Common Terms Used in Divorce & Family Law Pleadings

There are a number of standard terms used by the courts in the divorce process.  The terms set forth below are used frequently in court pleadings (documents) and it to understand the process, it is important to have some understanding of the following terms:

–    Pleading- a Pleading is a formal, written document filed with the court that asks, or pleads with, the court to grant some type of relief. The title of a Pleading may vary depending on the reason it is being filed, but they include complaints, petitions, answers, responses, replies and motions.

–    Order- an Order is directive issued by the judge instructing, or ordering, someone to do something or making a legal ruling. The term Order is used to describe both the instructions of a Judge, which may be given verbally at a hearing, and the document in which those instructions are included.  For example, a Final Decree of Dissolution of Marriage is the Order typically entered that officially ends a marriage and instructs the parties to follow the provisions of whatever agreement they have reached regarding the distribution of their community property.

–    Party- parties are the people directly involved in a court action. In a New Mexico family law action, the parties are the Petitioner, the person who initiates the court action, and the Respondent, the person against whom the court action is filed. In other words, a mother who files a paternity action against the father of her child in order to establish child support would be called the Petitioner and the father would be the Respondent. If the Child Support Enforcement Division gets involved to collect child support, they may be added as a party to the case and called an Intervenor.

–    Petition- a petition is a form of pleading that asks, or petitions, the court to open an action and grant a certain type of relief. For instance, a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage starts a divorce action and a Petition to Establish Parentage can start a paternity case.

–    Filing- all Pleadings and Orders must be filed with the court in order to become part of the official court record. Documents can be filed by hand-delivering, or mailing, them to the clerk of the court.  Upon receipt, the clerk of the court will stamp the document with the date of filing and that stamp confirms that the documents have been filed.

–    Hearing- a Hearing is a legal proceeding presided over by a judge, or their designee, during which they review, or hear, the arguments of the Parties in support whatever relief they seek from the court. It is not uncommon in family law matters to have multiple hearings in order to decide specific issues raised by various Pleadings, or to instruct the parties on how to proceed, before a divorce or custody proceeding is completed.

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