17 Common Legal Words Used in a Massachusetts Court During Divorce Proceedings

by | Apr 26, 2024 | Divorce |

Going through the complexities of divorce proceedings in Massachusetts can be a daunting experience. The legal system involves its own language, comprising terms and phrases that may be unfamiliar to those outside the legal profession. 

Understanding these terms is crucial for anyone going through a divorce, as it not only helps in comprehending the proceedings but also in making informed decisions. 

So, it’s time we demystify the legal divorce terms often encountered in divorce courts, providing clear definitions and explanations to empower individuals with the necessary knowledge of common legal words used in court during divorce proceedings.

What is divorce?

Divorce is the legal dissolution of a marriage by a court or other competent body. It marks the legal end of a marriage and involves resolving various issues such as asset distribution, custody of children, spousal support, and division of debt. 

The process for obtaining a divorce varies by state, reflecting the diverse legal frameworks within countries. However, all divorces necessitate the resolution of common legal matters, making it essential for those involved to understand the legal vocabulary used in these proceedings.

8 different types of divorce

Going through a divorce can be a complex and emotionally taxing process, especially when faced with the array of options available. Each type of divorce carries its own procedures, requirements, and implications, making it essential to understand the differences. 

Familiarizing oneself with the common legal words used in court can significantly demystify the process. Below are 8 types of divorce, each explained to help you understand the various pathways through which a marriage can be legally dissolved.

  1. Uncontested divorce

In an uncontested divorce, both parties agree on all major issues, such as asset division, child custody, spousal support, and other relevant matters. This type of divorce is often quicker and less expensive because it avoids a lengthy court battle

Couples can come to an agreement through negotiation or mediation, allowing them to finalize their divorce amicably and with minimal court intervention.

  1. Contested divorce

Contrary to an uncontested divorce, a contested divorce occurs when spouses cannot agree on one or more key issues. This type of divorce requires court intervention to resolve disputes regarding assets, custody, or support.

Contested divorces are often more time-consuming and costly, as both parties will need to present their case in court, possibly requiring extensive discovery, witness testimonies, and legal arguments.

  1. Default divorce

A default divorce happens when one spouse files for divorce, but the other fails to respond within the designated time frame. 

In such cases, the court may grant the divorce by default, awarding the filing spouse most, if not all, of what they requested in their petition. This process underscores the importance of responding in time to divorce filings.

Such a streamlined process involves less paperwork and can expedite the divorce process, making it a cost-effective and time-efficient option for qualifying couples.

  1. No-fault divorce

A no-fault divorce allows a spouse to file for divorce without blaming the other for the breakdown of the marriage. 

Instead, they can cite irreconcilable differences or an irretrievable breakdown as the reason. This type of divorce has become increasingly common as it avoids the need to prove wrongdoing, potentially reducing conflict and making the process smoother and faster.

Research shows that the introduction of no-fault divorce has had significant and unforeseen financial consequences for families in general, particularly for women. This is because it has disrupted a system that was primarily based on mutual agreement.

  1. Fault divorce

In a fault divorce, one spouse must prove that the other’s wrongful conduct led to the dissolution of the marriage. Grounds for a fault divorce can include adultery, abandonment, abuse, or drug addiction

Proving fault can impact the court’s decisions on matters like alimony and asset division, but it often involves a more contentious and lengthy legal process.

  1. Mediated divorce

Mediation involves a neutral third party who helps couples negotiate and reach agreements on all aspects of their divorce, from property division to child custody. 

Mediated divorces can reduce hostility and promote amicable settlements, often resulting in a more satisfactory outcome for both parties. This process also tends to be more private and less expensive than going to court.

  1. Collaborative divorce

In a collaborative divorce, both spouses and their attorneys agree to work together to negotiate the terms of the divorce without going to court. This approach encourages open communication and cooperation, with the goal of reaching a mutually beneficial agreement. 

It can involve other professionals, such as financial advisors and child psychologists, to address specific issues. Collaborative divorce emphasizes a team approach to resolving disputes, aiming for a solution that respects the interests of all involved.

17 legal jargon and common terms used in divorce proceedings

In the midst of a divorce, the courtroom can seem like a world filled with its own language. Familiarizing yourself with the common legal terms used in court, especially those specific to divorce can make the process significantly less intimidating. 

Below are 17 crucial legal terms for divorce, helping you demystify the divorce legal terminology you’re likely to encounter:

  1. Petitioner

The petitioner is the individual who initiates the divorce process by filing a legal document, known as a petition, with the court. 

Such an action starts the formal legal process of divorce, identifying the filing spouse in the court’s eyes and setting forth their requests regarding asset division, child custody, support, and other pertinent issues.

  1. Respondent

The respondent is one of the common legal words used in court for the spouse who did not initiate the divorce filing but instead received the petition. 

The term is used to identify the other party in the divorce proceedings, who has the opportunity to respond to the allegations and requests made by the petitioner. The respondent’s answer can agree with, dispute, or seek changes to the initial petition.

  1. Marital property

Marital property includes all assets and debts acquired by either spouse during the marriage, regardless of whose name is on the title. 

Understanding what constitutes marital property is crucial for fair division during divorce proceedings. This category can include real estate, vehicles, furniture, investments, and debts incurred during the marriage.

