Divorce Dictionary

Understanding Illinois Divorce Law and What Every Term Means.

The Illinois divorce laws have their own terminology, and it is helpful for clients to understand the meaning of the legal topics and issues being discussed with your attorneys at NuVorce.  These terms will be used throughout the divorce process, in planning, negotiations, mediations and in court.  You can refer to this quick guide to remind yourself of the terminology at every stage of your divorce.

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  • Adoption

    Creating a parent child relationship by Court order, as an alternative to creating a parent child relationship by blood relationship.

  • ADR

    Acronym for Alternative Dispute Resolution.

  • Adultery

    When a married person has sex with someone who’s not his/her spouse. This is a fault basis for divorce in Illinois.

  • Affidavit

    A written statement of facts that is made under oath.

  • Alimony

    Payments made by one spouse to the other for support of the spouse (unlike child support which is for support of the children).  These payments are made during a divorce/separation or after a divorce/separation. Alimony is called maintenance in Illinois. Alimony is paid from gross income (income before taxes and deductions).

  • Annulment

    When a marriage is declared to not have existed (as opposed to divorce where the marriage existed and is now terminated). In Illinois this is called a Declaration of Invalidity of Marriage.

  • Appearance

    A document that you file with the Court that let’s the Court know that you will be participating in the case and that you will either have an attorney or will be representing yourself (which is called “pro se” because lawyers like to make things confusing by randomly using Latin).

  • Asset

    An item that has value. Common examples are bank accounts, stocks, bonds, a home, etc.

  • Attorney for Child

    Exactly what it sounds like, the child has his/her own attorney.

  • Best Interests

    A term used in child custody and visitation issues when the Court is deciding what is best for a child.

  • Bigamy

    Being married to two people at the same time.

  • Business Valuation

    How the value of a business is determined for purposes of a divorce. This typically involves determining the assets and liabilities of a business and analyzing the income from the business.


  • Case Management Conference

    A meeting involving the Judge and all attorneys (and maybe parties) for a case. The goal of a Case Management Conference is to set an end date for the case (a trial date), to determine what steps need to happen between now and the trial (such as: exchanging discovery, completion of expert reports, depositions, etc.), and setting deadlines to accomplish these steps.

  • Child Custody

    Child custody is the most misunderstood aspect of Illinois divorce law. Custody is not time with the children (see visitation). Custody is the authority to make major decisions for the children. In Illinois major decisions for children are: (1) education, (2) medical care, and (3) religion. If parents can agree about these three major decisions or work together for these three major decisions, then they can share joint custody. If they cannot, then one parent will have sole custody.

  • Child Representative

    An attorney who argues for what he/she believes to be in the best interest of the child. Compare this with the definitions for: Attorney for Child and Guardian ad Litem

  • Child Support

    Payments from one parent to the other for support of the child. This payment is based on net income (income after taxes and allowable deductions).

  • Civil Unions

    An alternative to marriage which creates the same rights as a marriage within Illinois, but not federally. This was most often used by LGBT couples wishing to have a formalized relationship prior to all couples in Illinois having access to the right to marry.


    This is not the mortal enemy of G.I.Joe. This is the acronym for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985. This is the act that makes it possible to stay on your ex-spouse’s health insurance for a period of time after a divorce. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

  • Cohabitation

    When two unmarried people are in a marriage like relationship.

  • Collaborative Law

    A form of alternative dispute resolution where the parties and their attorneys agree to collaborate in negotiations. If necessary, the parties bring in additional outside experts as part of the negotiation (financial experts, parenting coordinators, etc.).

  • College Education Expenses

    When parents are married, they have no obligation to pay for any portion of college. When parents are divorced, a Court can order either parent, or both parents, to contribute to the child(ren)’s college expenses.

  • Common Law Marriage

    Marriage without the legal recording of a marriage license and instead arising from the parties living together in a marriage like relationship. This does not exist in Illinois.

  • Contempt

    When someone does something that is against a Court Order or is disrespectful to the Judge. The Judge can then order compliance with an order, penalties, or even jail time to encourage better behavior.

