Definitions and Explanations of
Terms Used in Family Court Cases
The following definitions and explanations are only to be used as general guidance. In no way are they intended to cover all the legal significance and importance of the terms.
A written statement used in court proceedings that a person swears under oath before a notary public. Common affidavits used in divorce or family law are “Affidavit of Resident Witness” and “Affidavit of Plaintiff in Support of Temporary Orders.”
Alimony or Spousal Support
In some cases, one spouse may receive ongoing financial support from the other after a divorce. There is no exact formula to figure out whether someone should receive alimony or how much money they should get. Alimony is decided on a case by case basis, but is usually only considered in longer term marriages where there is a large difference in income. To decide alimony, the judge will consider many things, including:
• How long the marriage lasted and the lifestyle shared by the parties during the marriage.
• Each spouse’s age, health, education, career, and earning ability.
• One spouse’s need for financial support versus the other spouse’s ability to pay.
A judge may order “rehabilitative alimony” to help a person obtain job‑related education or training. This type of alimony is meant to increase a person’s job skills and earning power so they will be able to support themselves after the divorce.
Alimony may last for only a limited amount of time, or it can be awarded permanently. Permanent alimony typically ends when the person receiving alimony remarries or when either of the spouses dies.
If alimony is awarded as part of a divorce, a spouse can ask the court to change the amount of alimony later if circumstances change.
A ruling by the court that a “marriage”, retroactively, was never legally valid or is void.
Answer to Complaint or Petition
When a defendant or respondent is “served” with a complaint or petition, a formal, written, “answer” must be filed with the court by the “defendant” or “respondent” within twenty (20) days of the date the Complaint was served, either agreeing with, or opposing, the requests of the plaintiff or petitioner.
Unpaid child support or spousal support.
Generally, anything acquired or purchased during the time of the marriage is considered a community asset and, therefore, community property, and it usually does not matter if one name is on the property or both names are on the property. Nevada is a “community property” State and the law in Nevada is that community assets are equally divided at the time of a divorce.
Best Interest of the Child
This is the primary legal standard that the Nevada courts use to make decisions regarding child custody. The judge will use this standard in making many of the decisions concerning children in a divorce or family law matter.
Change in Circumstance
A change, usually substantial, in the emotional, financial, or physical condition of one or both parents, justifying a modification of a child custody or child support order.
Child support is governed by statute and can become complicated. Although the basic formula as set by statute is 18% of the non‑custodial parent’s gross income for 1 child, 25% for 2 children, 29% for 3 children, 31% for 4 children and an additional 2% for each additional child.
Child Visitation or Parenting Time
The statute governing child visitation and exchange is clear. It is not enough to just state “reasonable visitation” in any kind of agreement. The visits and terms of the exchange of the child must be clear and specific. There must be specific days, times and places of exchange included in the agreement, and the holiday calendar must be clearly defined. If there are expenses involved with the exchange and visits, the agreement must state which parent is going to bear the expenses, or, if the expenses are going to be shared. If there is travel involved, who makes the travel arrangements must be stated. If the visitation is going to be “supervised”, the arrangements must be stated as to who will supervise the visits, whether the supervised parenting time will be temporary or permanent, and, if temporary, when unsupervised parenting time will commence, and under what conditions.
Any assets acquired or purchased during the marriage are usually considered “community property”, no matter whose name they are in. That is the starting point for the division of property of the marriage. Nevada is a community property State and it is the law that the division of community property start with an equal division.
The document filed to start a case. Also may be known as a “Petition”. The “complaint” or “petition” sets out the claims of the “plaintiff” or “petitioner” and tells the court what they want the court to order.
Allegations or claims, if any, that the Defendant includes in their Answer to a Complaint.
A document signed by the judge detailing the final decision regarding the legal matters presented to the court. Anyone who violates the court order could be held in contempt of court.
• Legal Custody refers to the basic responsibility for a child and the parent’s ability to access information and make major decisions that affect the child, including the child’s healthcare, education, and religious upbringing. There are two kinds of legal custody:
• Joint Legal Custody: Judges generally must award both parents joint legal custody so that both parents can make major decisions about the child.
• Sole Legal Custody: This gives one parent the right to make major decisions concerning the child. This is not ordered very often.
• Physical Custody refers to the physical location of the child. There are three different types of physical custody a judge can order:
• Joint Physical Custody: Each parent has the child(ren) at least 40% of the time. This amounts to at least 146 days per calendar year. Judges must generally award joint physical custody to both parents unless certain exceptions apply.
• Primary Physical Custody: One parent has the child(ren) more than 60% of the time during the year. The other parent will have “parenting time” or “visitation.”
• Sole Physical Custody: One parent has the child(ren) 100% of the time, and the other parent has no visitation or extremely limited (possibly supervised) visitation. This is not ordered very often.
Generally, any bills or debts acquired during the marriage are considered community debts and are equally divided at the time of the divorce.
The party that answers or “defends” an action brought against them by the Plaintiff or Petitioner. The Defendant may also be labeled as the Respondent.
Is the process of gathering information and evidence to present during trial or a hearing. The primary discovery methods are 1) Depositions 2) Interrogatories 3) Request for Production of Documents 4) Request of Admissions. Discovery deadlines are scheduled at the Case Management Conference.
