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Lost in Legal Jargon? Here are Definitions for Common Divorce Terminology in New Jersey

Family Law Terms bunched up

If you’re planning to file for divorce or are in the midst of a split, you’re probably trying to educate yourself on the phases of a divorce case so that you’re prepared for what is to come. Many divorcées find it difficult to slog through the seemingly-countless unfamiliar terms that appear in these legal documents, feeling lost and confused about the process as a result. If you’re constantly scratching your head at yet another new term you encounter in the divorce process, read on to find a glossary of definitions for terminology you’ll encounter during a divorce or custody dispute, and contact a knowledgeable New Jersey divorce lawyer with additional questions.


Arbitration allows spouses to have their divorce decided by an impartial third party, typically resulting in a legally-binding decision governing how property and custody are divided between the parties.

Chancery Division

The division of New Jersey’s superior court that handles family law-related cases. The Family Part, or Family Division, is the name for the department of the Chancery Division that handles divorces and child custody cases.

Contested divorce

A divorce where the spouses disagree on how property or child custody should be divided, or where one spouse is alleging fault on behalf of the other spouse. These divorces can result in long courtroom trials if no settlement is reached.


When one spouse does not respond to a complaint for divorce or other motions served during a divorce, the other spouse may request that the divorce or relief requested in the motion be granted to them as they requested, without the other spouse’s input.


The phase of the divorce lawsuit during which each party produces and exchanges documents, depositions, and other evidence in preparation for trial.

Equitable distribution

The term used for the process by which New Jersey divides marital property between the spouses. Property will be divided fairly according to established law, rather than perfectly equally.


A proceeding before the judge where parties present evidence and witnesses may testify on a given issue. Hearings are similar to, but slightly less formal than, trials.

Legal custody

The right to make major decisions in the life of a child, such as how their medical care and education should proceed. Most parents retain legal custody, even when their physical custody is limited.

Marital property

Property that was either acquired or earned by the couple during their marriage, or which was originally separate property but was converted into marital property. This is the property that will be equitably divided between the spouses during the divorce. Determining what is marital property and what is separate property can become a contested issue during a divorce.

Marital settlement agreement (MSA)

A contract generated through settlement negotiations that details how the couple has agreed to divide the couple’s marital property and child custody.


Like arbitration, mediation allows spouses to try to resolve their division of property, alimony, and child custody conflicts outside of court. Mediation is often less expensive than a courtroom divorce and isn’t usually binding.


A legal request for a certain form of relief from the judge overseeing the case. Motions often request a judge to enforce orders that they had previously issued after a party has failed to comply with them.

Pendente lite relief

A form of child or spousal support that is granted while the divorce or dispute is ongoing, before a final judgment is issued.

Physical custody

This is in-person physical time with a child of divorced or separated parents. Most parents have some amount of physical custodial time with their child, but one parent may be the parent of primary residence, or the parent with whom the child lives most of the time.

Qualified domestic relations order (QDRO)

An expert-generated order that divides a state or private pension plan.

Separate property

Property that belongs only to one spouse, usually because it was acquired before the marriage, or was kept separate from the couple’s marital property through a prenuptial agreement or other legal arrangement. A gift or inheritance to one spouse during the marriage is also considered separate property in most instances.

If you’re in need of skilled, knowledgeable, and effective legal help with your New Jersey divorce, contact the Union offices of John B. D’Alessandro at 908-964-0102.

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