  • Continuance

    Postponing a Court date to a date in the future.

  • Cost Benefit Analysis

    A systematic approach to assessing the weaknesses (costs) and the strengths (benefits) of a course of action.

  • Custodial Account

    Account created for the benefit of a minor child.

  • DCFS

    Acronym for the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services.

  • Debt

    When you owe someone money. Also referred to as a liability.

  • Declaration of Invalidity of Marriage

    Illinois’ term for an annulment which is when a marriage is declared to not have existed (as opposed to divorce where the marriage existed and is now terminated).

  • Deduction

    An amount subtracted from gross income. For tax purposes this can help you calculate adjusted gross income or taxable income. In divorce, this often references the deductions from gross income that are allowable to calculate net income for child support.

  • Default

    If someone refuses to participate in the divorce, the Court can find them in default. This essentially gives the participating person a win on all issues.

  • Divorce

    The process by which a married couple allocates: (1) decision making authority for the children, (2) time with the children, (3) income – via child support and alimony/maintenance, and (4) their property.

  • Divorce Decree

    The final document that states that a party is divorced. In Illinois, this is called a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. If the parties agreed to the terms of their divorce, this Judgment might incorporate a Marital Settlement Agreement and a Parenting Agreement. If the parties did not agree to the terms of their divorce, this Judgment would be generated by the Court after a trial.

  • Divorce Grounds

    There are two types of divorce grounds, no fault and fault. In a no fault divorce, the parties must be separated for either: two (2) years or six (6) months if they agree that six months of separation is sufficient to establish that they will not reconcile. In a fault divorce, there is no waiting period, but one party must prove that the other party was at fault for the divorce (through adultery, drug abuse, abandonment, physical abuse, etc.).

  • Domestic Violence

    When one member of a household or family does any of the following to another member of the same household or family: abuse, harass, intimidate, restrain, coerce or deprive someone of necessities of life (food, medication, etc.). This definition can also be applied to two people in a dating relationship. In the event of abuse an Order of Protection may be necessary.


  • Equitable Distribution

    Equitable is just a fancy word for fair. Illinois divides property in divorce under the term “equitable distribution” or “fair distribution.” Fair might mean 50/50, or it might mean something else.

  • Exhibit

    A document or physical item that you will present to a Court to help prove your case.

  • Fault Grounds for Divorce

    To get a divorce, you must prove grounds for divorce (i.e. the reason for the divorce). The grounds are either that: (1) the marriage broke down and it was no one’s fault (a no fault divorce) or (2) that someone is at fault for the divorce. Fault Grounds include: impotency, bigamy, adultery, desertion, drug abuse, and physical or mental cruelty.

  • Guardian ad Litem

    A witness for the Court who investigates the facts of the case, interviews the parties, interviews the child(ren), and who submits a report stating what his or her recommendations are for the best interest of the child.

  • Harassment

    In Illinois you can get an Order of Protection if someone is harassing you. Illinois defines harassment for domestic violence purposes as unreasonable conduct that cause emotional distress. Some examples are: repeatedly calling on the phone, stalking, and making threats.

  • Irreconcilable Differences

    To get a divorce, you must prove grounds for divorce (i.e. the reason for the divorce). The grounds are either that: (1) the marriage broke down and it was no one’s fault (a no fault divorce) or (2) that someone is at fault for the divorce. Irreconcilable differences is another term for the cause of a no fault divorce.

  • Joint Custody

    When two parents can make major decisions together for their child(ren) such as: religious decisions, medical decisions, and educational decisions.

  • Ketubah

    A Jewish marriage contract.

  • Liability

    An item that has a negative value. Common examples include: a mortgage, credit card debt, a car loan, student loans, etc.

  • Maintenance

    Payments made by one spouse to the other for support of the spouse (unlike child support which is for support of the children).  These payments are made during a divorce/separation or after a divorce/separation. Sometimes maintenance is referred to as alimony. Maintenance is paid from gross income (income before taxes and deductions).

