Family Law Glossary

Alimony: Alimony is money that one former spouse pays to the other after the divorce is final. Alimony can be court ordered or paid by agreement. Alimony is usually paid in monthly installments.

Alimony Pendente Lite (APL): Alimony Pendente Lite is money that one spouse pays to the other after the divorce lawsuit is started. APL is not automatic. It has to be paid only if it is requested by the spouse who has less money and the court orders that it be paid. When APL is ordered, it is paid until the divorce is final.

Alphabet Judge: While not a formal term, the phrase “alphabet judge” results from the practice in Travis County of assigning family law cases to judges based on the first letter of the last name of the defendant. For example, in a case where “Jones” sues “Williams” for custody, the case go to the judge assigned to the “W” cases.

Conciliation Conference: A Conciliation Conference is a one hour conference at the courthouse conducted by an attorney appointed by the court. The formal term for the attorney appointed to conduct a Conciliation Conference is Custody Conference Officer. The purpose of the Conciliation Conference is to give the parties a chance to share their concerns with the Custody Conference Officer and for the Custody Conference Officer to help the parties work through their differences, try to reach an agreement and, importantly, avoid the emotional cost to the children involved of a custody hearing. The Conciliation Conference process frequently works in helping the parties reach an agreement. But not always. When it doesn’t work at the first conference, the parties can be ordered to come back for a follow-up conference after a month or more of trying out a custody situation recommended by the Custody Conference Officer and approved by the judge assigned to the case. Or they can be ordered to go to a hearing.

Equitable Distribution: This term refers to the legal process by which marital property is distributed to husband and wife as part of a Divorce. Going through equitable distribution is not mandatory. An alternative to going through equitable distribution is for husband and wife to reach an agreement out of court for splitting up the marital property. Agreements such as this are contracts and are referred to by such terms as Marital Settlement Agreement, Property Settlement Agreement and Post-Nuptial Agreement.

Family Business Court: Family Business Court is an opportunity for parties or their lawyers to present complaints, petitions and motions to the judge assigned to a case. Each of the six family court judges is assigned a specific day of the week to conduct Family Business Court.

Grandparents Rights: Grandparents’ Rights are the special privileges extended to grandparents as a result of their relationship to their grandchildren. There are three specific laws in Texas that deal with grandparents’ right to sue for custody. These laws give grandparents the right to sue for custody in situations where other non-parents are not permitted to sue. This area of law is developing right now most probably because a greater portion of the population are grandparents than ever before.

Joint Custody: Joint custody is a phrase which is not defined in the statutes. Joint custody most accurately describes any situation in which two or more people each have physical custody of a child. Many clients, however, use the term “joint custody” to refer to situations in which each of two people have an equal amount of custody, e.g. custody is switched once a week. As a result, the term “joint custody” should be used carefully or not at all because it can be confusing.

Legal Custody: Legal custody refers to the legal right to participate in major decisions affecting the best interest of a minor child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious and educational decisions. 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5302. In virtually all cases where the parties in a case are the parents of the child involved, legal custody will be shared, with each parent having a right to participate in the major decisions impacting the child. There is rarely a dispute over whether legal custody should be shared.

Marital Settlement Agreement: Along with Postnuptial Agreement, Property Settlement Agreement or Ante nuptial Agreement, “Marital Settlement” is a term used to refer to a contract between husband and wife by which they agree to distribute property and otherwise deal with the economic impacts of divorce.

Partial Custody: Partial Physical custody refers to the right to take possession of a child away from the custodial parent for a certain period of time. 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5302. Most cases involve a person who has primary physical custody and a person who has partial physical custody. The person with primary physical custody is the party with whom the child resides most of the time. The person with partial physical custody has the right to have physical custody of the child on a more limited basis.

Petition for Special Relief: A Petition for Special Relief is a petition by which a party to a custody action requests some specific thing from the court. Examples of the kinds of things which might be requested in Petition for Special Relief include additional custodial time for a specific event or a request that a period of custody that was missed be made up at a future date.

Physical Custody: Physical custody refers to the actual physical possession and control of a child. 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5302. The overwhelming majority of the custody litigation in which we’ve been involved deals with physical custody, i.e. which parent or party has the right to have the child with him or her at any given time.

Standing: Standing is the right to initiate and maintain a lawsuit. A person must have standing in order to sue someone else. In the context of custody, standing protects parents and other interested parties from interference by persons who lack the requisite relationship with the child to be granted the right to sue for custody of a child.

Status Quo: In custody disputes, the concept of status quo refers to the custodial situation the parties agreed to prior to one of them going to court. For example, if the parties separated and shared custody equally before one of them went to court by transferring the child from one to the other each Sunday evening, that would define the status quo. The status quo in a custody case is important for at least two reasons. First, the judges in Travis County presume that what parents do with respect to the children prior to the involvement of the court can be an expression of what the parents believe is best for the children. Second, the status quo is what the child is used to. As a result, when a judge is asked in Family Business Court to enter a Temporary Order, one of the things the judge will consider is what the status quo has been.

Temporary Order: A Temporary Order is a court order to control the rights of the parties for a relatively short time. In Travis County, Temporary Orders are most often used to cover clarify the rights of the parties from the time the custody complaint or petition to modify custody is filed until the Conciliation Conference. An example of a case in which a Temporary Order would be sought is where one party suddenly stops letting the other see the child. In these cases, the party who is prevented from seeing the child might file a complaint for custody and ask the judge to enter a Temporary Order awarding him or her a specific schedule of physical custody until the Conciliation Conference.

Visitation: Visitation refers to the right to visit a child. The term does not include the right to remove a child from the custodial parent’s control.