The following terms are commonly used when discussing family law and divorce issues in Illinois. Buffalo Law Offices provides this information as a resource for potential clients to better understand key topics that may be discussed in this website or during an initial consultation with a divorce attorney at our firm.

Important Terms In Illinois Family Law And Divorce

Action: A proceeding or a lawsuit in court.

Affidavit: A sworn statement that is in writing, and is under oath. Sometimes the Court requires affidavits instead of live testimony.

Alias summons: When the original summons is not served on the defendant or respondent prior to the expiration of the summons, an alias summons can be issued by the court. The alias summons continues the process of serving the defendant. In addition to the use of the sheriff, service can be accomplished by means of a special process server.

Alimony: Payment of support from one spouse to another that is not child support. It is also referred to as spousal support or maintenance. It is a payment intended to equalize the incomes of both parties, to continue the lifestyle of the marriage after the marriage has ended.

Annulment: An annulment means that the persons involved were never united as husband and wife in marriage. The children born during this marriage are considered legitimate, however. It is a judgment from a court that invalidates that marriage as if it never took place. It is only available under certain limited circumstances, with fraud being the most common example.

Answer: A written response to a petition, motion or complaint. Once a petition is filed in court, a written response is ordinarily required. It is often referred to as a Response also.

Arrearages: Child support or spousal support that has not been paid and accumulates. Once a support payment is missed, that missed payment becomes a mini-judgment against the person who should be making the payments. Once a payment is missed, you cannot go back and undo that payment. You can seek to modify future payment, however.

Child support: Money that is paid from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent by court order. This is money that is used to pay for the child(ren)’s expenses such as housing, food and clothing. The person obligated to pay the support must pay the support directly to the other party, and cannot make the housing, food, and clothing payments directly.

Child support guidelines: The guidelines vary from state to state, and are used to determine the amount of child support the non-custodial parent pays to the custodial parent. Some states do not use guidelines, but Illinois is a child support guideline state at this time. The court can make a determination that support should be above or below the guidelines, if the court makes a specific finding to that effect. Otherwise, the court will simply apply the guidelines, which are mandatory.

Common Law Marriage: A man and woman living together without the formality of a state-recognized marriage. Illinois does not recognize common law marriages.

Community property: All property that is acquired during the marriage is divided equally or equitably between the parties. It does not matter whose name the property is in, or how property titles are held. In Illinois, inheritances and gifts to a person are excluded, although they may have been acquired during the marriage.

Complaint: A formal document that is filed with the Court, and which states what the person filing the paper wants from the Court.

Contempt: This is a failure to abide by or to follow a court order or judgment. If the person who did not comply was unable to comply for some reason that they did not bring about themselves, the Court may determine that there is no contempt. The person who is not in contempt files a Petition for Rule to Show Cause (or other similar document) to begin the process.

Contempt of Court: Any act which is calculated to embarrass, hinder, or obstruct the court in the administration of justice, or which is calculated to lessen its authority or its dignity. Committed by a person who does any act in willful violation of its authority or dignity, who disobeys the court’s orders, or acts to impede or frustrate the administration of justice.

Custody-Joint and Sole: The legal arrangement for the person that a child will live with and how decisions about the child will be made. There is legal custody and there is physical custody, which may be different from each other in a particular case. Legal custody is the decision-making part and physical custody refers to where the child lives on a regular basis. Usually, the parent that the child does not live with is allowed to have regular visits with the child. Parents can make custodial arrangements that are in the best interest of the child(ren) and that are approved by the court.

Default: A party’s failure to answer a petition when it is due. If a party is in default, the other party is able to get a default judgment to seek the relief they have requested from the court. Any person who has been served should immediately obtain an attorney to make sure that they are not in default.

Discovery: The process for getting information from the other party or other people. Examples of discovery are interrogatories (written questions), requests for production (requests for documents and evidence), requests for admissions (request to admit or deny matters) and depositions (questions which are usually in person and asked under oath).

Dissolution: The legal end of a marriage.

Expert Testimony: Testimony by an expert such as a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, real estate appraiser, vocational expert, forensic accountant, business evaluator or other expert qualified to give an expert testimony opinion.

Filing: Placing your legal papers with the Clerk of the Court.

Guardian Ad Litem: An attorney who is appointed by the court to represent a minor child. Guardian Ad Litems are to be appointed when abuse or neglect is alleged, but in other cases as well (in the discretion of the court).

Judgment: A court’s final decision in a matter.

Jurisdiction: The authority of a court to hear a particular case. This is typically based on the residency of either the parties or children in a state.

Legal Separation: When two parties enter a judgment or legal separation agreeing that they will be living apart and that orders need to be entered regarding payment of property or debts, custody of children and support (child support and/or maintenance). Unless the parties agree, the court does not divide the property of the parties in a legal separation. However the parties still believe in this case that they marriage is not irretrievably broken.

Maintenance: A payment of support paid by one party formerly known as alimony in many states.

Pendente Lite (PDL): Temporary arrangements for custody, child support, child visitation, maintenance and possession of the family home, etc., until a final disposition in a divorce proceeding. Also sometimes allowed in paternity proceedings as well regarding custody and child support.

Petition: A legal paper that starts a case.

Pro Se: Representing yourself in court without an attorney.

Residential Parent: In joint physical custody cases, the court picks a residential parent for school and mailing purposes. This solely determines what school a child will attend and where mail will be sent. Residential parent is not to be confused with sole physical custody.

Service: Providing a copy of the papers being filed to the other side. Service typically takes place when the sheriff or a private process server actually hands paperwork to the opposing party. In some rare instances, notice can be done by publication in a newspaper.

Subpoena: A document issued by the court that requires someone to appear in court and/or to provide documents.

Uncontested Divorce: When the other spouse is not contesting the divorce, the parties have reach full agreement, and there are no issues for the court to decide about the children, money, property, debt, support, etc.

Venue: The county where the case is heard. This is not to be confused with jurisdiction, which deals with the state where the case will be heard.

Summons: A form issued by the court directing a party to respond to a complaint, motion, or petition.