Some important Legal Terms Used in a Family Law Case

Generally what family law cases are going to look like from start to finish including important legal terms.*

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*This video recording is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as the rendering of legal advice. The viewing of this recording does not create an attorney-client relationship. An attorney-client relationship is only formed when you have signed an engagement agreement. We cannot guarantee results. Past results do not guarantee future results. Consult with a licensed attorney for information regarding the specifics of your case.

These are some of the important Legal Terms I am going to go over along with their definitions: petition, file a petition, motion, complaint, petitioner, plaintiff, respondent, defendant, being served, discovery phase, consent decree of dissolution , consent judgment, mediation

To get a family law case started somebody has to file a petition in court and a petition might also be known as a motion or a complaint. Regardless of what is called in your jurisdiction whoever filed the petition is often called the petitioner. That is the person petitioning the court and there are some jurisdictions where the petitioner might be called the plaintiff.

The person who has not petitioned the court is called the respondent or the defendant. That person is the one who is receiving the petitioners ie being served with the petition. If you are the respondent in a family law case and you have been served with some sort of petition or complaint or motion you have to be aware that there are usually certain deadlines by when you have to
respond. If you don’t respond in a timely basis then it’s very likely that the petitioner or the plaintiff is going to get all of the relief that they’re asking for.

To figure out what that the time deadlines are in your state i would check your local rules or consult with a family law attorney.

Once the petition has been served and the respondent has responded then you enter the part of the case that is called the discovery phase and this is where parties are exchanging & disclosing information with each other They’re letting each other know what the their respective theories of the case are with the evidence that they are going to use to support the case.

The length of the discovery process really depends on the issues in the case and also just depends on your judge and the jurisdiction. Sometimes cases are really simple & there are not a lot of issues or they are very straightforward. In those cases I would say the discovery time could be pretty short.

In cases where there are serious issues: the parties had multiple businesses, multiple pieces of land, they’ve been married for quite a long time, the spousal maintenance was an issue, there may have been child custody issue, their mental health issues. If you want to shorten the amount of time that it takes to resolve the case then you can do your part by attempting to work with the other another party and compromise on issues that are important. You have to work the case and you may end up having to try the case but if you do ending end up working the case out then you and the other side would prepare what’s called a consent decree of dissolution or consent judgment. If you’re not doing the divorce and you submit the consent judgment or the stipulation to the court for the court’s approval. In this paperwork you would have all of the agreements that you’ve reached with the other party and normally you and the other party with both signed the agreement and if there are attorneys involved they would sign the agreement.
The judge hopefully would approve it if the judge found that the it was in the best interest of the children and if the judge found that the agreement was fair & equitable.

If there are some issues that you agree on but there are other issues you do not agree on it is possible to reach agreements in writing or on the record & on those issues you’re on the same page with the other party & respect to the issues that you don’t have an agreement or if you can’t reach an agreement on those and you end up in trial you end up in front of a judge and the judge has to make the final call.

If a response is filed and the parties agree then they must submit the agreement to the court for approval. If the party’s can’t agree then they end up going to trial. Keep in mind that as a case is pending you actually can try to settle it through alternative dispute resolution which is also known as mediation or by going to a settlement conference or in your jurisdiction there maybe services available through the court. Always try to resolve your case if you can.

Wendy Hernandez is a family law attorney in Phoenix, AZ and founder of Command the Courtroom.

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16 thoughts on “Some important Legal Terms Used in a Family Law Case”

  1. Thank you Wendy for all the awesome videos. I share with other people in my local community, who are facing matters of custody and divorce, the tremendous resources you have made available to us all seeking help. The idea of Command The Courtroom, and all of the videos available on YouTube, has inspired me to keep faith and maintain a positive attitude on this journey to save my children. Even if legal events progress is in my favor now; the ultimate best interest is for the twin baby boys who are without the benefit of a stable home and loving parents. Ultimately someday soon; I will be reunited with my children after years of complete seperation without an opportunity to present the truth and speak on behalf of their best interest. Also thank God for all these things possible in your works and Heavenly works. Good day to all; do not give up fighting for what is right and the best interest of your offspring. Survive and Best Wishes

  2. I don't know if this is the right channel to do so, but I'm here to bring into light a very possible case of abuse. Do you know popstar Britney Spears? She's been placed under a very suspicious conservatorship for 11 years and I fear it was used as a means to abuse her and extort money, even by constantly using her children's custody as bargain. I know the NASGA (National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse) has been following her case for almost a decade… So I just wanted to know if you can do something about it or know someone who can look into this. Anyways, thank you for your time.

  3. This was excellent information. #TY. QUESTION: Why is it that certain cases, e.g. Paternity, or Counterclaims of Legal Separation are DISALLOWED from publicly-available listing on State or local systems such as Case.Net? This severely disables the ability of a Pro Se litigant from knowledge of filings, unless those filings require service on paper, and even then, introduce time delays.

  4. The respondent in my case just served me to establish paternity of a child already listed in our current ongoing court case? Where do I start to address this?

  5. Why would a self represented petitioner contact the respondants attorney? I was advised to do this but not sure what to say to the attorney. Do I send her a response to the respondents response?

  6. What if all documents are not turned in by a date that the court set to be turned in and no extension wasn't filed what happens to the case

  7. Question…
    Is Martin Luther King Jr day considered a legal holiday for family law custody matters in the state of California?

  8. Wendy if I file the petition to set aside and vacate the judgment and I'm one that judgement and we go to retrial should I fill my paperwork out as me being the respondent or the plaintiff

  9. I need help that I can't afford … grandparent visitation.. the children have been lied to for years… my brother lied to my daughter… did custody not gardianship… I'm fighting alone for my visitation .. I raised the 2 older syblings… being we are not Jehovah witnesses they have a pamphlet that tells them they can lie in court calling it spiritual warfare…. the children have cousin, aunt uncle grand ma and syblings we are all cut out of there life….
    If you can help e mail

  10. I have found so much helpful info on your channel to assist me in my upcoming hearing. I would love any video addressing any situation similar to my own which is pretty unique, making it difficult to know how to proceed

  11. Can you make a video about child custody and access assessments pros and cons? Love your videos and education

  12. what to file in a answer to everything about me is someone else's information evidence and about three children neither party even knows and goes into conclusion about those three kids when me and the ex have only two

  13. Before the judge makes a decision on the case is there a way to request that the child live with you instead of other parent until the case is over? What if domestic violence and drug abuse etc have been proven first?

  14. My friend is wanting custody of her daughter. She was brought here illegally from Mexico by her Aunt when she was in high school. Her Uncle took advantage of her and she became pregnant. She lost custody when she bit her daughter in the arm and blood came out in church. I was wondering if in the paperwork where she wants full custody now (he has denied her to see her daughter) can she also request visitation rights? or would those things be seperate trials?

  15. Hey I need your help I'm fighting to have the custody for my children with my abusive ex wife, How to contact you?

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