5 Important Divorce Terms & Concepts You Should Know

Divorce and family law are their own legal areas for a reason. Not only are these proceedings handled in family court and subject to a unique set of laws and procedures, they also entail a great deal of information, particularly when it comes to unraveling the many factors that become entwined during the course of a marriage and when setting up the future of divorcing spouses. For many, the sheer scope of divorce and family law cases can be overwhelming.

While divorce can seem like a daunting process in its early stages, taking the time to learn about important concepts, laws, and terminology can help you better prepare for the journey ahead, and make the most of your experience.

At DiPietro Law Group, PLLC, our divorce attorneys work closely with clients throughout Virginia, Maryland, DC, and beyond to ensure they have an understanding of how the legal process works and the information they need to make informed decisions. While much of this involves personalized counsel and explanations of concepts as they relate to the specific facts of a case, it also includes a general explanation of some of the most important terms used throughout these proceedings.

Whether you’re ready to initiate a divorce or are still considering your options, our legal team wants to help you get started on the right foot. Below, we explain a few of the most important divorce terms you should know:

  1. Alimony – Alimony, also referred to as spousal support or spousal maintenance, describes the payment one former spouse makes to the other as a means to help them maintain the standard of living they had during the marriage. In Virginia, spousal support can be ordered on a temporary basis (during divorce proceedings following separation and prior to finalization) and a long-term basis. Spousal support arrangements can vary from case to case, and will largely depend on unique factors associated with the marriage, including the length of marriage, the education and earning ability of each spouse, and their personal goals and objectives, among others. For example, spousal support awards may be paid periodically or as a lump sum, and they can also be used to offset disproportionate property division awards (i.e. less support in lieu of relinquishing a share of the family home. Because there are many unique factors involved in negotiating and finalizing spousal support orders, our legal team takes a personalized approach to helping clients explore their options for resolution.
  2. Marital and separate propertyProperty division can be one of the most defining aspects of divorce, as it generally involves determinations over how assets and debts are distributed between spouses. The term marital property (or community property) is used to describe assets acquired during the course of a marriage, and which are subject to division in divorce. Separate property, on the other hand, is not subject to division, and may include assets acquired by one spouse prior to marriage or as a gift or inheritance. While these may seem like straightforward concepts, property division can actually be quite complex. That’s especially true when spouses have high net worth, contest what is and what is not marital property, when once-separate property is commingled with community property or marital funds, and when there are unique and valuable assets like a family home, retirement or pension accounts, rare collections, stocks and investments, businesses, or professional practices, to name a few. Ensuring proper valuation and your fair share in property division matters demands the insight of a proven attorney.
  3. Equitable Distribution – The term equitable distribution describes the manner by which property is divided during divorce. In Virginia and Maryland, which are both equitable distribution states, spouses seeking divorce should know that the term does not necessarily mean an equal 50-50 split of assets. Instead, it more accurately means property will be divided in a manner that is just and right. As mentioned above, there are many arrangements courts may order or approve in accordance to the equitable distribution or property division; from requiring the sale and split of proceeds for certain property, offsetting awards of certain assets with other property or support payments, and more.
  4. Child Custody & Visitation – Most people generally understand what child custody and visitation refer to, but they can include a range of unique arrangements. In Virginia, for example, child custody arrangements can include sole custody, in which one parent assumes responsibility for a child’s primary residence and major life decisions (education, medical care, etc.), and joint custody, in which both parents share responsibilities for their child’s major life decisions (joint legal custody), physical and custodial care for a child (joint physical custody), or any combination of joint physical or legal custody. There are also arrangements involving shared custody, split custody, and divided custody, though they are often distinguished for the purposes of child support. In any family law matter involving child custody, visitation, and parenting plans for time-sharing, courts prioritize the best interests of children, which means they base decisions on factors such as each parent’s ability to provide care, financial resources, the preference of the child (in certain cases), and any history of domestic violence or potential risks to the child, among others. Negotiating custody agreements and visitation schedules or fighting for sole custody are often the most important issues for parents during divorce, which is why it is critical to take the right steps to protect your rights and pursue a positive outcome.
  5. MediationMediation isn’t a term exclusive to divorce, but it can be an effective tool for resolving legal conflicts outside of the courtroom, including many of those that arise in divorce. As a form of alternative dispute resolution, mediation involves a neutral third party (mediator) who guides the process in a constructive direction. Because it focuses more on communication, negotiation, and compromise than litigation, it is often seen as a viable option for spouses who are able to cooperate effectively and reach agreements without court intervention. It can also save time, stress, and costs. Not every attorney who practices in divorce and family law is able to facilitate mediation. At DiPietro Law Group, PLLC, however, we have attorneys who are trained mediators with experience in guiding client through this alternative process.

These are only a few of the many terms and concepts used in divorce. Because each matter is largely dependent on the unique facts of a case, and because some cases may involve other issues or challenges, spouses seeking divorce can ensure they have the right information by working with experienced family lawyers at DiPietro Law Group, PLLC. Our divorce attorneys proudly serve clients throughout the DC Metro area from offices in Fairfax, Friendship Heights, and Washington, DC, as well as Atlanta, GA. Call or contact us online to learn how we may be able to help you.

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