By Alan Freed
Sometimes it seems as if lawyers speak their own language. With terms like “petition” and “motion,” “PDL,” and “Form 14” coming from your attorney’s mouth, you may feel sometimes as if you’ve entered a parallel universe, where English no longer is the common tongue.
It’s already emotionally difficult to go through a divorce; you shouldn’t have to deal with communication barriers as well. With that in mind, here are a few common terms and some simple definitions:
- Petition: The document that gets the legal process started. The petition sets out certain basic facts—where you live, when you got married, you have kids (or not), you are employed (or not), etc.—and then states that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Those last two words are required. Each factual assertion in the petition is referred to as an “allegation.”
- Petitioner: The person who files the divorce petition.
- Respondent: The person on the receiving end of the divorce petition.
- Answer: The response filed by the respondent to the petition. Much of what is in the petition is not controversial (names, addresses, etc.), so those allegations will be admitted. If the respondent doesn’t agree with any allegation, then that allegation is denied.
- Motion: Any request made to the court after the petition is filed.
- PDL Motion: Latin for pendente lite, meaning while the divorce is pending. A PDL motion is a request for the court to enter orders that last while the case is pending. The PDL motion can address issues such as parenting (child custody), child support, maintenance, attorneys’ fees, and protective orders (to protect assets or individuals). If the court grants any of these requests, the result is a “PDL judgment” or “PDL order.”
- Hearing: A proceeding before a judge. Sometimes these are “testimonial” hearings, in which evidence and testimony are presented. In other cases they are “non-testimony” motions, when lawyers argue issues before a judge but no witnesses appear. Judges issue orders following these hearings.
- Settlement Conference: A meeting held between the lawyers and the judge while a case is pending which provides an opportunity for the judge to help bring the two sides to agreement. At the end of a settlement conference, a judge will either set the case for another settlement conference or for trial or both. Even though a case is set for trial, the two sides can continue to try and settle the case, but if they don’t reach a settlement before the trial date, they have to be prepared to present witnesses and evidence on the trial date. Many clients ask us why we need a settlement conference if the case is set for trial or if we seem close to settling. A settlement conference is the court’s way to make sure that the case is moving along. The family court requires that settlement conferences occur regularly. Important Note: Judges cannot make any decisions based on a discussion in a settlement conference. They can only decide based upon evidence heard in a trial.
- Form 14: Missouri’s mechanism for determining the amount of child support to be paid is a chart with calculations imbedded within it. It is based upon several factors, including both parties’ incomes, the cost of medical insurance, and the parenting schedule.
These are just a few of the terms that divorce lawyers use routinely. If your lawyer uses any words that you don’t understand, you are entitled to a definition. You have the right to understand everything that goes on in your case.
Please contact the family law attorneys of Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal with your divorce and family law questions.