Get a Grip on Legal Jargon: Divorce Terms Explained

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When facing divorce, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the legal jargon used throughout the process. Add this frustration to the mounting stress and heightened emotion, and you may be left making poor decisions. While our firm is here to help guide you through the process and answer any questions you have, this guide can help clarify some of the legal jargon you may encounter.

Types of Divorce

Joint Petition for Divorce

There is where the divorcing couple negotiates a resolution to all issues in advance and files jointly requesting that the Court approve their Agreement for dissolution of the marital relationship.

Irretrievable Breakdown of the Marriage

When one or both spouses feels that the marital relationship is over and there is no hope of reconciliation. This cause for divorce stipulates that neither party is at fault and that both spouses agree that their marriage is broken.

No-Fault Divorce vs. Fault

In Massachusetts, a spouse can seek a “no-fault” divorce or a “fault” divorce. No fault is when the marital relationship has irretrievably broken down and neither party is deemed to be at fault. Fault is where there are legal grounds to asset blame for the end of the marital relationship.

A no-fault divorce is filed when there is an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This type of divorce is generally a more straightforward process. Most divorces in Massachusetts are filed as “no fault” divorces.

A fault divorce, on the other hand, can be filed when one party feels the other is to blame for the breakdown of the marriage. Massachusetts law recognizes several “grounds” (reasons) for an at-fault divorce, such as adultery, desertion (abandonment for a particular length of time without support), cruel and abusive treatment, incarceration of a spouse for five or more years, gross and confirmed habits of intoxication or impotency.

Common Forms Used in Divorce Proceedings

Complaint for Divorce

The first form filed to begin a civil case through the court is called a complaint. This form indicates the reason for starting a claim, and the person filing is referred to as the plaintiff. In a divorce action, this form is used when there is no agreement entered into in advance of filing.

Joint Petition for Divorce

This is the form used when the Parties have an Agreement in advance of filing.


Following the filing of an individual divorce complaint, the other spouse becomes the defendant. The defendant-spouse can file a response to the divorce complaint, which is called an answer. This document is used to tell the court the defendant-spouses wishes such as alimony or child support.


This is where the Defendant in a divorce complaint files for their own requested relief separate and apart from the relief requested by the Plaintiff in the underlying divorce action..

Separation Agreement

The written document stating what will happen following the divorce is called a separation agreement. This document will cover property division, health and life insurance, child custody and child support, and alimony judgments.


Discovery refers to the process of gathering and disclosing evidence for a case. Depositions and the request for documentation are standard tools used to collect evidence for a case. The Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure govern the discovery process. All divorce actions have certain mandatory discovery requirements.


A Motion is a request for the Court to make rulings on issues that need resolution during the pendency of the divorce action. They can relate to custody, parenting plans, child support, alimony, health insurance, discovery issues or anything that needs resolution on a temporary basis.

Temporary Order

A spouse may need the court to provide decisions regarding important matters such as child support or custody while the case goes through the legal process. These decisions are granted temporarily until the court resolves the case.


A judgment is the judge’s final decision in the case. The judgment is often provided as a written document regarding the divorce completion and final outcomes on matters such as child custody, alimony, etc.

While filing for divorce can be a difficult decision, understanding the process shouldn’t be. We’re here to represent your interests and walk you through the divorce process. Contact our office today to get your divorce questions answered and begin the process.

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