Too often, clients getting divorce don’t fully understand the “big legal words” in the pleadings they are filing. Lawyers, who use this terminology everyday, incorrectly assume that their clients know the meaning of common family law terms.
At SIMPLY DIVORCE we try and give our clients as much information as possible about the process and procedure of their divorce in St. Tammany Parish. It’s our position that it serves our clients best interest to know what the law is and how we are seeking to apply it. In our opinion, knowledge is power. If the client takes some time to educate themselves on the divorce law in Louisiana, it eliminates most of the fear and uncertainty in the divorce process and allow them to make well thought out and clear-headed decisions that best serve their family.
Here are a list of the common legal terms you may see in your pleadings and their definitions:
Access, Right of Access. Child’s right to contact with both parents. See also “Frequent and Continuing Contact”
“Best Interest of the child.” If a judge decides a custody/parenting plan case, the judge tries to decide what would be best for the child based on all the testimony and other evidence in the case.
Case, Case Law. Previous cases decided by courts of appeal are published an used by judges to make decisions in current, similar cases
Change in Circumstance. Before modifying (changing) a custody order or parenting plan, a court requires a parent to show that a substantial (major) change in the conditions affecting the child has occurred since the last court order.
Child Support. Money paid by one parent to the other to help meet the needs of the child for housing, food, clothing, transportation, etc. In Louisiana this is determined using a statutory formula and the GROSS monthly income of both parties.
Child Support Guidelines. The formula created by the legislature to determine how much money each parent should contribute to the support of their children. One parent may have to give money to the other if the parent’s contributions as computed by the formula are not equal. Parents may agree to an amount of support different from that set by the guidelines, so long as it adequately supports the child and the court approves.
Confidential. When a conversation is confidential, none of the participants can testify in court about what was said. Confidentiality is different with different professionals. You may want to ask the professional person (attorney, mediator, therapist, counselor) what the rules are. What happens in a mediation is ALWAYS confidential.
Co-Parents. Parents who share responsibility for raising a child even though the parents no longer live together.
Court Order. Any order made by a judge; the order may be written by the judge or submitted by a party or attorney and signed by the judge. The parties may agree to a plan and, when the judge signs it, it becomes a court order or Judgment. See also stipulation.
Custodial Interference. It is against the law to interfere with the other parent’s reasonable contact with a child except as provided by a court order; when there is a court order, both parents must abide by it.
Custody. In Louisiana , “custody” means the right to make major decisions for the welfare of a child. Major decisions include medical care, religion, education and residence. Custody may be either joint with both parents or sole with one parent. “Sole Custody” does not give one parent the right to move away with the child without notice to the other parent unless the order specifically gives that right. Also,”sole custody” does not mean that the other parent will not have visitaiton with the child.
Dissolution of Marriage. Divorce.
Divorce. The legal process of dissolving a marriage.
Family Law. The law that relates to family relationships. It includes law about divorce, custody, parenting plans, property division, child support, spousal support (“alimony”) and other topics. The law is made up of both statutes and cases.
“Father’s Rights.” Judges are required to base decisions on the best interests of the child; they may not discriminate between parents on the basis of sex or weather the parent is a mother or father.
Filiation Petition. Legal papers asking the court to declare who is the father of the child. The petition can also ask the court to make an order regarding custody, parenting plan, and support.
Frequent and Continuing Contact. Parenting plans should provide a child regular contact with both parents so the child has a genuine, on-going relationship with each parent unless it puts the child in serious danger.
Guardianship. If neither parent is able to care for a child at a given time, a court may appoint a guardian. The guardian has the right to make all decisions for the welfare of the child until the guardianship is ended by the court, usually when it is no longer needed.
Hearing. A motion that is handled in court. Parties and attorneys may call witnesses and introduce evidence. A judge will make a decision based on all the evidence and the decision will become a court order.
Hearing Officer Conference. A conference with a hearing officer who will listen to the attorneys and both parties and make a recommendation to the judgment.
Holiday. Each family has certain holidays and special occasions that it celebrates. A parenting plan would specify who the child will spend holidays with and define each holiday so both parents know when it begins and when it ends.
Joint Custody. Parents share the responsibility to make major decisions for their child (see custody). Joint custody is preferred by our court, but does not necessarily mean that the child spends equal time with each parent. See parenting time.
“Limited Legal Services.” An arrangement with an attorney to receive help on some parts of a case for a set fee or limited fees.
Mediation. A meeting with a trained, neutral third party who helps the parties try to solve problems cooperatively. Most courts provide mediation of custody and parenting plan problems up to a certain number of hours. Mediation may occur face to face or separately, if necessary. Mediation is confidential and voluntary. The mediator does not tell the parents what they should do or make a recommendation to the court.
“Mother’s Rights.” Judges are required to base decisions on the best interests of the child; they may not discriminate between parents on the basis of sex.
Motion. A formal request filed with the court. A judge makes a decision to allow or deny the request, usually after a hearing or trial.
No-Fault Divorce. Under Louisiana law, it is not necessary to prove that either husband or wife did anything wrong. Anyone can get a divorce if they meet the statutory requirements.
Order. See court order.
Parenting Plan. A regular schedule for parenting time along with plans for communication between the parents, decision-making, a holiday schedule, information sharing, etc. The parenting plan may be developed by the parents, through mediation, with the help of attorneys or by a judge after a trial or hearing. See custody.
Parenting Time. The actual time a child is scheduled to spend with a parent. During parenting time that parent has primary responsibility for making routine decisions for the child but not major decisions (see custody).
Paternity Petition. See Filiation Petition.
Physical Custody. See custody and parenting time
Sole Custody. One parent has the right and responsibility to make the four major decisions for the welfare of the child. See custody.
Stipulation. A formal agreement of the parties. When it is written up and signed by the parties and the judge, it becomes a court order. Also known as a consent judgment.
Supervised Parenting Time. Parenting time during which the parent and child must be in the presence of another specified adult. Supervised visitation may be ordered where there has been domestic violence, child abuse or a threat to take the child out of the state.
Transition. The moving of a child from one place where they are taken care of (home, school, day care, etc.) to another.
Trial. See hearing.
Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act. A statute adopted by many states to make it easier to enforce custody and parenting plans across state lines. Louisiana has adopted this statute.
Visitation. Term no longer preferred. See parenting plan, parenting time.
* This is not a glossary of legal definitions but an explanation of legal terms in “lay” terms. It is not intended as legal advice