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Common Terms Used in Divorce Court

When filing for divorce, you may encounter some unfamiliar legal terms. Like many legal processes, this jargon can make it difficult to know exactly what is happening in your divorce proceedings. However, understanding divorce vocabulary—and enlisting the help of an Indianapolis family law attorney—can help you navigate the complex divorce process.


Also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance, alimony refers to the payments that one person must pay to his or her former spouse. The court may order a person to pay alimony based on the economic circumstances of both parties, the length of the marriage, and other factors.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Alternative dispute resolution refers to conflict resolution and mediation processes that take place outside of the courtroom. These processes allow two parties to reach a divorce agreement without having to go to trial, which can be costly and unpredictable.

Child Custody

Child custody is the legal right to have authority and responsibility over a child. The parent with the primary custody over his or her child is the custodial parent. The parent that does not have primary custody is the non-custodial parent. There are two components of child custody: physical and legal.

  • Physical custody refers to the ability to provide for a child and ensure his or her day-to-day wellbeing.
  • Legal custody refers to a parent’s right and ability to make decisions on behalf of their children.

Courts can assign different levels of custody to divorcing parents. If a parent receives sole custody, he or she has legal and physical custody over the child and can make most decisions without consulting the other parent. If the court provides the parents with joint custody, each spouse shares legal and physical custody and must make decisions about their children together.

Child Support

Child support refers to court-ordered payments that a non-custodial parent pays to a custodial parent. Parents continue to maintain responsibilities to their children, even after their marriage ends. The purpose of child support is to provide for a child’s basic needs, including food, shelter, clothing, education, transportation, and medical expenses.


The divorce decree is the court’s written order that finalizes the divorce. The court will typically issue the decree at the same time as the court judgment, or the order of the court on a disputed issue.

Equitable Distribution

This term refers to how some states divide marital property. Indiana is an equitable distribution state and divides property based on what is just and reasonable. While this usually results in an even split, factors such as economic circumstances, spousal behavior, or inheritance can justify an unequal distribution.

Marital Property

In Indiana, marital property refers not only to all property that you or your spouse acquire during marriage—after you marry, all property that you or your spouse acquire before marriage becomes marital property as well. This property is subject to division during a divorce.

Are You Filing for Divorce in Indiana?

Navigating a divorce proceeding can be a challenge without an attorney on your side. Filing for divorce is a highly emotional process, and it can be difficult to advocate for yourself while coming to terms with the dissolution of your marriage.

An Indiana divorce attorney will handle all aspects of your case on your behalf, explaining what to expect and advocating for your best interests in mediation and in the courtroom. Contact a divorce lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your path forward.