Divorce & Separation Legal Forms

These forms include divorce petitions and complaints, final divorce decrees, settlement and separation agreements and pre and post nuptial agreements.

Divorce and Separation forms are most frequently used by couples who are separated or divorcing. However, they also include agreements that can be made before or during the marriage. These forms can be used by couples with or without children.

Divorce and Separation agreements can be used:
  • Before or during the filing of a divorce
  • For the settlement of a divorce
  • Before or during the marriage
Common forms include:
  • Divorce Petitions and Complaints: To begin the divorce proceedings.
  • Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce: Listing the court’s decisions.
  • Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements: Establishes property ownership and other arrangements in the event of a divorce.
  • Custody, Support and Visitation Agreement: Providing for the care of the children after a divorce.

Divorce Forms FAQ

What are divorce forms?

“Divorce forms” is a term that encompasses a wide range of contracts and documents relating to the filing, settlement, and completion of a legal divorce. These documents include divorce petitions and complaints, marital separation and settlement agreements, as well as pre-and-post-nuptial agreements and amendments.

While each of these individual documents and agreements serve a specific purpose, they are all considered to be divorce forms that help expedite and complete the overall legal act of a divorce. Some documents will be required and some will not, depending on the individual divorce situation of the parties involved.

What kind of divorce forms are there?

There is a wide range of divorce forms that help two parties to make their settlements and arrangements enforceable by contract law. These include:

  • Prenuptial Agreements: Though not signed as part of a divorce, a Prenuptial Agreement that establishes property ownership and other arrangements can have an enormous impact on any potential future divorce proceedings.
  • Divorce Petitions and Complaints: These forms are the “introductory” documents you will be expected to fill out when “filing for a divorce.” They begin the divorce proceedings and establish the times and dates when you first made your court requests.
  • Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce: Given by the courts, these documents will list the court’s decisions. Other than filing and signing the other divorce forms you have filled out and agreed to, you will have little impact on the contents of these forms, though it is helpful to understand them.
  • Postnuptial Agreements and Settlements: A “Postnuptial” Agreement is similar to a Prenuptial Agreement except for one glaring fact: it is signed after the marriage has already taken place. Couples that did not have a Prenuptial Agreement in place but still want to have something written down on paper will typically opt for a Postnuptial Agreement.
  • Pet Custody Agreement: Because the courts will often have less to say about the custody of pets than they do the custody of children, it is up to the divorcing parties to come to an agreement regarding the custody and care of their pets after the divorce.
  • Child Support, Visitation and Custody Arrangements: Providing for the care of the children after a divorce has taken place is a top priority of the courts, as well as the parents involved.
  • Divorce Appearance, Consent, and Waiver: When one spouse agrees to join the other in moving for a divorce, these documents help expedite the process and ensure the courts are aware of the intentions of both parties, not just the petitioning party.

While these are some of the most important divorce forms you can use, there are a number of other forms that may still be relevant to your individual situation, such as Alimony Past Due notices.

Which divorce forms do I need?

Determining which divorce forms you need will depend on your specific situation. If you are getting married and want a potential plan in place, a Prenuptial Agreement will probably work best for you. If you are already married and want a similar plan in place, you and your spouse would require a Postnuptial Agreement. If you are already on the receiving end of a divorce filing and want to agree to the process, you may want to pursue Divorce Appearance, Consent, and Waivers.

What about if I have/don’t have children?

Having or not having children can be the most important variable that affects your divorce. This variable will also impact the specific divorce forms you need to use. There are two frequently-used documents that will vary wildly depending on whether or not you have children:

  • Marital Settlement/Separation Agreement: This document is frequently customized to include the phrase “With/Without Children” in order to better suit your individual situation. If you do have children, there will be specific clauses and provisions included (such as the “Children Identification Clause”) to help the court identify the children and their basic needs. Both forms will also address alimony issues, property division, division of bills, etc.
  • Complaint/Petition for Divorce: In filing for divorce, it is important that you establish right away whether or not there will be children involved in the process. A Complaint for Divorce for couples with children, for example, should be tailored to that situation. The same is true for Complaints/Petitions for Divorce in marriages without children.

