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Abandonment: A condition when one person leaves another for 12 months or longer without consent or justification. This condition is a reason for divorce.

Acknowledgment: An acknowledgment occurs when a notary public confirms and signs a document that proves a formal statement and signature are authentic.

Action: The formal term for the filing of a lawsuit in court.

Addendum: An attachment to an original document. This attachment can be a document or phrase.

Adultery: Another reason for divorce, an act of sex or deviate sex with someone other than one’s living spouse. Penal Code statutes define a deviant sexual act.

Affidavit of Service: This is a document bearing the signature of a non-party to a divorce who has served lawsuit papers. Applicable papers include a Summons to court and a Verified Complaint. An affidavit of service consists of an oath saying the papers were correctly served to parties in the suit. Parties in a lawsuit are not able to submit these documents to one another. The affidavit must include date, time, place, a description of the individual served papers and a description of the way the document was served.

Agreement: A written document between at least two people outlining rights and duties to one another. This document is considered formal.

Alternative Dispute Resolution: A mode of mediation to help parties reach an agreement without the need for a trial. Alternative dispute resolution includes a range of services including
collaborative law, mediation, arbitration, and neutral evaluation. ADR is typically confidential and avoids the high stress and formality of litigating in court.

Ancillary Relief: A group of additional actions requested beyond a divorce judgment. Some forms of ancillary relief include child support, property division, determining debt responsibility (including bills), and maintenance payments, formally referred to as alimony. See “Marital Property,” “Maintenance” and “Equitable Distribution” for more.

Annulment: A declaration by a court that nullifies the legality of a marriage. Parties in a legally void marriage can remarry after the court declares the marriage void.

Answer: One party’s response to a legal complaint. In divorce proceedings, these responses are required to be verified. See “Verified” for more.

Attachment: A court order authorizing the property of a debtor to be seized. These orders are used to allow the court to take ownership to pay back money owed to a separate party.

Attorney for Child: Previously known as a “Law Guardian,” this attorney is court-appointed to represent children in contested custody cases.


The burden of Proof: In the scope of a lawsuit, a burden of proof defines a party’s responsibility to prove the truth of their claims.


Calendar Number: A court-assigned number that designates a lawsuit’s date for trial. A Calendar Number is different from an Index Number, which specifies the day that papers have been filed in the office of the County Clerk. Calendar Numbers require a separate fee. See “Note of Issue” for more.

Caption: A court filing title that includes names for plaintiffs and defendants, court name, court part and an Index Number. Applicable court filings may include motions, pleadings, etc.
Cause of Action:
Refers to facts related to legal reasoning to file a lawsuit. This reasoning presents a situation that, if proven in court, entitles one party to a court decision over another.

Change of Venue: Indicates the move between county courts for litigation.

Child Support: After a separation/divorce, indicates funds paid between parents to pay for the expenses of a child.

Child Support Standards Act (CSSA): A law that outlines obligations for child support. This act includes charts that describe responsibilities.

Clerk: An official of the court responsible for filings that include pleadings, motions, etc.

Cohabit: A designation for two or people living together and usually having sexual relations with one another. Generally, cohabit refers to relationships involving opposite sexes.

Collaborative Law: A process of resolution in which two individuals employ lawyers or other professionals with specialized training to settle disputes outside of a courtroom.

Commingle: The mixing of separate funds and property into a single bank account or fund.

Complaint: Written by a plaintiff or a plaintiff’s legal representative, this document is the first step in pleading to a court on civil grounds. A complaint document includes allegations of the plaintiff’s reasons for divorce. These documents are required to be verified. See “Verified,” and “Summons” for more.

Constructive Abandonment: The unjustified refusal by one party to have sex with the other party without consent for 12 months or more. Constructive abandonment is another reason for divorce.

Contempt: The state of willfully disregarding or disrespecting an order of the court or the authority of a judge; also, specific conduct that undermines the court’s dignity or authority. Contempt can be punishable by prison time and a fine.

Contested Divorce: An action of divorce that is disputed by a plaintiff or defendant.

Corroborate: The approval of an argument or statement based on evidence and facts.

Counterclaim: A defendant’s claim contained in a Verified Answer against the plaintiff’s Verified Compliant. Verified Answers may only respond to specific allegations made in a Verified Complaint. A defendant’s counterclaim may also request a divorce with state reasons included.

County Clerk’s Office: An office in which court papers are filed and maintained permanently, and Index/Calendar Numbers are obtained. Often, this office is located in the same building as county Supreme Courts. However, Supreme Court clerks help you find the office of the County Clerk.

Cruel and Inhuman Treatment: The determination of endangerment of a plaintiff’s mental or physical health by a defendant through physical, verbal, sexual or emotional cruelty. This reason for divorce indicates a couple’s living situation being improper or unsafe for the plaintiff.

Custody, Legal: A condition in which an individual has a legal responsibility to make decisions for minors younger than 18 years old.

