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Note - If you want information on divorce in states other than New Hampshire, check the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers for the directory of divorce lawyers.

How to Use This Glossary - Choosing a letter below will take you to all the words beginning with that letter. You may also scroll down through the entire list of words.



ADR - Alternate dispute resolution.

adultery - Sexual intercourse between a married person and a person of the opposite sex who is not his/her spouse.

affidavit - A written statement signed and confirmed under oath or affirmation by the party signing it.

alimony - Payments made to or on behalf of a spouse or former spouse under court order.

alternate dispute resolution (ADR) - Ways of making decisions and resolving disputes, other than litigation (contested hearings); includes collaborative practice, mediation, parenting coordination, arbitration, and neutral evaluation.

answer - To reply to a petition. Also, the court paper containing the reply. An answer is filed by the respondent.

appeal - To take an unfavorable decision to a higher court in order to request that it be changed. In New Hampshire, appeals of divorce cases go to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

appear - To file an appearance form, due by the date shown on the order of notice. This is a technical term, and does not mean going to the courthouse. The form may be mailed in.

appearance - A court form that you file to show that you are going to represent yourself, or one that your lawyer files to show that he or she represents you.

appointment order - Court order naming a mediator, guardian ad litem, or parenting coordinator. The order is a court form. The judge or master fills in the specifics.

appraisal - Determination of the current value of an asset by a qualified person. Also known as a valuation.

arrearage - Amount of child support or alimony that is owed for prior periods.

automatic restraining order - When a divorce is filed, this order takes effect. It restricts both spouses' handling and use of assets.


bailiff - A member of sheriff's staff who maintains security and good order at a courthouse.


case manager - A court staff person who provides information about the law and the court process.

case management conference - A meeting with the case manager about the court process.

child impact program - A required seminar to help parents understand how their children are affected by divorce and how to minimize harm to them during the process.

clerk - Chief administrator of the Family Division courts in a region of the state. The clerk is assisted by deputy clerks and various support staff.

clerk's office - The administrative office of each court. The clerk's office accepts court papers being filed with the court and issues court orders. Except at hearings, all communication with the court is through the clerk's office.

COBRA - Federal law concerning health insurance coverage after divorce.

collaborative practice (also collaborative law) - An ADR method to resolve disputes respectfully. It utilizes specially-trained lawyers, and sometimes other professionals, to help the parties negotiate a mutually acceptable settlement without using the court to decide any issues.

conference - A court event concerning the procedures in a case. Generally, the lawyers must attend. For some conferences the parties must attend; for others, their attendance is optional.

contested divorce - A divorce in which one or more issues are in dispute and must be decided by court.

co-parenting - Both parents actively participate in the child's care and upbringing.

co-respondent - A person whom one spouse names in court papers as having committed adultery with the other spouse.

court - The institution for reviewing, approving, and enforcing agreements, and for resolving disputes, if no agreement is possible. Often used to refer to the judge or master handling a particular case, as in the phrase, "The court denied the motion."

court paper - A document filed at court. Court papers include petitions, motions, objections, and mandatory court forms such as financial affidavits, child support worksheets, and uniform support orders.

court calendar - The schedule of upcoming hearings and conferences in a specific court.

courthouse - The building where the court is; the place where hearings and conferences occur.

courtroom - The room where hearings and conferences occur. It has a formal arrangement of places for judge/master, lawyers, clients, witnesses, and observers.

coverture fraction - Formula for dividing a pension a spouse receives; half of the benefit, multiplied by the length of the marriage, divided by the total months of employment.

cross-examination - At a hearing or deposition, questions asked of a witness by a lawyer other than the lawyer who called the witness.

cross-petition - A respondent's court papers that request a divorce or other action by the court.

custody - Rights concerning a child. This term is no longer used in New Hampshire divorce, after divorce, or unwed family cases.


decision-making responsibility - The responsibility to make major decisions for your child.

decree - A written court order or decision.

default - The respondent fails to respond to court papers by filing an appearance. Also, the court may find a default against any party failing to attend a hearing, answer interrogatories, or obey court rules. (In a default, the court order is made without information from the defaulted party.)

defendant - The former term for a person who receives court papers from his/her spouse, other parent, or another family member. This person is now called the respondent.

deposition - A type of discovery, usually held in a lawyer's office. One party to the case is questioned under oath by the other party's lawyer. A court reporter is present and records the questions and answers.

direct examination - At a hearing or deposition, questions asked of a witness by the lawyer who called the witness.