If you are planning to download any forms yourself, it will be important for you to make sure that you are downloading the correct ones. Divorce forms tailored to your child situation are widely available.

When are divorce forms enforceable?

Because each divorce form is different, the enforceability of each specific document will similarly rest on different factors. In some cases, these forms will not require enforceability between two parties at all but instead simply need to be filed with the courts (as is the case in Complaint/Petition for Divorce documents).

In other cases, however, enforceability is a key issue. For example, the enforceability of a Prenuptial Agreement can be a hotly-contested point between you and your spouse. If this is the case, then a Prenuptial Agreement will not only have to be valid (see below), but will have to stand up to the circumstances of your divorce. If the Prenuptial Agreement allows itself to become void in certain circumstances, then it will cease to be enforceable.

What are the requirements for divorce documents to be valid?

The validity of divorce documents hinges on the same factors as most contracts. Agreements between two parties will require that each party lawfully gave their full consent, and that the provisions of said agreement were also lawful. Divorce documents, such as Complaints and Petitions, will also need to be filled out accurately and filed properly if they are to be considered as valid by a court of law.

When is a divorce document effective?

In the case of Prenuptial Agreements, the document in question is effective assuming its validity is not in question and the two parties have got married. Other divorce documents – such as Marital Settlement/Separation Agreements – are effective contingent upon court approval and finalization of the divorce.

Three Key Divorce Forms You'll Definitely Need to Know

Getting a divorce can be a messy, complicated process – and that’s even when you have a good lawyer on your side! But navigating the labyrinth of legal issues surrounding a divorce doesn’t always have to be messy, especially if you know a thing or two about the entire process.

Here at FindLegalForms.com, we believe one of the best ways to educate yourself about the legal system is to be proactive about it and understand the legal forms that help define and shape our lives. In this article, we’ll take a look at three legal forms that definitely shape the divorce process – and what you’ll need to know about them if you want to come out clean on the other end.

Divorce Form #1: The Prenuptial Agreement

This is an agreement that often starts it all: a contract by two parties that defines what might happen to your lives and your possessions should you enter a divorce proceeding. These are usually signed before the marriage to avoid any possible legal complications, but it’s important to remember that having one in place does not necessarily grant you unlimited power in the divorce.

The truth about prenuptial agreements is that they can vary wildly; what two people choose to put in them is essentially up to them. That’s why it’s not so important that you understand all prenuptial agreements as it is important that you understand the one you’ve signed.

In many cases, a prenuptial agreement that is iron-clad and well-written really can make a divorce that much smoother. But you’d be surprised at just how many legal arrangements fail under the guise of being a prenuptial agreement when really they were simply poorly-written contracts.

Divorce Form #2: Divorce Petitions or Complaints

When someone says they’re “filing for a divorce,” this is often the legal form they’re talking about: a way of putting into writing their intent to separate from and dissolve the legal marriage or civil union that exists. These are typically forms that don’t vary wildly, as opposed to the prenuptial agreements, and instead focus on basic information, such as the names of the parties involved, the nature of their relationship on paper, and what is being requested and why.

There is not much one party can do if another party is filing for divorce: as long as they have grounds for divorce, the divorce can proceed. Knowing whether or not a divorce petition has actually been filed, of course, will be integral to understand where in the process you are.

Divorce Form #3: The Marital Settlement Agreement

Once a divorce is in “full swing,” so to speak, the goal is usually to reach an amicable settlement on property and arrangements without having to go to court. A good divorce lawyer will shine at this stage in the process, able to use the force of law and legally-binding contracts to win as much as they can for your side. Even so, sometimes the smoothest divorces are the ones that have the most compromise – neither side will feel like they’ve “won.”

