Occasionally people will complain that their lawyer speaks over their head or they don’t understand the “legalese” part of a contract. This can be very dangerous especially in a divorce case where understanding the terms used by your attorney can affect things such as your relationship with your children and the property you receive. Often what seems like plain English is further complicated because the legal system may assign specific or special meaning to words you thought you understood. To help translate we have listed below some of the more frequently misunderstood terms used during a divorce.
Dissolution – Under Missouri law, divorce is referred to as “dissolution of marriage.” Do not be confused as you move through the legal process and rarely hear the word “divorce.”
Petitioner – The Petitioner is the party who starts the lawsuit or initiates a divorce.
Respondent – The Respondent is the person against whom the suit is filed or who receives notice that a divorce has been initiated by their spouse. The Petitioner and Respondent are together considered theparties to the lawsuit.
Pleadings – Pleadings are documents filed with the court related to your case. Your names, the case number and the Division number (which indicates the Judge to whom you are assigned) will appear at the top of each pleading. This information is called the caption or the style.
Petition – The pleading that initiates the lawsuit or divorce is the Petition. The Petition states the names of the parties, where and when they were married, names and ages of children (if any), length of residence in county and state, date of separation, and the relief requested (a divorce, plus division of property and arrangements for children).
Answer – After the Petition is served, the Respondent may file an Answer to the Petition, which is the person’s response to the Petition. If no Answer is filed by the Respondent, an order of default may be entered at the request of the Petitioner, indicating the Respondent’s lack of response, and the matter becomes an uncontested divorce case. Generally, the Respondent will also file a Counter-Petition (sometimes called a “Cross-Petition”) with the Answer, and this Counter-Petition must be answered by the Petitioner. Again, Petitioner’s Answer must be filed within thirty days of service.
Summons – When you file your petition for dissolution of marriage, the court issues a document called asummons. The summons indicates to the person who is the Respondent that the dissolution process has begun and when a response is required. The summons along with the other initial pleadings must be given to the Respondent by a person appointed and approved by the court. This will be either the Sheriff or a “process server.”
Service – The process of delivering the summons is called service of process or service of summons.
Affidavit of Service – Also known as a “Return of Service,” an Affidavit of Service is the sworn statement by the person serving process that service has been achieved. It is filed soon after service of process is made.