By Bonnie A. Rabinovitch-Mantel, CFLS.
When it comes to legal proceedings, the learning curve is often steep. The average person may comprehend the general gist of how family law matters proceed, but legal jargon can be overwhelming and cumbersome, making it difficult to feel like an active and educated part of your own case. An experienced San Diego family law attorney, of course, won’t expect you to be fluent in all the law terminology; rather, they’ll be sure you’re aware of all the moving parts of your case and that you’re appropriately prepped. So, in an effort to combat the complexity, and confusion that can sometimes creep in amidst legal proceedings, here are a few key terms to be aware of and add to your arsenal of family law knowledge.
Also called an initial pleading, a petition is filed by a plaintiff (the person initiating the legal proceedings) and is a written statement that details the broad strokes of the case, including the names of the parties involved, names and details of any children, the overall timeline and length of the marriage, a brief statement on joint property, the reason for filing a divorce, and any relief that will be requested. When you hear the term, “filing for divorce,” it’s this initial petition that’s being referenced.
Along with filing the petition for divorce with the San Diego court, the other party involved will need to be officially notified. This is accomplished by issuing a “summons,” which is a notice that action against him or her has been filed, and that he or she must respond within a certain timeframe, or else a judgment will be made.
The process of gathering all the relevant information, details, documents, and the like is called “discovery,” and its undertaken prior to a case going to trial. During discovery, a host of different information-seeking actions might take place, such as a deposition or interrogatories (which we’ll discuss below). In other words, discovery is the period in which all the information that will be pertinent in a family law case is gathered and sorted, in preparation for any negotiations or future trial.
Interrogatories are questions assembled by one side of a case to the other side of the case to be addressed and answered under oath. You and your attorney will generally work together to truthfully and appropriately answer any interrogatories sent by opposing counsel.
Usually conducted under the supervision of a court reporter, a deposition is either written or spoken testimony provided under oath. These proceedings occur outside court and assemble the testimony of important witnesses, as well the testimony of the parties in question.
An injunction is a San Diego court order that officially compels an involved party to follow a certain mandate or cease doing a particular action.
An affidavit is a written, oath-sworn document completed in the presence of a legally authorized authority, like a notary or a judge.
Though this term might seem straightforward, there are a few key aspects to understand regarding this definition. A judgment is a legally binding ruling, approved by the court, not subject to modification by either party or his or her counsel. Should either party violate the court’s judgment, it can be brought before a judge and the violator can be held in contempt. A judge may modify a judgment for certain reasons, as well, either because one party consistently violates the judgment’s term, or if it is in the best interest of an involved child.
While it’s helpful to be familiar with a few relevant family and divorce legal terms that can provide with some additional insight into your case, don’t worry if some legal jargon is beyond your level of experience. People seek the help of experienced, and passionate family and divorce attorneys who put their clients first, specifically to ensure that they are protected and have an advocate that knows all the ins and outs of family law in San Diego. It never hurts to give your vocabulary a boost, but when in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask questions.