Glossary of California Family Law Terms

 Below is a glossary of common family law terms that you may find useful. You may hear many of these terms thoughout your divorce proceedings:

1.    Annulment: See Nullity of Marriage.

2.    Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders (ATROS): The four, statutorily-mandated temporary restraining orders that apply to (a) Petitioner when the Summons is issued, and the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed; and (b) Respondent once he or she is served with the Summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. [Family Code §§233, 2040(a); see also back of Summons (Judicial Council form FL-100)]

3.    Best Interest of Child (BIC): An initial judicial determination that supports an order for custody, visitation, counseling services, or the appointment of custody evaluator and/or minor’s counsel.  In making this determination, the Court, among other factors, considers the health, safety, and welfare of the child and any history of abuse by one parent or any other individual seeking custody. [Family Code §§3011, 3020 et seq.]

4.    Bifurcation: A separate trial on specific issues such as marital status, custody, visitation, support, property valuation, and date of separation. [California Rule of Court 5.390]

5.    Child Custody Evaluation:  An expert investigation into and an analysis of the health, safety, welfare, and best interests of the parties’ child(ren) when custody and/or visitation are in dispute. [California Rule of Court 5.220(c)(3)]

6.    Child Custody Evaluator:  An expert appointed to conduct a child custody evaluation in any contested proceeding involving custody or visitation rights. [Family Code §§3110, 311(a); California Rule of Court 5.220(c)(1)

7.    Child Support (CS): Parents have an equal responsibility to support their minor child(ren) in the manner suitable to the child(ren)’s circumstances.  In determining the appropriate amount of child support, whether by way of initial, temporary order, or permanent order, Courts adhere to the statewide uniform child support guidelines.  A parent’s duty to support continues as to an unmarried child, who has attained the age of 18 years, is a full-time high school student, and who is not self-supporting, until the time the child completes the 12th grade or attains the age of 19 years old, whichever comes first. [Family Code §§3300, 3901, 4050 et seq.]

8.    Community Property (CP): Except as otherwise guided by statute, all real or personal property acquired by a married person during marriage while he or she is domiciled in California. [Family Code §760]

9.    Court: An alternative title for a judicial officer (judge or commissioner) presiding over a legal action.  When referring to this individual as opposed to the building, Court is spelled with a capital “C.”

10. “Current” Income and Expense Declaration: An Income and Expense Declaration completed within the previous three months provided no facts have changed. [California Rule of Court 5.230(a)(3)]

11.  Date of Separation (DOS): Effective 1/1/2017, the date of separation means the dates a “complete and final break in the marital relationship as occurred,” as evidence by (i) a spouse having  “expressed to the other spouse the intent to end the marriage” and (ii) conduct that is consistent with the intent to end the marriage.” [Family Code §70(a)]

12.  Declaration of Domestic Partnership: A statutorily-prescribed declaration signed by two persons who want to become domestic partners. [Family Code §298(c)]

13.  Department of Child Support Services (DCSS): The local agency of this department takes action to establish, modify, and enforce child support, and when appropriate, to enforce spousal support orders i.e., when a child is receiving public assistance. [Family Code §§17000(e), 17400]

14.  Dissolution of Marriage: A judgment dissolving marriage and restoring the parties to single status based on (a) irreconcilable differences that have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage; or (b) permanent legal incapacity to make decisions.  These are the only two grounds in which a dissolution may be granted in California. [Family Code §§2300, 2310]

15.  Date of Marriage (DOM)

16.  Domestic Partners: Two adults that have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring. [Family Code §297(a)]

17.  Domestic Partnership: The partnership that is established when two adults file a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the Secretary of State and satisfy various statutory requirements (see also Registered Domestic Partnership). [Family Code §297(b)]

18.  Domestic Violence: Abuse perpetrated against the following persons:

·      Spouse or former spouse;

·      Cohabitant or former cohabitant;

·      Person with whom the perpetrator is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship;