To view a number of these forms, be sure to check out divorce and separation forms at FindLegalForms.com so you can begin educating yourself today.

Where Can You File for Your Divorce?

Before you begin to prepare your actual divorce papers, you need to know exactly where you will be filing for your divorce. Three legal considerations enter into this decision. The first is residency. All states have some type of residency requirement regarding filing for divorce. You may only file for your divorce in the state in which you or your spouse reside. Residency is also referred to in some states as domicile. Both terms refer to the place where you permanently live; the place where you return to after any temporary absence. In general, you must have been a resident of the state in which you wish to file for divorce for some length of time in order for the court to hear your case.

Each state has differing residency requirements and these are shown in the Appendices provided in the Statutes and Laws Category on this site. Some states require that you be a resident for 1 year in the state before you will be allowed to file for divorce. A few states merely require that you actually be a bona-fide resident; there is no time limit specified. In general, you will be allowed to file for divorce in the state in which you were married if you have lived there since marriage or in the state in which you currently reside if you have met the residency requirements as shown in the Appendix. It is not a good idea to move about frequently when you are contemplating divorce, as this may delay your ability to file for divorce in the state and county that you wish.

© Nova Publishing Company, 2005

Understanding Divorce Law

There has been a sweeping revolution in divorce law in the United States during the past 35 years, and it is still under way. The changes brought about by this revolution have fundamentally altered the framework of how a divorce is obtained and how divorce affects spouses and children. These dramatic legal changes are, as yet, relatively unknown to the general public and are still not fully understood even by the lawyers and judges who administer the new laws. In order to begin the process of your divorce or separation with realistic expectations, it is very important to understand the new framework of divorce law.

Divorce in the United States is governed by individual state law. Each state has its own particular laws to deal with all aspects of the divorce process, from residency requirements, to child custody, to the division of property. Until 1970, divorce was universally viewed as a social ill, to be avoided and discouraged by the laws of society. Courts in all 50 states granted divorces only on the basis of some marital fault: adultery, abandonment, physical abuse, mental cruelty, or some other form of misconduct. There was a winner (the innocent spouse) and a loser (the guilty spouse). The fruits of divorce were passed out according to the fault of the spouses. If a husband was adulterous or at fault in some other way, the wife was often awarded generous alimony, a larger portion of the marital property, custody of the couple’s children, and ample child support. Alternatively, if the wife was found to be at fault, she was often denied alimony, given far less or even none of the couple’s property, and could be prevented from having custody of her children. The innocent spouse was rewarded for having been faithful to the vows of marriage and the guilty spouse was punished for his or her marital misconduct.

This traditional system of divorce began to change in 1970. In that year, California passed the first no-fault divorce laws in the U.S. Since then, the sweeping changes brought about by no-fault divorce have spread across the country, concluding when South Dakota became the final state to embrace no-fault divorce. No-fault divorce is now the law in all 50 of the United States and Washington D.C.

© Nova Publishing Company, 2005

The Division of Marital Property

In the area of property, the new divorce laws have brought about radical changes. Traditionally, in all but the few community-property states, the division of a couple’s property upon divorce was a simple matter. The spouse whose name was on the title to the property was the owner of the property. In most cases, this was the husband.

If the wife had no property of her own, she was given a share of the husband’s property. Generally, however, she was awarded no more than one-third of the property. If jointly-owned property was divided, it was often done on the basis of who contributed the most money to its purchase. Again, the husband usually took the lion’s share. The wife was given no credit for her non-monetary contributions to the marriage or to the purchase of property. Her homemaking and child-rearing efforts counted for nothing in the traditional method of property division. A wife’s own career sacrifices to put her husband through school, in order that he might better the living standards of the family, were also not taken into consideration.

