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Divorce Dictionary

Authored By: Lagniappe Law Lab

How To Use This Dictionary


At the top of each section of this dictionary, you will see a list of commonly used words in alphabetical order.  Click on any word to jump to that word's definition in this dictionary.  Or, you can skim the definitions, which are listed in the order that they would appear in the lawsuit process. 


Words that Describe the People Involved in Lawsuits


PlaintiffThe plaintiff is the person who first files the lawsuit.  The plaintiff's name is the first name in the case caption.  In the case caption "John Smith vs. Jane Doe," the plaintiff is John Smith.

DefendantThe defendant is the person who is named in a lawsuit filed by a plaintiff.  In the case caption "John Smith vs. Jane Doe," Jane Doe is the defendant. 

CourtThe judge in any given case is sometimes called "the Court".  In lawsuits, judges are not making decisions as individuals.  Instead, they are using the law to make decisions.  When we say "the Court" makes a ruling, it is the judge who makes the ruling. 

PartiesThe word "parties" is used to describe all of the people involved in a lawsuit.  In the case captioned "John Smith vs. Jane Doe," both John Smith and Jane Doe are the parties.  "Litigants" is another word for parties in a lawsuit. 

Opposing PartyThe opposing party is the party on the "other" or opposite side in a lawsuit. 

Clerk of Court The supervisor of clerical functions of the court. They keep records, issue service of process, and enter judgments and orders. You can contact them to learn about what's been filed in your case.


Words that Describe Papers in Lawsuits

PleadingA pleading is the formal legal term for the papers filed with the Court.  In Louisiana, there are four kinds of pleadings allowed: petitions, exceptions, written motions, and answers.  

PetitionA petition is a paper filed with the Court that asserts allegations against another party and request the Court to enter a judgment in favor of the party who filed the petition based on the facts asserted and the law that applies. When a petition starts a lawsuit, it is called an "original petition". Complaint is another word for petition. 

AllegationAn allegation is just a statement of fact that has not yet been proven.

ExceptionsExceptions are papers filed in response to a petition or motion that raise a defect in the petition or motion. 

MotionsMotions are any request for the Court to take action by making a ruling, issuing an order, or entering a judgment.  A written motion filed with the Court is a pleading, but in certain circumstances, motions can be made orally in Court.

AnswerAn answer is a paper filed in response to a petition or motion that admits or denies the allegations in the petition or motion. In an answer, a party must admit or deny the statements made by the opposing party in the original petition and state any defenses available to that party. Read more information on what to include in an answer

Reconventional DemandA reconventional demand is a kind of petition filed by a defendant in response to an original petition.  A reconventional demand asserts different allegations than the original petition and asks the Court to enter a judgment in favor of the defendant based on the facts asserted in the reconventional demand and the law that applies. Learn more about reconventional demands in divorce cases

MemorandumA memorandum is a paper filed with the Court that makes arguments of law based on the facts at issue in the case.  When a party files a motion, the Court often requires a memorandum in support of the motion.  On the other hand, the opposing party might choose to file a memorandum in opposition to the motion. 

Affidavit of Waiver or Acceptance of ServiceA sworn statement filed with the Court that sets out the time, place, and manner of service made upon a party to a lawsuit. 

JudgmentThe Court's written decision on the issue in dispute in a case.    


Words That Describe the Processes Used in Lawsuits


JurisdictionJurisdiction is a court's power to make decisions about the legal interests of people or things. Jurisdiction over the person allows a court to make decisions about that person.  Jurisdiction over subject matter refers to the court's authority to make decisions about the type of case at issue. 

Summary Proceedingsare types of cases that move more quickly, by law, because of the nature of the rights at issue.  Family law cases are summary proceedings. 

FilingThe process by which a party presents papers to the Clerk of Court to make the papers part of the official court record. 

ServiceThe formal legal term for delivery of papers filed with the Court to the opposing party in a lawsuit. Service means that the proper legal officer gives the opposing party the paperwork that has been filed with the Court by the other side. Read this article  on Understanding Service of Process for more information on the methods used for service and how to make service. 

Long-Arm ServiceLong-arm service is the method of service used when a party to be served does not reside in Louisiana or is not located in Louisiana.