·      Person with whom the perpetrator is having or has had a child where a presumption of paternity applies;

·      Child of a party; or a child who is subject to paternity action where the male parent is presumed to be the father of the child to be protected; and

·      Any other person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree.  [Family Code §6211]

19.  Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Orders (DV-TROs): Included within this framework are ex parte orders to:

·      Protect against an immediate and present danger of domestic violence or abduction;

·      Prohibit specific personal conduct;

·      Exclude the perpetrator from the family dwelling (so-called “kick-out” orders);

·      Determine the temporary use and possession of real and personal property;

·      Restrain acts related to community and/or separate property; and

·      Prohibit ownership or possession of firearms and ammunition. [Family Code §§6250, 6230, 6321, 6322, 6325, 6389]

20.  Dwelling Exclusions: See DV-TROs.

21.  Earnings Assignment Order for Support: AN order directing the support obligor’s employer to pay the oblige a portion of the support obligor’s present and/or future earnings. [Family Code §§5208, 5230]

22.  Epstein Credit: Reimbursement to a party for paying community debts from separate property after the date of separation. [Family Code §2626; Marriage of Epstein (1979) 24 Cal.3d 76, 83-84, 154 Cal.Rptr. 413, 417-418 (superseded by statute on another issue)]

23.  Evaluator: See Child Custody Evaluator.

24.  Ex Parte Proceeding: A hearing at the instance and for the benefit of one party only, usually for temporary or emergency relief, and without notice to or argument by any person adversely interested.  As a practical matter, shortened notice to the opposing party (a day in advance of the proceeding) is required for all, but the most urgent matters—i.e., where providing notice might cause irreparable harm. [Family Code §240 et. Seq.]

25. Family Centered Case Resolution: A tool that allows family courts to better assist parties by providing judicial assistance and management during the marital dissolution action for the purpose of expediting the processing of the case, reducing litigation expense, and focusing on early resolution by settlement.  The court may order a family centered case resolution plan. [Family Code §§2450, 2451]

26.  Family Court Services (FCS): Court-sponsored services that include investigating a case, mediating child custody and visitation disputes, and recommending custody plans to the Court. [Family Code §3160; California Rule of Court 5.215(c)(5)]

27.  Family Law Facilitator (FLF):  Local programs staffed by attorneys to assist unrepresented litigants with, among other things, obtaining child support and/or health insurance. [Family Code §10000 et seq.]

28.  Family Support: An order or stipulation that designated an unallocated total sum for support of a spouse and child(ren) without specifically labeling all or any portion as “spousal support” or “child support.”  The amount of support ordered pursuant to an instrument executed before 1/1/19 is adjusted to reflect the effect of additional deductibility to maximize tax benefits for both parents. [Pub.L. 115-97; Family Code §§92, 4066]

29.  Final Declaration of Disclosures (FDOD): A comprehensive disclosure by each party of all material facts and information regarding the:

·      Characterization of all assets and liabilities;

·      Valuation of all assets contended to be community or in which it is contended the community has an interest;

·      Amounts of obligations contended to be community or for which it is contended the community has liability;

·      Earnings, accumulations, and expenses of each party as set forth in an accompanying (or currently served_ Income and Expense Declaration.


Final Declarations of Disclosures also generally must contain accurate and complete written disclosures of any post-separation income-producing opportunities. [Family Code §2105; see also Judicial Council form FL-140]

30.  Guideline Support: Statewide uniformed child support guideline. [Family Code §4050 et. Seq.]

31.  In Pro Per: A self-represented litigant.

32.  Income and Expense Declaration (I&E): A form which the parties, under penalty of perjury, set forth their respective finances and obligations (income and expenses). “Current” Income and Expense Declarations must accompany all requests do support orders, need-based attorney fees and cost orders, and most other monetary orders. [California Rule of Court 5.260; see also Judicial Council form FL-150]

33.  IRMO: In re Marriage of [parties’ names]. An abbreviated title used in marital dissolution actions.

34.  Kick-Our Order: See DV-TROs.

35.  Kid’s Turn: A program offered in some counties to help children cope with the stress and problems associated with divorce.

