A verbal or written resolution of disputed issues.


See Maintenance

Alternative Dispute Resolution-Mediation

A process used to resolve legal disputes outside of the traditional Court System. 


A marriage can be dissolved in a legal proceeding in which the marriage is declared void, as though it never took place. In the eyes of the law, the parties were never married. It is available only under certain very limited circumstances.


A legal action where the losing party requests that a higher court review the decision.

Best Interests of the Child

A legal standard used to determine child custody, visitation, and support

Child Support Guidelines

A schedule of payments and guidelines for calculating child support created by the state that shows how much child support will be paid. It is based on the income levels of the parents. 

Committed Intimate Relationships

In Washington State, common law marriage does not exist. These relationships were formerly known as meretricious relationships and exist when an unmarried couple lives together for a significant period of time. In Washington State, these relationships have property rights similar to those married couples have.

Community Property

See Martial Property

Contempt of Court

A court determination that a person has failed to follow a court order and is subject to be punished by monetary fines, jail time, or both.

Custodial Parent

The parent who has physical custody of the parent’s child or children.

Child Custody

This refers to the legal arrangements for whom a child will live with and how decisions about the child will be made. Custody has two parts: legal and physical. Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to decide about a child’s health, safety, and welfare. Physical custody refers to where the child will live regularly. Generally, the parent, the child does not live with will be allowed to have regular visits with the child. Parents can make any custodial arrangement that is in the best interest of their children. The standard for deciding custody is what arrangement will be in the “best interest of the child.”


A declaration of facts written down and sworn to by the declarant Declarations may be used as evidence in legal proceedings, such as divorce, custody, and support cases.

Decree of Dissolution

A court order that terminates the marriage. It is also sometimes called a Final Divorce Order.


If a party fails to answer a complaint, motion, or petition, a court can grant a Petitioner’s divorce via default and give the Petitioner everything they requested.


A legal process where a person, under oath, answers questions about the legal matter. The questions can be asked by another party to the divorce or by an attorney, and it can occur outside a courtroom. The questions and answers are recorded or transcribed by a court reporter and can be entered into the court record.


The formal exchange of information between. Examples of discovery are interrogatories (written questions), depositions (oral questions and answers), and providing records and documents.

Divorce or Dissolution

The legal end of a marriage.

Durable Power of Attorney

A legal document that remains in effect until death which authorizes someone to act on your behalf pertaining to business and legal matters. 

Guardian Ad Litem

In divorce cases, a Guardian Ad Litem is often appointed in a child custody case to represent the child’s best interests.

Health Care Power of Attorney or Medical Power of Attorney

Gives another person legal authority over you to make medical decisions on your behalf. 

HealthCare Directive or Advance Care Directive

A legal document that lets you state what kind of medical treatment you do or do not wish to have. 

Home State

The state where a child or children of the marriage lived with a parent for at least six months before a child custody, support, or visitation action was filed in court.

Innocent Spouse Rules

IRS rules that can protect one spouse from the other spouse’s tax fraud or other tax-related misconduct.


Written questions one party serves on another must be answered in writing as part of the Discovery process.


A court’s final determination of the rights and obligations of the parties in a case. In divorces, a judgment includes a decree and any other order subject to being appealed by either party.

Joint Legal Custody

The sharing of parental decisions about care, control, education, health, religion, and primary residence of the minor child.


The authority of the court to hear a case.

Legal Separation

A court order allowing spouses to live separately and apart while remaining legally married.


In divorce cases, a spouse who is ordered to pay a marital debt can be held liable to the other spouse for failing to do so.


A payment of financial support provided by one spouse to the other during separation and after divorce or legal separation. This is now generally called spousal support or maintenance. For divorces finalized after January 1, 2019, these payments are non-deductible to the payor and not considered taxable income to the recipient on federal income tax returns.

Marital Property

Under Washington law, marital property is property acquired or is a direct result of the labor and investments of the parties during the marriage and is subject to equitable division. Equitable division does not mean the marital property is divided equally; it is divided in a manner that results in a fair or equitable result for each spouse.


A method of non-binding dispute resolution involving a neutral third party who tries to help the disputing parties reach a mutually agreeable solution.


A request, usually made in writing, to the court,


The formal legal process of informing one spouse, through their attorney if they have one, about a legal action or proceeding involving that spouse.


A court’s ruling or decision on a particular matter or legal issue, usually a decision on a motion filed by one spouse.

Parenting Plan

A plan for allocating custodial responsibility and decision-making authority on behalf of a child and resolving subsequent disputes between parents. The document also states the times the children will be with each parent and can also go through who will have what parenting tasks.

Paternity Test

Proving the identity of a child’s biological father through scientific methods.


A legal paper that starts a case.


The person who first files the paperwork for a legal separation or divorce.

Prenuptial / Premarital Agreement

An agreement signed before marriage defines how property will be divided, what alimony will be paid, and how other rights and responsibilities will be handled should the marriage end in divorce.

Pro Se

A person representing themselves in court without an attorney.

Property Division

The legal division of property rights and obligations between spouses during the process of a divorce. 

Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)

A court order giving one spouse a share of the other spouse’s pension or retirement funds.


When spouses get back together after they have separated or started a divorce process.

Residency Requirement

The amount of time a spouse must live within a state or county before that spouse may file a divorce action in that state or county.


The person the case is brought against. 


The written and filed answer to a petition in a family law proceeding.

Restraining Order

A court order prohibiting a person from engaging in a defined behavior, such as removing funds from accounts or going to the home of a spouse who has filed a dissolution action.

Separate Property

Property acquired by one spouse before the marriage or acquired by a spouse intended not to be considered marital property and not generally subject to equal division. However, non-marital property can be divided in Washington if the court decides it is fair and just to do so.


Providing a copy of the papers being filed to the other side is usually served by a process server 

Settlement Conference

A mediation where the parties, sometimes with their lawyers, attempt to settle a legal matter or case without trial.

Spousal Support

See Maintenance


The husband or wife of another person.


A legal agreement signed by both parties or their attorneys about some issue in a pending case, which settles that issue and is incorporated into a court order signed by a judge.


An order issued by the court requiring someone to appear in court to testify and/or bring documents.

Temporary Support

Payments made by one spouse to the other for financial support while the divorce action is pending.


A Will is a legal document that states the wishes and instructions for distributing a person’s estate after death.