ContemptContempt occurs when a person violates or ignores a valid court order.  If one party is in contempt of a valid court order, the opposing party can file a motion asking the Court to make a finding of contempt. Read this article to learn more about contempt

HearingThe event that occurs when both parties are present in court to provide evidence and testimony about the case or make legal arguments about the case.  The judge presides over all hearings.  A trial is a hearing.  

AbandonmentAbandonment describes the status of a case after a certain amount of time if the parties do not take any steps to move the case forward during that time. 

Rule to Show Cause A Rule to Show Cause is an order by the court requesting that the parties to a case come to court and explain some aspect of their case. You can file a motion for a Rule to Show cause to ask the court to set a hearing date.

Default Judgment A default judgment is one entered by the Court when a defendant in the principal or incidental demand fails to answer or file other pleadings within the time allowed by law or by the court.  Learn more about how to get a default judgment in a divorce case.


Words Used in Louisiana Divorce Cases


Article 102 Divorce A divorce sought or granted based on living separate and apart as required by Louisiana Civil Code article 102.  To get an article 102 divorce, after either spouse files a petition for divorce, the spouses have to live separate and apart for either 180 or 365 days if they have minor children.  After the 180 or 365 days, either spouse can file a "Rule to Show Cause for 102 Divorce," and the Court will set a hearing.  After the hearing, if the parties meet the requirements, the Court will grant a judgment of divorce. 

Article 103 Divorce A divorce sought or granted based on the grounds listed in Louisiana Civil Code article 103. When no spouse is at fault, spouses can get an article 103(1) divorce if, at the time the petition for divorce is filed, they have already lived separate and apart for either 180 days or 365 days if they have minor children.  Article 103 also allows for divorce based on the fault of a spouse

Temporary Restraining Order A temporary restraining order is an order issued by the Court that prohibits a party from doing a certain act.  A temporary restraining order can be requested and granted without a hearing, in some circumstances. 

Fault In the context of a divorce, fault means adultery, domestic violence, or having been sentenced to hard labor after being convicted of a felony criminal offense. Read this article for more detailed information about fault-based divorce. 

Incidental Matters In a divorce case, incidental matters are other issues that the Court can address in the divorce case.  Incidental matters include "custody, visitation, or support of a minor child; support for a spouse; injunctive relief; use and occupancy of the family home or use of community movables or immovables; or use of personal property." Check out our Guide to Incidental Matters for more information.

Rule to Show Cause A Rule to Show Cause is another name for a motion in a summary proceeding.  Learn more about how to ask the Court to make a decision on incidental matters by filing a rule to show cause.

Consent Judgment A Consent Judgment is when the Court approves an agreement made between parties to settle the pending issues. It has the same effect as any other judgment of the Court, but it also represents a compromise between the parties.  

Considered Judgment A Considered Judgment is a judgment of the Court rendered after a hearing or trial. It is based on the Court's consideration of the evidence and the law that applies to the issues the Court was asked to decide. 

Former Matrimonial Domicile The house where spouses lived together as married people, once spouses have physically separated, is the former matrimonial domicile. 

Property Injunction A property injunction is another term for a temporary restraining order or a permanent restraining order that prohibits either spouse from alienating, encumbering, or disposing of community property during a divorce and until the property is partitioned. Learn more about property injunctions

Reconciliation is a defense to divorce. When used in divorce proceedings, the term reconciliation means to start living together again with the intent to remain married. A spouse must ask the Court to make a finding of fact to determine whether a reconciliation has occurred. Learn more about reconciliation

Matrimonial Regime A matrimonial regime is a system of rules that control the ownership and management of the property of married persons as between themselves and toward third persons.  A matrimonial regime can be determined by the law, by a contract, or partly by the law and partly by a contract. In Louisiana, the legal regime is "the community of acquets and gains," more commonly called a community property regime.  Unless spouses enter into a matrimonial contract, the legal regime applies to their marriage. 

Property Partition (Partition of Property) A property partition is the process used to divide the former spouses' community and separate property between each spouse.  Learn more about partition.

Community property is certain property acquired during the marriage that is classified as owned by both spouses together, or co-owned. Learn more about community property

Separate property is certain property acquired by a person, usually outside of a marriage, that is classified as owned by one spouse. Some property acquired during a marriage can be separate property. Learn more about separate property

Last Review and Update: Oct 28, 2021
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