The paper signed by the judge which details the final determination of all matters disputed in a divorce proceeding.
Ex Parte Motion
Ex Parte means without notice to the opposing party. Standard motions are served upon the opposing party and or opposing attorney. An Ex Parte Motion is sent directly to the judge for a decision.
Family Mediation Center (FMC)
Each divorce involving a minor child will be ordered to attend mediation in an attempt to reach an agreement on the parenting schedule.
A document used during Discovery containing questions regarding the case. You are required to answer the questions to the best of your knowledge and return your answers to the opposing party or the opposing attorney.
A type of divorce in which couples agree to ALL issues such as child custody, child support, and property division. A joint petition is quicker and simpler than a contested divorce.
Joint Preliminary Injunction (JPI)
A document filed with the Complaint and Summons that warns both parties not to take certain actions during the divorce proceeding. Typical warnings include neither party can sell, encumber, or destroy community property.
Marital Settlement Agreement
A legally binding agreement settling all matters pertaining to a divorce. Typical agreements decide each issue such as property, child custody, child support, alimony and other issues that a court would decide before issuing a divorce decree.
Both parties meet with a professional “mediator”, usually in an attempt to work out a parenting plan for children involved in a custody dispute. However, the division of property may also be “mediated” under certain circumstances. If you file in Washoe, Clark, Douglas and Carson City Counties, mediation of custody and visitation issues is mandatory if the parents cannot come to an agreement regarding custody and visitation of the children.
A request to the court, by one party, to enter an order requiring the other party to do something, or, to prevent the other party from doing something, or, for a clarification or reconsideration of an order that has already been issued from the court.
Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS)
The written laws of Nevada developed by state legislatures. NRS statutes regarding divorce or family law matters in Nevada are covered in NRS Chapters 122 through 130.
An opposition is a document filed in response to the opposing party’s motion. The opposition provides the judge an opposing version of the facts and issues.
Order To Show Cause Regarding Contempt
When one party is not obeying a court order, the other party may bring a contempt charge against that party. The court will issue the order directing the party charged with not obeying the order to appear and “show cause” why they should not be held in contempt.
Parenting Agreement or Parenting Plan
An order detailing the dates and times with which parent the child(ren) will reside. The plan may also provide guidelines and expectations regarding drop off locations, times and schedule exceptions.
The state or condition of being a father. Paternity is verified through a DNA test.
The party in a legal matter that initiates the law suit. The party being sued is called a Defendant. There is little significance in who is the Defendant or Plaintiff. Both defendant and plaintiff are provided equal opportunity to present their case to the court.
The name given to a formal written document filed with a court by parties in litigation such as a Complaint, Answer, or Motion.
QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order)
A court order directed to the ‘plan administrator’ or ‘custodian’ of a pension plan directing them to the amount that needs to be allocated to the ex‑spouse.
Reply to Counterclaim
When defendant or respondent files and serves their answer and counterclaim on the plaintiff or petitioner, the plaintiff or petitioner then has the duty to respond to the counterclaim by filing a Reply to Counterclaim.
Within that Reply, plaintiff has the opportunity to tell the court what parts of the counterclaim he/she agrees with and what parts he/she disagrees with. Plaintiff or petitioner has 20 days from the date the counterclaim is served on them to file and serve the Reply.
Reply to Response or Reply to Opposition
The person who files a motion with the court, has an opportunity to “reply” to the formal “response” or “opposition” to their motion, if one is filed by the opposing party.
Response or Opposition
An answer to a motion that has been filed and served. The person upon whom the motion has been served has ten (10) days to file a formal “response” or “opposition” to the motion if the motion is personally served on them and thirteen (13) days from the date of mailing in which to file a formal “response” or “opposition” if the motion is mailed to them.
Generally, any property or debt a spouse owned before the marriage is that spouse’s “separate property” and belongs solely to that spouse. Inheritances, personal injury awards, and gifts, even if they occurred during the marriage, are also usually considered separate property and are not divided during a divorce. There are exceptions to these general rules. If you are unsure if something is community or separate property, consult an attorney.
Service; Service of Process
The legal process of delivering to the opposing party legal notices such as a Complaint, Summons, or Motion. There are specific rules of who and what is considered proper service. An Affidavit that certifies the service of a legal document will state the date, time, and manner in which the document was served.
Stipulation; Stipulated Order
A written agreement reached by the parties or attorneys that documents an agreement. Stipulations can be made on an issue as simple as moving of a court date, or one as large as a child custody settlement.
Notice to a party that a complaint or petition has been filed against them in court.
A final divorce decree or order from the judge may take months and some issues need a quicker resolution. Temporary Orders are entered by the court and will remain in place until both parties settle the case or when a final order has been determined by the judge. Typical temporary orders are made in regards to sale of a marital home, amount of temporary child support to be paid, a temporary parenting schedule etc.
Temporary Protective Order (TPO)
An order from the court for one spouse to not contact, or be within 100 yards of the other spouse.
Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act is a federal law adopted to handle jurisdictional issues that arise when parents of a child(ren) who live in different states are looking for a court to handle a divorce or custody legal matter.
The legal process of having child support payments deducted directly from the paycheck of the person who owes the support.