  • Marital Property

    All other property acquired during the marriage that does not qualify as non-marital property.

  • Mediation

    An alternative dispute resolution method that involves a third party mediator, who tries to help the parties reach an agreement.

  • Nikah Nama

    A Muslim marriage contract.

  • Non-Marital Property

    Non-marital property is all property that: (1) existed before the marriage, (2) was obtained by gift or inheritance, or (3) that was obtained in exchange for property from category 1 or 2 (Example: using non-marital cash to purchase a watch. The watch is non-marital).

  • NuVorce

    You’re on our website, you clearly know who we are.


  • Orders of Protection

    The court order that protects a survivor of domestic violence from an abusive member of the household.  This protection can include restrictions on entering the home or contacting the victim in any way.

  • Paternity

    Establishing the biological father of a child, at times using DNA tests to confirm paternity. The Court system that addresses these issues is sometimes called Paternity Court or Parentage Court.

  • Pension

    A retirement asset that makes a series of payments from an employer to an employee after the employee retires. This can also be called a Defined Benefit Plan.

  • Pretrial Conference

    A court date where the attorneys present the summary of their case to the judge, who then tells the attorneys how he/she intends to rule on the issues. This can be very helpful for settlement (why keep paying attorneys if you basically know what the judge is going to do?)

  • Property Division

    For divorce purposes, property consists of the assets and liabilities of a couple. Dividing that property is a four step process: (1) identify what assets and liabilities exist, (2) classify those assets and liabilities as either: (a) Marital or (b) Non-Marital, (3) value the assets and liabilities, and (4) allocate the marital property equitably between the parties (this means fairly – not necessarily 50/50) and allocate the Non-Marital property to whichever spouse owns it.

  • QDRO

    Acronym for Qualified Domestic Relations Order.


    Acronym for Qualified Illinois Domestic Relations Order.

  • Qualified Domestic Relations Order

    An order that divides a retirement plan, such as a 401(k).

  • Qualified Illinois Domestic Relations Order

    An Order that divides retirement benefits for a state or municipal employee in Illinois that cannot be divided by a QDRO.

  • Reconciliation

    Resuming the marriage relationship after a period of separation or marital difficulty.

  • Service of Process

    Service of process is sometimes called serving divorce papers. This is the formal legal notification by one spouse to the other that a divorce action has been filed.

  • Sole Custody

    When two parents cannot make major decisions together for their child(ren), one parent must have final say in making those decisions. Major decisions are: religious decisions, medical decisions, and educational decisions.

  • Status

    A court appearance where the attorney’s inform the court of what is going on in the case. Sometimes this is referred to as a “Status Hearing” but this is inaccurate as, generally, nothing will be decided (“heard”)  by the Court at these court appearances.

  • Strategic Planning

    Strategy is the plan to accomplish your goals. Strategic planning involves assessing the facts of your case, the law as it applies to those facts, determining your goals, assessing the cost-benefit analysis of various approaches, and implementing the appropriate tactics to effectuate your plan.

  • Trial

    The legal term for when a divorce will be presented to a judge by testimony and documents and the judge will decide how the divorce will be resolved by awarding custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and property.


    Acronym for the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

  • Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

    This act sets standards for which state has jurisdiction over children if the parents live in two different states.

  • Visitation

    Visitation is also called parenting time. It is the time that each parent spends with the child.


  • Witness

    Someone who will testify to facts or opinions at a hearing or at a trial.

  • Xquitas Non Facit Jus, Sed Juri Auxil-Iatur

    Latin for “Equity does not make the law, but assists the law.” In other words, the Court can only be fair within the law. Just because something might be fair, does not mean that a court has the authority to order it.

  • Yokelet

    There are no divorce terms that start with Y, but we couldn’t leave just one letter of the alphabet unrepresented. Instead we went with this word which means a farm that is so small it only requires one yoke of oxen to farm it.

  • Zealous Advocate

    A term used to refer to an attorney who passionately represents the best interests of his or her client.