Custody, Physical: A condition in which an individual holds physical control or care of a minor younger than 18 years old. An individual with physical custody provides a primary residence for a minor.


Default Judgment: A judgment in a divorce against a defendant in which the defendant does not respond promptly to a Summons and Verified Complaint or a Summons with Notice. A default judgment is obtained from the court.

Defendant: The recipient of a divorce action; the person served with legal action.

Deposition: A testimony reduced to writing that is made under oath out of the courtroom without a judge present. This testimony is made for use later in a lawsuit and is often written by a court reporter. Also known as an Examination Before Trial, depositions are similar to trial proceedings.

Discontinuance: The voluntary conclusion of a lawsuit.

Discovery: The mandatory disclosure of relevant information in a lawsuit by the request of a party. Discovery of financial information is standard for divorce cases. In certain jurisdictions, discovery can relate to custody issues and grounds for divorce.

Dissipation: The state of using an asset wastefully for purposes that are illegal or inequitable. An example of this includes a spouse using the marital property for personal benefit during divorce proceedings, revealing a person’s attempt to deprive a spouse of an asset’s enjoyment or use.

Divorce: A judgment legally ending a marriage and freeing former spouses to remarry.

Domestic Relations Law (DRL): A list of requirements under New York state law for divorce proceedings and other matrimonial actions.


Earning Capacity: The ability or power of an individual, given skills, training, and experience, to make money.

Egregious: Bad to an extreme or remarkable degree.

Emancipation: A legal provision for a child’s release from a parent or guardian’s responsibility or control. In the event of this provision, under New York State law, an emancipated individual must receive child support until he or she is 21 years old. However, a child’s marriage, military service or self-support may result in the termination of child support by a court.

Enjoin: Referring to a court order or injunction; legally restraining or prohibiting.

Equitable Distribution: A stipulation in New York state law describing the way marital property must be divided following a divorce. Equitable Distribution does not always mean a 50-50 split on assets. Courts determine distribution based on various factors.

Evidence: Any information that can prove or disprove an alleged fact. Examples of evidence include testimony, documents, and objects presented to the court.

Exhibit: A piece of evidence formally submitted to the court. This form of evidence may include documents, records or other objects.

Ex Parte (Communication): This is generally prohibited communication between one party and the court without the presence or notification of the other party. Ex parte communication is usually prohibited during divorce proceedings unless scheduling becomes an issue.

Expert: A person authorized to give an opinion on a case to a judge or jury during court proceedings. Experts are qualified through experience, education or the holding of subject matter skills or knowledge.


Family Court: The New York State Family Court hears child support, custody, spousal support, visitation and more cases within its jurisdiction. Because of its jurisdictional rules, Family Courts cannot hear actions in a divorce lawsuit.

Fiduciary: A title for an individual who manages another person’s property or money with a high standard of care.

Finding of Fact: A judge or jury’s determination of what is or is not a fact based on recorded evidence that is typically presented during trial or hearing proceedings.

Forensic: Indicates the use of particular subject expertise in courts of law. Some forensic subject matters include medicine, accounting to the law or science.


Good Faith: Indicates a lack of intent to defraud or honest of intention.

Grounds: Implies a reason for a Supreme Court to grant a divorce that is legally sufficient.

Guardian ad litem: A court-appointed guardian, often a lawyer, who helps represent an incompetent individual or minor. As opposed to an “Attorney for Child,” a guardian ad litem only reports the best interests of a child in a divorce case rather than acting as their attorney.


Hearsay: A typically inadmissible form of testimony by a witness that depends on the credibility of another. Hearsay testimony is often given when a witness does not personally know information but has heard it second- or third-hand, or more. This testimony cannot generally be admissible in court under evidentiary rules.


In Camera Inspection: The consideration of evidence by a trial judge in private. Sensitive information concerning business records or child custody details is reviewed on camera rather than in open court.

Index Number: A number assigned by a County Clerk to identify a case and court. An Index Number is assigned to every action or proceeding submitted to the New York State Supreme Court. The number is unique and is used on filed papers for all parties involved in a suit. Index Numbers must be either paid for or obtained with a court-approved Poor Person Application.

Interrogatory: A single question or set of questions given in writing to an opposing party as part of the discovery phase in a lawsuit.

Irretrievable Breakdown: A description of a relationship that cannot be repaired within a single period lasting at least six months.


Judgment of Divorce: A formal document granting a divorce that has been signed by a court.

Jurisdiction: A court’s authority to act over a defined set of matters or complaints.


Law Guardian: An old name for an “Attorney for Child.” A Law Guardian, as it was previously known, represents children in court by order.


Maintenance: An amount determined in a Judgment for Divorce for support by one party to another. Maintenance is often referred to as “post-divorce” maintenance or “spousal support.”