Those simple and highly discriminatory rules have been universally overturned in every state. The property acquired during a marriage is now considered owned in equal or equitable shares by both spouses, regardless of whose name is on the title. In many states, spouses are specifically given credit for homemaking duties and an effort is made to provide some level of compensation for the sacrifices of a spouse who aids another in achieving a degree in higher education. The division of property is now based on a view that marriage is essentially an equal partnership, rather than on a determination of who contributed the most actual cash to the marriage. Chapter 3 contains a comprehensive explanation of property division and related matters.

© Nova Publishing Company, 2005

Divorce in General

The major changes in all phases of divorce law, discussed in other articles in this category have begun to incorporate the equally important changes that have taken place in society in general during the past 35 years. Economics has replaced morality as the overriding concern in many aspects of Ameri­can society. Women are gradually being treated more equally and fairly under the law. They are no longer considered as the subordinate spouse in a marriage. In awarding child custody, maintenance, and property, both spouses are on a more equal footing under the new divorce laws.

These changes have been very rapid and dramatic. They have, in fact, often outpaced the ability of the legal system to cope with them. Judges and lawyers have had a some­what difficult time putting these new laws into practice where there is no precedent to deal with potential problems that may arise. The change to no-fault divorce has made the area of divorce law the only area of law in which the traditional win/lose context of the legal system does not seem to apply. Lawyers and judges are both trained and experienced in a system of law which has antagonistic and adversarial competition as its basis, and thus are often ill-suited to effectively deal with the no-fault basis of the new divorce laws.

The change to no-fault divorce has somewhat reduced the potential for conflict in divorce by removing the need to prove that one of the spouses is guilty of some form of marital misconduct. However, there is still considerable room for difficulty in the decisions regarding child custody and support and in the division of property.

Just because a divorce is obtained on a no-fault basis does not mean that it is an uncontested divorce. A true uncontested divorce is one in which the opposing spouse takes no legal part in contesting any of the decisions made regarding property, cus­tody, maintenance, or child support. There is no necessity for an actual trial regarding aspects of a divorce in an uncontested divorce, although there is generally still a court hearing held to determine compliance with basic legal requirements.

In an uncontested divorce, the opposing spouse may take no part at all, can be entirely absent from the state, or may file legal documents agreeing not to contest any terms of the divorce. An uncontested divorce in which only one spouse makes the decisions on the legal matters (usually an uncontested default divorce) is not generally the most effective manner to obtain a divorce which is fair and just to both spouses. Uncontested divorces may be obtained, however, on the basis of an agreement between the spouses, as explained in the next section.

In a contested divorce, the spouses are both involved in a legal battle over some or all of these aspects of divorce. A contested divorce can be brought on no-fault grounds, yet include a bitter dispute over child custody, alimony, or property. Despite the advances made in overcoming some of the trauma of divorce by the switch to a no-fault system, contested divorces still provide an arena for lengthy and bitter hostilities.

© Nova Publishing Company, 2005

What is the Divorce Process?

It can be among the most ugly legal processes there are: the divorce process. Why is it so ugly? Because when people are going through a divorce, it is necessarily a difficult time in their lives. Other legal processes don’t necessarily come at these difficult times, but any time someone is going through a divorce, there are a great degree of problems involved. Legally, the divorce process is simply a dissolution of a legal arrangement that already existed - but there are a lot of other factors to consider when two people separate their homes, their property, and even make plans for child custody. Let’s take a closer look at the divorce process to understand all that has to take place.

It all begins with a divorce petition - typically, these are the first forms someone would fill out after they say “I want a divorce,” as you’ll see in TV and in movies. These are the papers that will be served your way if you’re not the one filing the petition - and then these forms are then filed with state courts in order to begin the divorce process in earnest. What’s on these forms? Quite simply, it will list information about the marriage, including the names of the parties involved, listing children as well as property as a way of “initializing” the proceedings that are about to begin.