36.  Legal Separation: A judgment determining custody, support, and property rights that stops short of dissolving a marriage.  A legal separation judgment is based on the same grounds as a dissolution of marriage judgment. [Family Code §§2010; 2310]

37.  Limited Scope Separation: When an attorney represents a party in a family law case on limited issues or appears only at specific hearings.  This is sometimes referred to as “unbundling” of legal services. [California Rule of Court 5.425]

38. Mandatory Settlement Conference: Unless excluded by the Court, a pretrial conference at which all parties and trial counsel must appear and be prepared to negotiate in good faith for a resolution of the issues or risk sanctions. [Los Angeles Superior Court Rule 5.14; Orange County Superior Court Rule 707; Sacramento County Superior Court Rule5.25; Santa Clara Superior Court Rule6.F]

39.  Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA): A written contract entered into voluntarily by divorcing parties that resolves their marital issues.  In the absence of a trial, this contract may be submitted to the Court along with the proposed Judgment for incorporation/merger into the Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. [See Orange County Superior Court Rule 708.E; Marriage of Cream (1993) 13 Cal.App.4th 81, 91, 16 Cal.Rptr.2d 575, 581]

40.  Marriage: A personal relation arising out of a civil contract between two persons, to which the consent of the parties capable of making the contract is necessary.  Consent alone, however, does not constitute marriage.   Consent must be followed by the issuance of a license and solemnization as statutory prescribed. [Family Code §300]

41. Mediation: A process in which a neutral person (or persons)facilitates communications between disputing parties to assist them in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement. [Evidence Code §1115(a)]

42.  Minor Child: An individual under 18 years of age. [Family Code §6500]


43.  Non-Guideline Child Support Findings: Required findings by the Court when the amount of child support differs from the statewide uniform guideline formula. [Family Code §4056]

44.  Non-probate Transfer: An instrument, other than a will, that transfers property on death (e.g., a revocable trust, revocable transfer on death deed, joint tenancy deed, or bank account with right of survivorship). [Family Code §2040(d)]

45. Nullity of Marriage: Subject to certain exceptions, a marriage is voidable and may be adjudged a nullity if any of the following conditions existed at the time of marriage:


·      The Petitioner was not capable of giving their consent;

·      Either spouse was currently married to someone else who was absent and not known to be living by the Petitioner for the preceding five years, or was generally reputed or believed to be dead;

·      Either party was of unsound mind;

·      The consent of either party was obtained by fraud or force;

·      Either party was physically incapable of entering into the marriage, and that incapacity continues to be incurable. [Family Code §2210]

46.  Order to Show Cause (OSC): A Court order requiring the person to whom it is directed to appear to a hearing at a particular time and place to “show cause why” the relief sought by the applicant should not be granted. [Reifler v. Superior Court (Reifler) (1974) 39 Cal.App.3d 479, 483, 114 Cal.Rptr. 256, 358]

47.  Orientation: A mandatory information session that the parties to a dissolution or legal separation action must participate in before any hearing on a disputed custody or visitation issue can take place.  Orientations normally are conducted by local Family Court Services.

48.  Parenting Coordinator: A term commonly used to describe a special master who is appointed by the Court to decide basic custody-related issues, exclusive of the actual status of legal and/or physical custody.

49. Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure: Unless Final Declarations of Disclosure have been waived, a PDOD normally consists of a general inventory of each party’s assets and liabilities, accompanied by their completed Income and Expense Declaration. [Family Code §2104(c); see also Judicial Council Form FL-140]

50.  Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO): A QDRO divides interests in an employee benefit plan (e.g., a retirement, pension, annuity, or stock option plan).  Briefly, a QDRO may relate to the payment of child or spousal support or marital property rights, and it creates or recognizes the right of an employee’s former spouse to receive all or a portion of the benefits otherwise payable to the employee under the plan.  A QDRO must satisfy federal statutory requirements (ERISA), be served on the plan, and be approved or “qualified” as a QDRO by the plan administrator. [Family Code §80; 29 USC §1056(d); Internal Revenue Code §414(p)]

51.  Quasi-Community Property: Real or personal property, wherever situated, that was acquired:

·      By either spouse, while domiciled outside California that would have been community property if the acquiring spouse has been domiciled in California at the time of acquisition;

·      In exchange for real or personal property, wherever situated, that would have been community property if the acquiring spouse was domiciled in California at the time of acquisition. [Family Code §125]

52.  Registered Domestic Partnership: A domestic partnership for which a Declaration of Domestic Partnership has been filed with the Secretary of State and is included in the registry of domestic partnership, and for which a Certificate of Registered Domestic Partnership has been issued. [Family Code §298.5]

53.  Request for Order (RFO): A motion in family law proceedings is called a “Request for Order” (RFO).  Despite its unique terminology, the family law RFO has the same meaning as the terms “motion” or “notice of motion” when they are used in the Code of Civil Procedure. [California Rules of Court 5.12(a), 5.62(a), 5.63(a), 5.92(a)(1)(A)]

54.  Reservation of Jurisdiction: When the Court retains jurisdiction over a particular issue so that it can be decided at a later date. [See, e.g., Family Code §§2337, 2550]

55.   Schedule of Assets and Debts: A Judicial Council form containing 16 categories of typical assets and 6 categories of typical debts.  A completed Schedule of Assets and Debts must be attached to each party’s Declaration of Disclosure. [See Judicial Council Form FL-142]

56.  Separate Property (SP): The separate property of a married person includes all of the following:

·      Property owned by a person before marriage;

·      Property acquired by a person after marriage by gift, bequest, devise, or descent;

·      Rents, issues, and profits of property described above. [Family Code §7710]


57.  Serious Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse: An allegation of child sexual abuse that is:

·      Based in whole or in part on a statement made by the child to law enforcement, a child welfare services agency investigator, any person required by statute to report suspected child abuse or any other court-appointed person; or

·      Supported by substantial independent corroboration as statutorily prescribed.  [Family Code §3118(a); Penal Code §11165.1]

58.  Spousal/Partner Support: During the pendency of a dissolution or legal separation proceeding, the Court may order one party to pay any amount that is necessary for the other party’s support consistent with certain statutory requirements.  In a judgment of dissolution or legal separation, the Court may order a party to pay for the support of the other party a specified amount for a period a time that the Court determined is just and reasonable based on the standard of living established during the marriage or partnership and taking into consideration specific circumstances provided by statute. [Family Code §§3600, 4330(a)]

59.  Stalking: The willful, malicious, and repeated following, or willful and malicious harassing, of another person, coupled with a credible threat made with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her immediate family. [Penal Code §646.9(a)]

60.  Stipulated Judgement:  Written provisions entered into voluntarily by parties that resolve their marital issues.  In the absence of a trial, this document may be incorporated into and become the Court’s Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage.  It must dispose of all matters subject to the Court’s jurisdiction for which a judgment is sought or expressly reserve jurisdiction over any matter not proposed for disposition at that time.  [California Rule of Court 5.411]

61.  Support Person: An individual who may accompany a party who is safeguarded by a protective order to family court for the purpose of providing moral and emotional support during any mediation orientation or mediation sessions, including separate mediation sessions. [California Rule of Court 5.215(h)]

62.  Void Marriage: This is a marriage that (a) was never valid because it was incestuous, bigamous, or polygamous, and (b) can be declared void in a nullity proceeding. [Family Code §§2200, 2201, 2250]

63.  Wage Assignment: See Earning Assignment Order for Support.

64.  Watts Charges: Reimbursement to the community for one party’s exclusive use of a community residence or business after separation.  [Marriage of Watts (1985) 171 Cal.App.3d 366, 374, 217 Cal.Rptr. 301, 306]