deposition can be costly because you have to pay the court reporter for his or her time, you pay for a copy of the transcript from the deposition, and you will have to pay for your attorney to take the deposition.


Pretrial disclosure of pertinent facts and documents, including financial figures, by one or both parties.


A spouse’s use of assets for an inequitable,  illegal, and/or wasteful purpose.


The termination of a marriage.


The commonly used word for a Marital Dissolution and the process surrounding it.


The court’s calendar schedule.

Domestic Abuse

Minnesota has a law called the Domestic Abuse Act, and you can reach the Minnesota Statute here: MN Statutes, Ch. 518B. This law defines domestic abuse as one of the following acts committed by a family or household member against another household or family member:

A family or household member is one of the following:

  • spouse or former spouse;
  • persons involved in a significant romantic or sexual relationship;
  • parents and children;
  • persons related by blood;
  • parents and children;
  • persons living together or who have lived together in the past;
  • persons who have or had a child in common (born or in utero), regardless of whether they were living together or ever married.

Earning Capacity

Income a person is able to earn (Note: not income they may or may not actually earn) as a result of skills, training, and experience.


The point at which children become financially independent, or reach the age of 18 or 21, depending on the wording of a state’s laws.


A court may order that a party either do a specific act, cease certain conduct or be prohibited from taking a certain action.

Equitable Distribution

The “fair” distribution of marital assets, earnings, and liabilities acquired during the marriage.


All types of proof legally admitted (allowed by the judge) and presented in court proceedings with the intent to convince a jury and/or judge of alleged facts of the case. This includes, but is not limited to, oral witness testimony from experts, tangible documents, objects, photographs, and public records, as well as others.


A document, paper, chart, map, or similar tangible item, referred to and made a part of a Pleading, Affidavit, and/or Brief, and provided as evidence to the court for inspection.

Ex-Parte (Communication)

On or from one side or party only, sometimes used in reference to the absence of the opposing party.


A person with expertise or specialized knowledge in a particular subject beyond that of the average person.

Family Court

A court of limited jurisdiction that hears cases involving family law.


A person in whom another has placed confidence and trust.

Finding of Fact

In Minnesota family court, Findings of Fact are the conclusions of a judge regarding the underlying facts of the case. Typically, the findings of fact are used to support the court’s conclusions of law and the judgment and decree.

Good Faith

Deriving from the Latin term “bona fide”, good faith is an abstract term that surrounds a sincere motive or belief absent any malice or desire to defraud others. In the courts, often the terms bona fide and good faith are used interchangeably.


The basis for action or complaint, as in grounds for divorce.

Guardian ad litem

An adult who is appointed by the court to represent the interests of a minor


A court session in which testimony or arguments are offered by attorneys or involved parties for the purpose of resolving a legal dispute.


In Camera Inspection

In Forma Pauperis (IFP)

A Latin term meaning “in the manner of a pauper”.  This happens when a person with little financial means requests to proceed In Forma Pauperis, allowing him or her to bring the action in court without having to pay for the costs, such as court costs and filing fees.


A formal or written question that must be answered under the direction of the court.

Irretrievable Breakdown

Joint Legal Custody

Situation in which both parents continue to make joint decisions for their child’s education, medical care, religious training, camp, and other day to day matters.

Joint Petition

When spouses apply together for the court to award them a dissolution of their marriage. This is common in uncontested divorces. In joint petitions, the two parties have often agreed upon the terms of their divorce.

Joint Physical Custody

A situation wherein the child spends time sleeping in both parents’ homes.


A final decision by the court.


Authority given to the court to consider and determine a matter. Whether a court has jurisdiction is dependent on many issues, including the parties, type of case, and geographic location of the parties and/or facts giving rise to the claim(s).

Lump-Sum Alimony

Alimony (a.k.a. spousal support, maintenance) money is given in a single lump-sum payment.


Also called alimony or spousal support.

Marital Assets

Assets acquired during the marriage, which are not considered nonmarital.

Marital Estate


A non-adversarial process in which two or more parties work through discussion and compromise toward agreement with the aid of a neutral party, or Mediator. In Divorce Mediation, the Mediator works with the divorcing spouses.

Motion to Modify

A motion put before the court requesting that changes be made in physical or legal custody, or in child support payments, thus modifying the existing arrangement.


Written or verbal appeals to the court for some sort of temporary relief, such as maintenance, child support, attorney’s fees, etc.

No-Fault Divorce

A divorce in which neither party has been accused of or found guilty of any misconduct.

Non-Custodial Parent

The parent with whom the child is not physically living.

Non-Marital Property


Order for Protection

Parenting Plan (Parenting Time)


pen dente lite (Latin), or pending in the litigation. Any motion filed before the Petition is presented in court. Cannot be filed until at least 30 days after the Respondent is served with notice of intention to divorce. See Motions.

Petition for Dissolution

The wording used in some states for the legal Petition for Divorce.


The spouse who files for divorce.


Pre-Trial Motions

See PDL Motion and Motions.

Pro Se


A Qualified Domestic Relations Order is a court order declaring that one spouse shall be entitled to a portion of the other spouse’s pension as a part of the marital assets.

Quit Claim

To release or relinquish legal claim, or a document relinquishing claim, as in a quit claim to the deed to the marital house.


The act of rebutting or contradicting in a legal suit.

Request for Production

Part of the Discovery process in which one attorney asks for the other side to produce documents they deem necessary to the case, such as financial documents.


The spouse whom the Petitioner is seeking to divorce.


The fee paid to an attorney or other professional for their services, sometimes representing advance payment for anticipated future services.

Separate Property (Non-Marital Property)


Separation Agreement


The act of serving the respondent with legal papers, such as the Notice of Petition for Dissolution.


See above. These papers are usually presented to the respondent either by mail, or in person by a County Sheriff’s Deputy or Process Server.

Settlement Agreement


Statute of Limitations



A legal summons requiring that one appear in court as a witness to give testimony.


Written notice to appear in court either as a defendant or a witness.


Supreme Court

Temporary Motions

See Motions and PDL Motion.

Third Party


The formal legal process in which the court (judge) receives evidence and testimony to enable him or her to decide in a dispute between two parties.

Uncontested Divorce

When all issues have been resolved in a manner acceptable to both parties, the divorce is said to be Uncontested.



The legal right of a non-custodial parent to see his or her child (children).


The legal document with which one relinquishes a known right, claim, or privilege.


Winning a Divorce

No one wins a divorce. Each person has goals comprising what they want from their divorce. Unfortuntately, even if you get exactly what you want, you still might not feel like you won. The same is true for your spouse.

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