  1. Separate property

Separate property refers to assets that belong solely to one spouse, typically acquired before the marriage or through inheritance or gifts specifically to that spouse. 

  1. Alimony (spousal support)

Alimony, also known as spousal support, is one of the common legal words used in court. Alimony is a financial payment one spouse may be required to make to the other during or after divorce proceedings. 

These payments aim to maintain the recipient’s standard of living post-divorce. The determination of alimony involves considering the duration of the marriage, each spouse’s financial situation, and other relevant factors.

  1. Child support

Child support is one of the common divorce terms, which refers to a financial obligation paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to contribute to the costs associated with raising their child or children. 

State guidelines typically determine the amount and consider both parents’ incomes, the child’s needs, and the custody arrangement.

  1. Custody

Custody refers to the legal rights and responsibilities toward a child. There are two main types: physical custody, which pertains to where the child lives, and legal custody, which involves decision-making rights about the child’s upbringing, including education, health care, and religious instruction. 

Custody can be awarded jointly or to one parent, known as sole custody.

  1. Parenting Plan

A parenting plan describes the rights granted to the non-custodial parent to spend time with their child. This term is essential in custody arrangements, outlining the specific times and conditions under which the non-custodial parent can visit or have the child stay with them.

  1. Dissolution of marriage

Dissolution of marriage is the formal legal term for divorce. It refers to the process by which a marriage is legally ended. Understanding this term is crucial, as it signifies the conclusion of the legal ties between spouses, allowing them to marry others in the future if they choose.

  1. Equitable distribution

Equitable distribution, one of the common legal words used in court, is a fair, but not necessarily equal, division of marital property between spouses in a divorce. 

Unlike community property states, where assets are split 50/50, equitable distribution looks at various factors to determine a fair division, which may not always result in an equal split.

Massachusetts is an equitable distribution state.

  1. Community property

In community property states, this term refers to the principle that spouses own all marital property equally. Upon divorce, the community property is divided equally, regardless of who earned more or who acquired the assets.

  1. Legal separation

Legal separation is a court-ordered arrangement where a married couple lives apart but remains legally married. This status can involve agreements on issues such as asset division, child custody, and support, similar to a divorce, but without terminating the marriage.

  1. Annulment

An annulment is a legal decree that a marriage is null and void, essentially declaring that the marriage never legally existed. This can be based on reasons like fraud, bigamy, or incapacity at the time of marriage. Unlike divorce, an annulment treats the marriage as though it never happened.

  1. Settlement or Separation Agreement

A settlement or separation agreement is a document that outlines the terms of the divorce agreed upon by both parties. This comprehensive agreement can cover property division, child custody, alimony, and other relevant issues, allowing the couple to avoid a trial by coming to a mutual agreement.

  1. Discovery

Discovery, one of the common legal words used in court, is a pre-trial phase in legal proceedings where each party can obtain evidence from the other party through various means, including interrogatories, depositions, admissions and requests for documents. This process helps both sides gather the necessary information to build their cases.

  1. No-fault grounds

No-fault grounds for divorce allow a spouse to file for divorce without the need to prove wrongdoing by the other party. Common reasons include irreconcilable differences or an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, emphasizing a non-confrontational approach to ending the marriage.

  1. Fault grounds

Fault grounds for divorce require one spouse to prove that the other’s misconduct led to the breakdown of the marriage. Reasons can include adultery, desertion, cruelty, or substance abuse. Opting for fault grounds can influence the court’s alimony, property division, and custody decisions.


Divorce proceedings can often lead to confusion, especially when it comes to understanding the specific terms and phrases used. To clarify, here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the language of divorce.

  • What is the vocabulary word for divorce?

The primary vocabulary word for divorce is “dissolution of marriage.” This term is the legal phrase used to describe the formal termination of a marital union, encompassing all the processes involved in legally ending a marriage and settling all related matters, such as asset division and custody arrangements.

  • What is the term for an agreeable divorce?

An agreeable divorce is commonly referred to as an “uncontested divorce.” In this type of divorce, both parties agree on all major issues, including asset division, child custody, and spousal support, allowing for a smoother and often quicker legal process without prolonged court disputes.

  • What are divorce parties called?

Divorce parties are often simply referred to as “divorce parties.” These gatherings are a way for individuals to mark the end of their marriage and the beginning of a new chapter in their lives. 

Depending on personal preferences, they can range from celebratory get-togethers with friends and family to more solemn occasions.

  • What do irreconcilable differences usually mean?

“Irreconcilable differences” typically mean that the spouses acknowledge their marriage has broken down beyond repair due to fundamental disagreements that cannot be resolved. This term is often cited as the reason for a no-fault divorce, indicating that both parties agree the marriage should end without assigning blame to either side.

To sum up

Divorce proceedings can be emotionally and mentally taxing, compounded by the challenge of understanding common legal words used in court. So, we outlined essential legal terms and concepts commonly encountered during a divorce. 

Understanding these terms can provide clarity, reduce anxiety, and empower individuals to participate more actively in their legal proceedings. Armed with this knowledge, individuals going through a divorce can approach the process with greater confidence and awareness.

Should you be in the midst of a divorce or contemplating divorce, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.



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