a divorced couple

When you enter divorce proceedings, there will be plenty of legal terms that will be said and it’s important to understand their meaning. Your attorney can answer any questions you have along the way. In the meantime, familiarize yourself with these divorce terms you may hear.

Answer & Default

When you serve divorce papers to your spouse, he must answer the petition within 30 days of receiving the papers. The answer is a legal response to the complaint. If he does not provide the court with the legal documents, default occurs – essentially giving the petitioner everything she requested in the petition.

Child Custody

There are two forms of custody – legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the aspects of the child’s life that demand decision making on serious matters such as education, medical care, religious training, and others. If the court grants joint legal custody, the parents make these decisions together. However, there is normally one parent who has more decision-making weight so if the two parties cannot agree, she or he has the final say.

Physical custody refers to court-ordered time that the child spends with one or both parents. This arrangement is created to reflect the child’s best interests. With both legal and physical custody, the court will order joint or sole custody.

Contempt of Court

Once a court order is finalized, it must be followed by both parties. If either party chooses not to follow the order, they are in contempt of court. Examples of contempt of court include failing to pay child support, not meeting at the specified time to return the child from visitation, and refusing to pay alimony. If your ex-spouse is acting outside the court orders, seek an attorney’s advice for guidance.

Discovery Phase

The discovery phase refers to the set period of time that attorneys have to request evidence from the opposite party to help build their case. The requested evidence may be in the form of interrogatories, financial documents, admissions, subpoenas, or depositions.


Before a divorce case is heard by a judge, the two parties will attend mediation. During mediation, all the aspects of the divorce are discussed, and the parties try to reach an agreement. Mediation is less expensive and demands less time than a trial. It also gives more power to the two parties to reach an agreement instead of leaving the final decision to the judge.

No-Fault & At-Fault Divorce

“Irreconcilable differences” is often cited as the reason for divorce when there is no fault present. Georgia is among many states that allows no-fault to be listed as the reason for divorce. At-fault divorce is cited as the reason for divorce when fault has occurred such as abuse or adultery. The charge against the spouse can be used to gain a more favorable outcome in the divorce if proven to be true.