Marital Property: A category of property obtained by a plaintiff or defendant in a divorce case from the day of marriage to the day a divorce action is filed. Marital property is not defined by the name of the owner of the property. Marital property can include assets like homes and cars, bank accounts, pensions, IRAs, annuity and advanced degrees. Note: Personal injury compensation, gifts from other parties and inheritance may all be determined as separate property. See “Separate Property” for more.

Mediation: A process in which a neutral mediator helps parties to a suit resolve a given dispute. While the mediator is tasked with assisting parties to find a resolution throughout communication, they do not have any bearing on decisions in a conflict. Mediation is intended to provide a level field for parties and may be deemed to be inappropriate if one party has control or a power advantage over another.


Notice of Entry: A form indicating a County Clerk has entered final judgment. The notice is provided to a party with a copy of the judgment and a stamp to show the date of the filing with the clerk’s office. Service of the judgment of divorce with Notice of Entry starts the time to file a Notice on Appeal.

Note of Issue: A court-filed form notifying the court that documents are prepared for review by the court and that a lawsuit is trial-ready. A Note of Issues requires a separate fee for filing and is issued a Calendar Number. See “Calendar Number” for more.


Order: A court direction that may result in contempt if a party fails to comply. See “Contempt” for more.

Order of Protection: A court-issued ruling directing an individual to stop certain conduct against another. An example of relevant conduct is harassment. An Order of Protection may also exclude a person from a shared residence and require a person to stay away from the other person’s home, school, place of business and children.


Party: A party in a legal proceeding, such as plaintiffs and defendants.

Plaintiff: The initiator of a lawsuit/action of divorce.

Poor Person Application: A court application indicating a plaintiff or defendant cannot pay court fees for divorce actions due to insufficient income. Upon the court’s acceptance of the Poor Person Application, the usual divorce action costs are waived by the court.

Pro Se: Also known as “self-represented;” indicating a party’s representation of themselves instead of an attorney.


Removal of Barriers to Remarriage Form: A necessary form in the event of a marriage that is performed in a religious ceremony by a clergy member, religious minister or leader of the Society for Ethical Culture. This form requires a party to acknowledge that they have removed all religious barriers for remarriage for the other party after a divorce.

Request for Judicial Intervention (RJI): A court-filed form asking for a judge’s reassignment to a given case.


Separate Property: Unlike marital property, this is a category or property that only belongs to one spouse in a marriage. Separate property is not eligible for equitable distribution in a judgment of divorce.

Separation: The absence of a spouse from a marital household before a divorce.

Separation Agreement: An agreement in writing concerning child support, maintenance payments, the division of property, debt responsibility, and child residence, care, and other issues. A separation agreement covers the time before a divorce and after separation and must be signed and formally acknowledged. See “Acknowledgment” for more.

Service: The delivery of a paper such as a Summons with Notice, Summons and Verified Complaint or delivery of a writ. Service is formal and notifies the recipient they are party to a lawsuit.
Settlement Agreement:
A written agreement outlining all issues surrounding divorce. A settlement is voluntary and must be formally acknowledged and signed. See “Acknowledgment” for more.

Spouse: Either a wife or husband.

Statute of Limitations: A window of time in which an action must be filed with a court.

Stipulation: An agreement made voluntarily between parties on one or more issues in a divorce suit.

Subpoena: A document ordering a person to attend a court proceeding at a particular time or place in the role or witness or to provide requested documents. Subpoenas, also known as judicial subpoenas, are legal orders and failures to comply could be deemed contempt of court.

Summons with Notice: A document starting a divorce action filed by a plaintiff and requiring a defendant to serve a Notice of Appearance within a particular time. This document is filed with the County Clerk. A defendant is served a copy of the summons to provide notice that a divorce action has started. The Summons with Notice includes stated reasons for divorce and additional requests for relief to cover child support, maintenance, child custody, visitation, equitable distribution, etc.

Support: A payment or payments for food, clothing, housing or related expenses.

Supreme Court: The court in which divorce actions must be started. It is the highest trial court in the state of New York.

Supreme Court Clerk’s Office: Similar to the County Clerk’s Office; provides clerical support to the court.


Third Party: An additional party in a court action that is neither the defendant nor plaintiff.


Unemancipated Children: Children under the age of 21 who are supported by a parent or guardian. (See Emancipation)

Uncontested Divorce: A divorce agreement that occurs when the plaintiff and defendant do not disagree on any reasons for divorce or associated financial issues. Uncontested divorces can also happen when a spouse agrees to divorce or fails to appear in court.


Venue: An accepted setting for a trial, determined by the court.

Verified: A sworn statement of the truth of documents before a notary public. Pleadings in any matrimonial action must usually be verified. See “Acknowledgment,” “Answer” and “Complaint” for more.

Visitation: A non-custodial parent’s right to spend time with a child.


Waiver: The intentional or knowing giving up of claims or rights.

Writ: A paper signed by a judge that directs a person to appear before a court. A writ is also known as a Writ of Habeas Corpus.