When the papers are being served to the other spouse, the process is called “service of process.” In many cases, the other side has no choice but to concede to the divorce. If, at this time, the other party doesn’t want to sign or is hard to locate, a professional server can be hired to make sure that the process goes through in accordance with state law.

When this form is filed with the state, a certain number of effects kick in. For one, a waiting period may kick in - the waiting period will vary from state to state. There are also limitations put on each spouse’s behavior - absconding with the children to another state, for example, will not be permitted. The various different things that divorcees have tried at this point are already considered by the law and typically banned by your individual state laws.

If the “respondent,” or the person reacting to the papers for divorce being filed by the other spouse, is uncooperative with divorce proceedings, typically it will lead to a court hearing where a court can rule on the state of the marriage as well as issues that need to be sorted out in order for a divorce to take place.

At a certain time, both divorcees will need to report all of their financial information and property so that they can then begin settlement proceedings - typically, these settlements will be negotiated between the two parties with lawyers present so that everything is agreed upon. If these things are agreed upon, then the two can sign the forms and move on with the divorce. If not, there will be more trouble for each party. That’s why divorce can be so hard - but with a good lawyer, at least things can go smoothly.

Understanding Divorce Forms

Let’s face it: no one really likes legal forms. Heck, many lawyers don’t even like all the fine print involved with printing, reading, and revising legal forms. Many people who aren’t lawyers don’t even like to hear about them - they just want to know where to sign so they can get on with the rest of their day. So when someone hands you a divorce form, it just compounds on something you already may not enjoy. Why? Because the divorce process is never easy: it’s rarely easy legally, and it’s almost never easy emotionally.

That’s why at least understanding the forms you’re signing will help the process to be smoother than it otherwise is. In fact, this is great advice for any legal problems you face, but when it comes to divorces, it can give you a tremendous advantage because it means that knowledge is on your site. And, as the saying goes, knowledge is power. Let’s take a closer look at common divorce forms to see what’s going on in the legalese.

The first form that will be filled out in a divorce is the actual divorce petition, a form that has to be signed by both parties and will be sent in to the state in order to begin the divorce proceedings in earnest. These are the papers that are sent to the other divorcing spouse by the person taking action to begin divorce proceedings - if the other party does not sign them or resists somehow, the person making the petition will typically hire a professional server.

Once the divorce petition is filed with the state, there will be forms that have to report the assets and property of each party in the divorce. These forms and reports need to be accurate so as to ensure that both parties can reach a marital separation agreement - this agreement divides up property and will require that both parties can ultimately both sign it. This is a very crucial form to reach, as this agreement will generally wrap up the main divorce proceedings and allow both parties to go their separate ways with their new lives ahead of them.

There are other issues that may come up along the way in a divorce proceeding, however. For example, if one side continues to contest the divorce, there may be an official court hearing to rule on the divorce proceedings and generally outline what will happen. These court hearings are generally not required if the divorce is amicable, but if there are problems between the two parties, there certainly could be a divorce hearing in their future.

There will also be the question of child custody, which is generally agreed to either in the marital separation agreement or is doled out by the court during a hearing, if both sides are pressing for child custody.

Understanding which divorce forms really matter for you and your goals is not only something your lawyer should think about - it’s something you’ll want to be aware of if you expect to fight for what you deserve.

Marital Separation & Settlement

When you’re facing a divorce, one of the most important questions - or series of questions - becomes about how everything is going to be handled in your newly-separated life. You have to answer questions about homes, property, cars, and even child custody. It’s a lot to take in. The end goal? Reaching a marital separation and settlement that meets both parties’ needs. The problem is that both parties will be looking for an end goal that is actually a bit mutually exclusive: they both want as much property and rights as they can get.

Divorce lawyers have to work hard to reach a marital separation and settlement that will not only result in the betterment of their clients’ situation, but will actually result in something both parties can actually sign on. If neither party agrees to anything, the divorce process will drag on and on, becoming a force of its own. That’s why understanding what a marital separation and settlement agreement is can help any party in a divorce achieve their goals.Here are some basic facts about these agreements.