discovery - Various procedures for requiring the other side to provide information during a case in court. Examples are interrogatories, depositions, and requests for admissions.

docket - The cases that have been filed at a specific court.

docket number - The number the clerk's office assigns to a specific case. This number is used to track the case and thus, it must be placed on each court paper.

domestic violence - Violence or threats of violence between spouses, former spouses, people living together or who formerly lived together, or people who have or had an intimate relationship.


equitable division - The standard for dividing marital property in New Hampshire based on "fairness." The law assumes that a 50/50 division is fair in most cases.

evidentiary hearing - A hearing with one or more witnesses giving testimony.

ex-parte - Emergency orders, issued without advance notice or the court hearing from both sides.


Family Division - The court that handles divorce and other family law cases.

fault divorce - A divorce based on the bad conduct (adultery, cruelty, drunkenness, etc.) of one spouse. About one percent of divorces are based on fault.

final hearing - The hearing that hears the evidence and rules on the divorce, the grounds for divorce, the property division, and other provisions.

final order - The order or decree that includes the divorce, the grounds for divorce, the property division, and other provisions.

financial affidavit - Required court form in divorce and parenting cases. Includes income and asset information.

first appearance - The first court event in a divorce or parenting case. The judge or master talks to a group of couples about the court process, and how to settle the issues without litigation. At this event, the court refers many cases to mediation.


grounds - The legal basis for a divorce. Most New Hampshire divorces are no-fault (irreconcilable differences), but adultery, cruelty, and other fault grounds are available.

guardian ad litem (GAL) - A person appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a child or children in a divorce or parenting case.

guidelines - The formula for calculating child support in New Hampshire. With certain exceptions, the resulting figure is the amount of support that must be paid.


hearing - A court event to make decisions about one or more of the divorce issues or a dispute about the procedure. The parties and lawyers are required to attend.

hearing notice - Document issued by clerk's office that shows date, time, location, and topic of court hearing or conference. May include the length of time allotted, instructions on what to bring to the hearing, or the procedures that will be used at the hearing.


interrogatories - A type of discovery consisting of formal written questions that must be answered under oath.

irreconcilable differences - A ground for divorce not based on the fault of either spouse (also called "no-fault").

irremediable breakdown - When one spouse refuses to continue the marriage and circumstances make it clear no change of heart is possible.


joint decision-making - Parents share the right to make major decisions for their child and both have access to school and medical records.

joint petition - A request for divorce filed jointly by both spouses. This can be done when they agree on the need for divorce, the reasons (grounds) for divorce, and the basic facts about the family.

judge - A judicial officer appointed by New Hampshire's governor and executive council. Judges hear various types of cases, including divorce cases.


law clerk - Law student or law school graduate who is not yet a lawyer. Assists a lawyer or judge.

lawyer - Person licensed by the New Hampshire Supreme Court to give legal advice and represent clients in court.

litigation - A method of resolving legal disputes by the master or judge making the decisions.


mandatory retirement - Payroll deduction for certain retirement plans, generally those for government employees; it is used in the calculation of child support.

marital property - Assets to be divided in a divorce or legal separation. In New Hampshire, all assets in joint names or in the name of either the husband or the wife are marital property.

master (also marital master) - A judicial officer appointed by the Judicial Branch to hear and decide divorce and other family law cases. Masters are full-time state employees.

mediation - A method of resolving disputes, in which a trained, neutral person helps the parties work out the solution for themselves.

mediated agreement - A divorce agreement, stipulation, or parenting plan worked out in mediation.

mediation-friendly lawyer - A lawyer who supports clients who choose this decision-making method.

memorandum of understanding - A mediated agreement.

motion - Court paper filed during the case seeking a specific order from the court.

motion hearing - A hearing on one or more motions. May be by offers of proof or by testimony.


need and ability to pay - The legal test used by the court when alimony is requested. It balances the financial need of the person seeking alimony against the other person's financial ability to pay alimony.

negotiation - A method of resolving legal disputes in which the parties' lawyers prepare and exchange a series of proposals. The proposals may be oral or written.

neutral evaluation - A court-sponsored program of alternate dispute resolution. The neutral (a volunteer lawyer) assists the parties and their lawyers in reaching an agreement, and may give an independent view of the likely outcome of a contested hearing. Some lawyers also offer such services as part of their private practice.

no-fault divorce - A divorce based on the breakdown of the marriage, without blame to either spouse. Approximately 99 percent of New Hampshire divorces are no-fault.


