Commonly Used Terms In Divorce Documents

terms in divorce documentsWhen an individual receives a document drafted by an attorney, it often contains terms which may be confusing or unfamiliar. Attorneys use these terms to not only comply with court requirements but also to make specific arguments and requests for their clients. Although it is the attorney’s responsibility to draft every document submitted to the court, documents can only be submitted with the client’s approval. For this reason, it is important that you have a basic understanding of the most frequently used terms in dissolution documents.  Below is a list of some common terms used in dissolution documents:


When it’s used: In documents regarding support an individual has already been ordered by the court to pay their ex-spouse.

Definition: The amount of money one ex-spouse is owed in back payments of support that remain unpaid by the other ex-spouse. Once an individual is determined to be delinquent, the support owed at that time is considered an arrearage.  In the state of Illinois, if an individual has an arrearage, it will accumulate interest that must also be paid to the individual owed.

Allocation of Parental Responsibilities

When it’s used: In dissolution documents regarding parenting time.

Definition: The agreed upon or court ordered division of parenting time, decision making responsibility, and child support between parents. This term was formerly known as “custody”. Learn more about how parental responsibilities are allocated.

Case Management Conference

When it’s used: In communications between an attorney and their client or in orders written by the court.

Definition: A meeting between each party’s attorneys and the judge to distinguish where the case stands at that point.  Case management conferences are often used for attorneys to discuss when their client will be able to provide certain documents or what their client’s perspective is on a recent development in the case. Often the client themselves are not required to be present, but it is always important to check with your attorney before assuming that your presence is not required.

Child Support

When it’s used: In documents regarding parenting time and support.

Definition: A court ordered sum of money that one parent is ordered to pay to the other parent for the child or children’s expenses. The state of Illinois looks at factors such as both parent’s income, children’s number of overnight visits, and a child’s general needs when determining the amount of support ordered. Learn more about how child support is calculated.

Contempt of Court

When it’s used: In petitions during or following a proceeding when an individual does not act as required.

Definition: When an individual violates a court order, such as an order to pay child support or to submit required documents, and the court determines they should be reprimanded. If someone is found to be in contempt, a court may order a financial or judicial penalty for the individual. The term may also be used if an individual acts disrespectfully toward the court.


When it’s used: In documents regarding support.

Definition: When a parent ordered to pay support fails to do so, their missed payments are considered delinquent.  Learn more about delinquent support payments and their 1consequences.


When it’s used: In communications between attorneys or in orders from the court.

Definition: Answers or documents submitted to the court or the opposing party’s attorney that are relevant to the issues in the case. Discovery can be documents such as bank statements, deeds, or tax returns, or can also be answers to written questions submitted by the opposing counsel. During a case, a party will both ask for discovery and provide their own discovery to the opposing party.


When it’s used: In documents regarding or initiating a divorce

Definition: The legal termination of a marriage. This term is commonly known as “divorce”.

Equitable Distribution

When it’s used: In documents regarding the division of property.

Definition: The court’s determination of a fair division of marital property between each spouse.  Distributions may not be completely equal or exactly 50/50; courts will consider things including the value of each item considered marital property and the balance of marital debts.

Irreconcilable Differences

When it’s used:  In Petitions for Dissolution to indicate why a couple wants a divorce.

Definition: When a couple can no longer come to an agreement about aspects of their marriage and do not believe that they will ever be able to do so again. This is the only reason an individual may file for a divorce in the state of Illinois.

Maintenance Support

When it’s used: In support agreements, regardless of if they are temporary or final.

Definition: The court ordered sum one ex-spouse pays to the other to support him/her or maintain the lifestyle the individual enjoyed during the marriage. This term was formerly known as “alimony”. The amount and duration of maintenance a court will order is dependent upon each spouse’s income and the duration of their marriage.  Learn more about how maintenance is determined.

Majority Aged Child

When it’s used: In documents regarding support or the dissolution itself.

Definition: A child to both parties who is age eighteen or older.

Non-Supporting Parent or Obligee

When it’s used: In documents regarding parenting time and support.

Definition: The parent that receives child support payment from the other.


When it’s used: In documents establishing the paternity of an individual and a child.

Definition: The legal recognition of a relationship between a child and that parent. This term is most often used to establish that a man is the biological father of a child.

Parenting Plan

When it’s used: In documents regarding parenting time.

Definition: An agreement or proposed agreement between parents that outlines how decisions will be made for the child, parenting time for each parent, requirements for relocation, and other relevant aspects of parenting.

Parenting Time

When it’s used: In documents regarding support or parental responsibility.

Definition: The amount of time that each parent spends with their minor children.  Parenting time is not required to be equal. If a document says an individual has a “majority” of the parenting time, it indicates the children have more overnight visits with that parent, and the other parent may be required to pay support.  This term was formerly known as “visitation”.

Post- Minority Support

When it’s used: During or following a divorce proceeding in documents regarding support

Definition: The support paid from one spouse to the other for the expenses of a child who is over the age of eighteen.  Learn more about the requirements of post-minority support.


When it’s used: In documents regarding parenting time.

Definition: A parent moving with the shared child out of state or to another location in Illinois more than 50 miles away from their current residence. This term was formerly known as “removal”.

Significant Decision-Making Responsibility

When it’s used:  In documents regarding each parent’s responsibility for caring for a child.

Definition: The responsibility/right to make important decisions for a child. The court divides decision-making responsibility into four areas and can allocate the responsibility to both or just one of the parents. The four areas are education, extracurricular activities, medical care, and religion.

Substantial Change in Circumstances

When it’s used: In documents seeking to modify an already established order or agreement.

Definition: The unforeseen change in circumstances which make the current agreement for parenting time or support unworkable for one or both of the parties. This situation can encompass many scenarios. Learn more about it here.

Supporting Parent/ Obligor

When it’s used: In documents regarding parenting time or support.

Definition: The spouse ordered to pay child support to the other parent.

These are just a few of the terms that are used when a couple is participating in a dissolution proceeding, and even with an explanation, in the context of a legal document may still be confusing. For this reason, it is important to ask your attorney for clarification on any aspect of a document that you are unsure of or do not understand.

If you are currently facing a family law issue, contact Sherer Law Offices at (618) 692-6656 for more information.

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