First, remember that you’ll be well aware of the divorce by the time a marital separation and settlement agreement needs to be hashed out. Other forms, including the divorce petition, will require both parties signing them before you sit down for negotiations. So remember that signing something early on in the divorce will not necessarily affect the outcome of these negotiations - just make sure that you have your lawyer explain each step to you so that you know what’s going on and what to prepare for.

It’s also important to realize that these marital separation and settlement agreements will hash out a great bit of detail. For example, you won’t only work on negotiating property and finances, but you might have to answer the question of child custody. This can be a very contentious part of the divorce process, as both parties fight for custody, and will ultimately have to be settled - either by a court or by a mutual agreement between the two parties.

Larger property will also be fought for on both sides unless one party is willing to acquiesce - generally, if one party is willing to give up some property in exchange for another, there are ways to split up the property so that both parties feel they got a valid share. The larger property might be fought for at this point, but ultimately working out a settlement is the goal of this process. Try to take the advice of your lawyer as to picking your battles - understanding which property is easier to fight for than others is a good way to proceed.

Ultimately, this agreement will help establish where you are as you head on to the next phase in your life. So it’s important that you take this process seriously and are indeed willing to fight for the things that really matter to you - child custody, properties you earned, etc. It’s not important only for you, but for the long-term welfare of everyone involved.

Agreement: A verbal or written resolution of disputed issues.

Alimony: A payment of support for one spouse provided by the other spouse. May be paid in periodic payments, one lump-sum payment, or a combination of both. May be paid temporarily or on a permanent basis. (Same as spousal support or maintenance.)

Annulment: A legal action that has the result of treating a marriage as if it had never occurred.

Child support: A legal, moral, and ethical obligation to provide full care and support for minor children.

Community property: Generally, all income and property that is acquired by either or both spouses during the course of a marriage, except property acquired by individual gift or inheritance. Community property does not include property that was acquired prior to a marriage. In most community property states, both spouses are considered to own an equal share of all of the community property. (See separate property.)

Contested divorce: A divorce where at least one issue has not been settled prior to court. A court must decide any issues that have not been agreed upon in a contested case.

Custodial parent: The parent with whom a child normally lives.

Divorce: A legal judgment that severs the marriage of two people and restores them to the status of single persons. (Same as dissolution of marriage.)

Dissolution of marriage: See divorce.

Equitable division: A method of property division in a divorce (or dissolution of marriage) that is generally based on a variety of factors in an attempt to allocate a fair and just amount of property to each spouse.

Fault-based divorce: A type of divorce that may only be granted on a showing that one of the spouses was guilty of some form of marital misconduct.

Guardian ad litem: Court-appointed legal guardian of a child’s legal rights.

General grounds: Fault-based divorce grounds retained by some states.

Grounds: The legal basis for the divorce (or dissolution of marriage). The grounds may be no-fault or fault-based.

Hold-harmless: A phrase used to describe an agreement by which one person agrees to assume full liability for an obligation and to protect another person from any loss or expense based on that obligation.

Joint legal custody: A form of custody of minor children in which the parents share the responsibilities and major decision-making relating to the child. Generally, one parent is awarded actual physical custody of the child and the other parent is awarded liberal visitation rights. (See joint physical custody, sole custody, and split custody.)

Joint physical custody: A form of custody of minor children in which the parents share the actual physical custody of the child. Generally, an alternating method of custody is used. (See joint legal custody, sole custody, and split custody.)

Joint property: Property that is held or titled in the name of more than one person. (See joint tenancy, community property, and marital property.)

Joint tenancy: A form of joint ownership of property by which each joint owner has an equal share in the property. Generally, a joint tenancy is used in connection with a right of survivorship. (See right of survivorship.)

