This last weekend, I converted some of my sprinklers to a drip irrigation system for my garden. I have never worked with sprinklers until living in Utah.
So, being out of my element and after multiple trips to the hardware store, I FINALLY figured out what I needed and how my system worked. I felt I hadn’t been too gullible though I spent more money than initially planned. This experience made me think about how people must feel when they have their first encounter with the legal system and its terminology.
Lawyers and the law typically don’t enter your life until you are in a crisis, overwhelmed, or needing to understand your rights. One of these times is when a marriage ends. And that is the worst time to learn a whole new vocabulary. So, this week, I’ll go over a few legal terms encountered during divorce proceedings.
Petition (for divorce or paternity and child custody). This is the first document filed in most family law cases. It can either be agreed upon by the couple or states one person’s opinions about the dissolution of marital assets, parenting plans, and financial support for the children and spouse. If the case is contested, the contesting party has 21 days to answer the Petition.
Legal custody. Parents with legal custody of their children have the right to make important decisions about the children. This is different than physical custody.
Physical custody. This is defined as where the children live. Parents typically share physical custody. Even if one parent has sole physical custody, the other parent still has rights to see their children unless there is some other factor involved such as severe domestic violence, distance between parents, or a termination of parental rights.
Best interests of the children. When approving and ordering a divorce decree finalized and the divorce includes children, the court must always consider the best interests of the children. This nuanced term includes considering the parent-child relationship, the parents’ conduct and moral standards, and even where the child prefers to live. However, even if the child wants to live with one parent, the court will not rely solely on this statement to determine where the child should reside.
Child support. Child support is the financial support for the costs incurred with raising children. The monthly amount is determined through Utah law and incorporates the amount of time the child spends with each parent, the parents’ incomes, and the welfare of the parent. Unless there are extraordinary circumstances, the state’s calculations are used to determine this amount.
Spousal support and alimony. In most families, the income of the parties differ: one party works and the other stays at home or one party has a professional position and the other party works seasonally. To balance the financial assets and prevent future wards of the state, alimony is often awarded to the party who has less financial opportunities at the end of a marriage. Alimony payments are calculated with various elements including the length of the marriage, when the couple stopped cohabitating, if the parties are now cohabitating with a romantic partner, the incomes of each individual party, and the ability for each party to work, among other factors.
More information about legal terminology can be found on the Utah Courts website, utcourts.gov.
If you must go through a divorce, and even if it is uncontested, it’s important to understand the terminology and understand you will never completely master the legal experience. Similar to my sprinkler conversion experience, make sure you understand what you need to know and rely upon the professionals and resources for the more complicated procedures.
Disclaimer. As always, my column is not legal advice, instead merely insight into the law and legal profession. If you have a general question about the law or legal profession, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.