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Welcome to the Glossary of Terms. Wondering what a particular word means that you heard in court? Are you trying to fill out a form but need to translate legal jargon into regular language? Find answers here!




  1. Abandonment

  2. Affidavit
    An affidavit is a written statement signed and notarized. Because you swear that it is true, the court treats it as a kind of evidence.

  3. Alimony
    Spousal maintenance, or “alimony,” is a payment from one former spouse to the other. It is usually a monthly payment and usually for a set period of time.

  4. Answer
    The answer is a type of paper filed with the court that “answers” the statements in the complaint. The complaint states the facts of the marriage and asks for a divorce. The answer says whether the other party agrees with those facts.

  5. Appeal
    After the court issues a final order, either party can appeal to a higher court. For a final order of divorce, the appeal goes to the Vermont Supreme Court. For a child support order issued by a magistrate, the appeal goes to the Family Court judge. The appeal asks the higher court to change the decision.

  6. Assistant Judge
    Assistant judges sit with the Family Court judge and hear the evidence in the case. They help the judge make a decision. Assistant judges do not hear every case.

  7. Case Manager
    The case manager is a type of social worker who helps the parties agree on issues in the divorce or custody case if they can. In most courts, all custody and child support issues will first go to the case manager. In some courts, all cases go to the case manager.

  8. Case Manager’s Conference
    The case manager holds a conference, or meeting with the parties, to see if there are any issues the parties agree on. If the parties agree on one or more issues, for example on a parenting plan, the case manager helps them write a stipulation and sends it to the judge or magistrate to sign. Read more.

  9. Child Support
    Child support is a monthly payment from one parent to the other. Typically, child support is paid by the parent with fewer overnight visits with the children to the parent with more overnight visits. Read more.

  10. Child Support Guideline
    The state of Vermont has a formula to decide how much child support one parent pays to the other. The formula is called the child support guideline. It is a complicate formula, and the Office of Child Support website has a computer program to calculate a guideline amount. A judge can change this amount in a specific case (“deviating” from the guideline), but most often uses the guideline amount. Read more.

  11. Complaint
    The complaint is the first paper filed with the court asking for a divorce. Read more.

  12. Continuance
    A continuance is a fancy name for rescheduling a court hearing. Judges and lawyers like fancy words.

  13. Court Officer
    The court officer is a deputy sheriff in charge of safety in the courtroom. Usually the court officer also swears in the witnesses.

  14. Desertion

  15. Deviation
    Deviation is a fancy word for changing the child support amount from what the child support guideline calculates it should be. A judge can “deviate upward” - more child support - or “deviate downward” - less child support.

  16. Docket
    The docket number is a number assigned to the case. It should be included on every paper you file with the court. The docket sheet is a list of every filing and hearing that is kept by the clerk of the court.

  17. Evidence
    Evidence is any written or spoken statements about facts. It includes affidavits, sworn testimony (statements made by a witness in court) and exhibits (papers offered to the judge by a witness in court). Read more.

  18. File
    A case file is the file with all of the papers in the court from the parties or the judge. Filing a paper means sending it to the court.

  19. Financial Affidavit
    The financial affidavit is a form on which each party reports their expenses, income, and assets. The financial affidavit has two parts. They are often called by their form numbers: 813A and 813B. Parties must file financial affidavits if their are minor children and parental responsibilities and child support are issues in the case. Some courts require them even if there aren’t children involved, and many parties find them a useful way to collect financial information in one place. Read more.

  20. Legal Rights and Responsibilities
    Legal rights and responsibilities is one type of custody. It is the right to make important decisions about a child. Decisions include where a child goes to school, where a child lives, non-emergency medical treatment, and religious upbringing.

  21. Mediation
    Mediation means meeting to try to agree on the outcome of a case. The case manager’s conference is a kind of mediation. Another way to mediate is to have a neutral person meet with the parties outside of court to see if there are issues the parties can agree on. Read more.

  22. Motion
    A motion is a paper filed with the court asking the judge to do something. A motion could ask the court to schedule a hearing, postpone a hearing (a “continuance”), issue a final order, or anything else.

  23. Parental Rights and Responsibilities
    Parental rights and responsibilities (or “PR&R”) means custody. There are two kinds of parental rights and responsibilities. “Legal rights and responsibilities” means the right to make decisions for a child. “Physical rights and responsibilities” means caring for the physical needs of a child. In practice, physical rights and responsibilities just means which household the child spends more overnights in.

  24. Parentage
    Parentage is a decision made by a judge about whether a party is the parent of a child.

  25. Parenting Plan
    A parenting plan describes a plan for which parent has primary physical rights and responsibilities and which parent has parent child contact, and sets a schedule for when the child will be with each parent.

  26. Party
    A party is a person with a dispute in court. In a divorce, each spouse is a party. In a case with children in the Family Court, each parent is a party.

  27. Physical Rights and Responsibilities
    Physical rights and responsibilities is what people usually mean when they say “custody”. It just means which parent the child is with. A parent with “primary physical rights and responsibilities” is the parent who has more overnight visits with the child.

  28. Plaintiff
    The first party to file paperwork in court is called the "plaintiff" or the "petitioner". The other party is usually called the "defendant". The only difference this makes in family court is that whenever it is time to speak to the judge or present evidence, the plaintiff/petitioner will go first.

  29. PR&R
    PR&R stands for “parental rights and responsibilities.”

  30. Separation
    Separation can mean a few different things in a divorce. First, a “legal separation” is an order, much like a divorce order, that does not end the marriage. This is an unusual order, but there are reasons why people might want to go their separate ways but still be technically married. Some have religious reasons to do this. Sometimes there are benefits available, such as health insurance, that are a reason to stay technically married. The other common meaning of “separation” is the six-month period when spouses have to live “separate and apart” before they can get a divorce. “Living separate and apart” means not having sex. It’s pretty much a non-issue these days - nobody argues about it, so it just means you have to wait six months to get divorced.

  31. Spouse
    A spouse is one of the people in a marriage or civil union. A husband, wife, or civil partner are all spouses.

  32. Spousal Maintenance
    Spousal maintenance, or “alimony”, is a payment from one former spouse to the other. It is usually a monthly payment and usually for a set period of time.

  33. Subpoena
    A subpoena (pronounce it “supp-ee-nuh”) is an order from a court or lawyer to someone telling them they must appear in court as a witness, or testify at a deposition, or hand over papers or other records.

  34. Summons
    The summons is a paper that officially tells a person that a complaint has been filed in court and that they need to file an answer to the complaint.

  35. Status Conference
    A status conference is a short meeting with the judge to find out what is happening in the case and decide whether a hearing is going to be needed.

  36. Stipulation
    A stipulation is a fancy word for an agreement. That’s all it means. Why can’t we use the word agreement? We can, and should.

  37. Testimony
    Testimony is everythi ng a witness says in court or at a deposition. It is a type of evidence and can be used by the court to decide a case. Read more.

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