Jurisdiction: The power or authority of a court to rule in a particular case. A court must have jurisdiction over both the subject matter of the case and the people involved in the dispute in order to have the authority to hear a case and make binding decisions.

Legal court-ordered separation: A court order that specifies a couple is separated. Not provided for in all states.

Legal custody: The right to make all of the major decisions relating to the upbringing of the child.

Legal separation: A legal lawsuit for support while the spouses are living separate and apart. A legal separation may deal with the same issues as in a divorce, but does not end the marriage. (See separate maintenance.)

Lump-sum alimony: Spousal support made in a single payment or fixed amount, but paid in specific installments.

Maintenance: See alimony or spousal support.

Managing conservator: Another name for the parent with custody.

Marital property: Term used to describe the property that is subject to division by a court upon divorce or dissolution. Generally, all property that was acquired during a marriage by either or both spouses, except individual gifts and inheritances. Does not generally include property that was acquired by either spouse prior to the marriage. (See community property, joint property, separate property, and non-marital property.)

Marital Settlement Agreement: A written agreement entered into by divorcing spouses that spells out their rights and agreements regarding property, support, and children. (Same as separation agreement.)

Mediator: Professional trained in conflict resolution and methods of coaching disagreeing spouses.

No-fault divorce: A type of divorce that may be granted without the necessity of showing that either spouse was guilty of some form of marital misconduct.

Non-marital property: Term used to describe separate property in some states that provide for the equitable distribution of property. Generally, non-marital property consists of property acquired prior to a marriage and property acquired by individual gift or inheritance either before or during a marriage. (See marital property, community property, and separate property.)

Physical custody: The right to have the child live with the custodial parent.

Primary caretaker: The parent who provides the majority of the day-to-day care for a minor child.

Primary parental responsibility: Another name for child custody.

Quasi-community property: Property the spouses may have acquired before they moved to a particular state that would have been “community” property if they had lived in that state when they acquired it.

Residence: The place where a person lives. (Generally, same as domicile.)

Right of survivorship: The right of joint owners of a piece of property to automatically be given the other’s share of the property upon the death of the other owner. Generally, this right must be specifically stated on any documents of title for it to apply. For example: a joint tenancy with the right of survivorship.

Separate maintenance: A lawsuit for support in a situation where the spouses live separate and apart but are not presently pursuing a divorce or dissolution. (Same as legal separation.)

Separate property: Property considered to be owned individually by one spouse and not subject to division upon divorce in most states. Separate property generally consists of property acquired prior to a marriage and property acquired by individual gift or inheritance either before or during a marriage. (See marital property, community property, and non-marital property.)

Separation agreement: See Marital Settlement Agreement.

Settlement agreement: The written version of a settlement that resolves certain issues. It is generally a valid contract.

Sole custody: A form of child custody in which one parent is given both physical custody of the child and the right to make all of the major decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. Generally, the other parent is awarded reasonable visitation rights.

Split custody: A form of child custody in which the actual time of physical custody is split between the parents, with both retaining the rights to participate in decisions regarding the child. Also called “divided” or “alternating” custody. Sometimes referred to as joint physical custody. (See joint custody and sole custody.)

Spousal support: See alimony or maintenance.

Tenancy-by-the-entireties: A form of joint ownership in which two married persons hold title to a piece of property in equal shares and each has an automatic right to the other’s share upon death.

Tenancy-in-common: A form of joint ownership in which two or more persons own particular shares of a piece of property. The shares need not be equal and the persons have no legal right to any shares of another upon death.

Uncontested Divorce: A divorce proceeding in which there is no dispute as to any of the legal issues involved. The lack of dispute may be because the other spouse is missing, refuses to participate in the proceeding, or agrees with the other spouse on all issues.

Visitation: The right of a parent who does not have physical custody to visit a child or have a child visit him or her.

Waiver: A written document that relinquishes a person’s rights.

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