objection - A court paper filed to reply to a motion. Must be filed within ten days after the motion. This is also what a lawyer says during a trial, if the lawyer believes a question posed to a witness is improper.

offers of proof - A method of conducting temporary and some other hearings. Only the lawyers speak. Each lawyer summarizes the facts of the client's case and argues why the client's requests should be granted.

oath - A swearing to tell the truth.

order - Court paper issued by a clerk's office, containing either rulings on procedure or the court's decision on some or all issues. When the court approves an agreement of the parties, the agreement becomes a court order.

order of notice - Order issued at the beginning of a case, containing information on service, restraining order, the automatic restraining order on assets, and any ex parte orders.


parental rights and responsibilities - All rights and responsibilities parents have concerning their child.

parenting coordination - An ADR method of helping parents implement their parenting plan by improving communication and resolving disputes.

parenting plan - A written plan describing each parent's rights and responsibilities.

parenting schedule - The schedule of when the child is in the care of each parent.

partial agreement - A temporary or final agreement to some, but not all, of the pending issues. The judge or master decides the issues that are not agreed upon.

parties - The people officially a part of a divorce or other lawsuit; for example, the husband and wife in a divorce.

perjury - The crime of lying under oath.

petition - New Hampshire court papers filed to start a divorce, after-divorce, unwed, or other family law case.

petitioner - A person who files a petition. If a couple files a joint petition, the person whose name is listed first in the case name is the petitioner.

plan administrator - The person legally responsible for a retirement plan; this person deals with QDROs.

premarital or prenuptial agreement - Agreement prior to marriage or civil union as to what would happen if the couple divorces or if one spouse dies. The agreement usually concerns property; sometimes alimony is part of the agreement.

pretrial conference - A court conference to plan for the final contested hearing.

pro bono - A program of the New Hampshire Bar Association that provides free representation to clients who meet strict financial guidelines.

proposed order - Each side's request to the court containing the order he or she would like granted.

pro se - A person representing him or herself in a court case.

property - Assets, including real property (real estate), furniture and other house contents, vehicles, bank accounts, retirement accounts.


QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order) - An order to divide retirement benefits.

QMCSO (Qualified Medical Child Support Order) - An order concerning health insurance for a child.


referee - A judicial officer who decides cases when the only issue is child support.

return date - The deadline for filing an appearance.

residential responsibility - A parent's responsibility to provide a home for the child.

respondent - A person who receives court papers in a divorce or other family law case. If a couple files a joint petition, the person whose name is listed second in the case name is the respondent.

restraining order - An order not to do a specific thing; for example, not to take the child out of New England or not to enter the other spouse's home.

rules - The court procedures for a particular type of case. The Family Division has rules for divorce and other family cases.


second opinion - Review, by another lawyer, of your case and representation to date.

service - The procedure of the sheriff delivering a petition (or motion) to a respondent or other party. It is sufficient that the sheriff leaves the papers at the person's residence unless there are ex parte orders. By arrangement, service may be accepted at the sheriff's office.

settlement conference - A court conference to consider whether or not the case can be settled.

split parenting - Each of the parents has one or more of the children living with him or her most of the time.

standing order (SO) - Part of the uniform support order. The SO contains basic legal terms that apply to all cases, unless the uniform support order makes an exception.

status conference - A court conference to review how a case is progressing.

stipulation - An agreement filed to resolve some or all of the issues in a divorce or other case.

scheduling conference - A court conference, to schedule the steps required to complete the case. Occurs at the beginning of a case without minor children.

subpoena - A document requiring a person to attend a hearing or deposition; it may also require that he or she bring certain items.

Supreme Court - The highest court in the New Hampshire state court system. Hears appeals from lower state courts and administrative agencies.


temporary agreement or order - Sets out the terms that will be in place until the final agreement or order takes effect.

temporary hearing - A court hearing to resolve the shortterm issues in a case. It results in a temporary order that specifies each party's rights and responsibilities while the case is ongoing.

term - One provision in an agreement or order. Deals with a specific issue.

testimony - At a hearing or deposition, what a witness says under oath in response to direct and cross-examination.


uncontested divorce - All issues have been resolved between the parties or by mediation, or by negotiation. Whether a divorce is uncontested cannot be known until the end of the case.

uniform support order (USO) - A court form required if there is a minor child. It summarizes the order on child support, alimony (if any), health insurance, and uninsured health costs. If there is an agreement on these issues, the parties sign and file a USO.


waive - Give up a right.

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