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Divorce terms you should know

You can’t win if you don’t know the words. Study up on legal terms used in divorce cases, then contact Divorce Lawyers for Men to get started.

90-day mandatory waiting period

Washington law requires a minimum of 90 days from the date of filing and serving the Petition for Dissolution (Divorce) before the divorce can be finalized. This time is intended to give both people an opportunity to “cool off” and think about what they are doing. This is the absolute minimum time to finalize a divorce. Most cases take much longer.

Community property

The income, property, and other assets and debts acquired by each person during the marriage is community property and owned equally and jointly by both parties. During the course of a divorce, both the assets and the debts must be divided equitably. Dividing things equitably does not necessarily mean that everything is divided 50/50.

Decree of Dissolution of Marriage

The Decree of Dissolution of Marriage is the legal document approved by the court that officially ends the marriage. The Decree and other documents filed with it include all the final terms and conditions of the divorce. The terms of the divorce are usually agreed to during the process of the divorce.  If the parties are not able to agree to the terms, a judge will decide on the terms based on evidence presented at trial.


A deposition is an event where a witness, usually a party to the lawsuit, is questioned and gives testimony under oath. A deposition usually occurs at the request of the opposing attorney, in an effort to gather more information about the person or such things as events, income, assets or debts. Depositions are part of the Discovery process in litigation.

Guardian ad litem

A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a neutral third party who may become involved in a divorce or custody case in order to provide the Court or Judge an objective opinion on what action is in the “best interest of the child(ren)” regarding custody and visitation. The GAL is usually appointed by the Court. They will interview, research, and report on their findings to the Court.


A hearing is a specific date and time scheduled for an attorney, or party to a lawsuit, to present evidence and argue an issue before a Judge or Commissioner in Court. The Court has specific rules on how hearings are scheduled, what forms and documents must be filed with the Court, and how you are expected to behave during the hearing. Hearings are routinely used to resolve disputes.

Intentional fraud


“Irretrievably broken”

“Irretrievably broken” is a term of art used by attorneys and the Court to describe a marriage that is broken beyond repair and no longer functional. The irretrievable breakdown of a marriage is the only legal grounds (reason) for seeking or being granted a divorce in the state of Washington. The Court does not care about any of the other reasons you may be getting divorced; but you do have to state that your marriage is broken beyond repair in order to be granted a divorce.

Parenting Plan / Residential Care

The Parenting Plan is the document that sets out the plan for the children. It will be part of Temporary Orders and the final Orders of Dissolution, if children are involved in the marriage. The Parenting Plan should be specific on when a child is residing where, which parent has what decision-making authority, and other custody and visitation issues. It is a document of great importance and will control each parents’ continued involvement with the child(ren).


The word “parties” refers to the people directly involved in a lawsuit. In the context of divorce and child custody, the person who first files paperwork with the Court is called the Petitioner. They are petitioning the Court to take some kind of action. The other person, who then must respond to that court filing, is called the Respondent. The Respondent may agree or disagree with the requests being made by the Petitioner.


The petition is the very first document filed with the Court that initiates the process of divorce, or some other legal action. The state of Washington has a specific Petition form that must be completed and filed at the appropriate courthouse, along with other required documents, such as a Summons. The Petition will ask that the Court take some specific action, such as ending a marriage.


The Petitioner is a party to a lawsuit, in this case usually a divorce or custody action. The Petitioner is the person who is the first to submit documents to the Court and they are the first to request that the Court take some specific action. The Petitioner is often in a favored position because they are on the offense in the legal process.


The Respondent is a party to a lawsuit, in this case usually a divorce or custody action. The Respondent is the person who must answer or respond to the documents submitted to the Court by the Petitioner. The Petitioner is often in a disfavored position because they are on the defense in the legal process and must convince the Court not to grant what the Petitioner has requested.


The person who has been given notice of the Petition or lawsuit must formally file a document answering or responding to the Petition. This document is called a Response. Washington courts have a Response form that must be completed and filed with the court within a certain time period. It is important to respond appropriately in order to protect your rights in the case.

Separate property

Most money, property and other assets acquired by a couple while they are married is considered community property, which is jointly owned by both individuals. Separate property is money, property or other assets somehow acquired outside of the marriage that is determined to be the sole property of one person or the other. Assets acquired by inheritance or personal injury claims are usually an example of separate property.

Service of Process

Service of Process is the legal process of notifying a person that you have filed a legal proceeding or lawsuit against them. When a lawsuit is being started, the person who files the first documents (Petition) is required notify the other person or parties that they have been named in a lawsuit and have a legal duty to respond.

Settlement conference or mediation

A settlement conference is a formal meeting which gives the parties to a disagreement an opportunity to resolve their differences and reach an agreement without the need for a trial. Many courts now require that the parties to a divorce or custody dispute agree to participate in a settlement conference or other form of mediation before a matter is scheduled to go to trial.

Spousal support

Spousal support is also referred to as spousal maintenance or alimony. It is the payment of money by one spouse to aid in the support of the other during the divorce process and into the future following divorce. There is not a set formula to calculate the amount of support owed; the amount is usually settled upon by agreement of the parties or by order of the judge.

Substantial change of circumstances

When being asked to make a decision to change an existing parenting plan, the Court requires that there be a substantial and material change in circumstances that was unforeseen at the time the original order was entered before the judge will consider altering the plan. The party that is requesting the change has the burden of proving the change in circumstances to the court. Insignificant changes or foreseeable changes do not qualify.


A simple form legal document that is served on the Respondent with the Petition and notifies them of them of their duty to formally respond to the Petition within a certain period of time, usually 20 days. This notice is an important and required part of filing a lawsuit and should not be overlooked in the process.

Temporary orders


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