Diane St. Yves - Board Certified - Family Law
Texas Board of Legal Specialization
Call (281) 501-1558


Leagal terms can often be confusing to anyone who does not make a career in court. We have compiled a glossary of terms to help you understand terms the way that they are used un the court system. If you have any questions as to what these terms mean in your family law case, feel free to contact the Law Office of Diane St. Yves with questions at 281-501-1558.

Glossary of Family Law Terms:

• Answer – This document is the answer of the responding spouse to the Petition for Divorce. If this pleading is not filed, the spouse that filed the Petition can obtain a default judgment against the non-responding spouse and can obtain a divorce on any terms the petitioning spouse requests

• Counter Petition – This document is the same as a Petition for Divorce but is the responding spouse’s counter request for a divorce, what that party believes the issues to be and what that party wants the court to do.

• Contested divorce – Contested divorces mean that one of several issues are required to be heard by a judge at trial level—this is more expensive, and the parties will have to pay for a lawyer’s time and preparation. In such a divorce, the spouses are not able to agree on issues for instance child custody and division of marital assets and the judge controls the outcome of the case.

• Decree of Divorce – This is the document that finally disposes of all the issues in the divorce. It divides property and, if there are children, it includes the parenting plan.

• Discovery – This is the process for making the other spouse disclose documents and information with regard to the issues in the divorce. Sometimes one party has more access to this information than the other. This process lets both parties have equal access to the information necessary to properly divide assets and debt and determine issues related to the children.

• Divorce – is the termination of a marriage or marital union, the canceling and/or reorganizing of the legal duties and responsibilities of marriage, thus dissolving the bonds of matrimony between a married couple under Texas Law.

• Parenting Plan – This is included in the Decree of Divorce and lists the agreements and/or court orders that provide for the possession of the children, visitation with the children, rights and duties with regard to the children for each parent, and the support of the children. It can contain provisions for passport and international travel, and even activities or counseling for the children.

• Expanded Standard Possession Order – Texas law allows the noncustodial parent to request a different beginning and ending pickup time for the Standard Possession Order. The noncustodial parent can choose to pick up the child when the child’s school is regularly dismissed, and to end when the child’s school resumes. This replaces the 6:00 p.m. start and end times. The noncustodial parent must make this choice before the order is finalized. Tell the judge your choice before the judge signs the possession order. The choice (called an election) must be made in a written document filed with the court, or spoken aloud by the noncustodial parent to the judge in open court.

• Petition for Divorce – The document that starts the divorce proceedings with the court. All divorces start with a petition. There is no such thing as an online divorce. The Petition tells the court who the parties are, what the issues are and what the party wants the court to do.

• Standard Possession Order (SPO) – sets the schedule for each parent’s time with the child. Terms of the basic SPO allow the noncustodial parent to have possession of the child a couple of hours every Thursday night; on the first, third and fifth weekends of each month; on alternating holidays, and at least one month in the summer. The SPO tells the parents where the exchanges of the child will take place, where the child will spend the holidays, and has special rules for parents who live more than 100 miles apart. The court does not have to follow the SPO if a child is under three years old or if the SPO is not in the best interest of the child. NOTE: Parents with an SPO can agree to any schedule that works for both of them and go outside the terms of the order if the parties have a mutual agreement.

• Temporary Orders – These are court orders that act like a band-aid to help while the case is pending. They can include things like who drives what car, who lives in the marital residence, who pays what bills, with whom the children live, when the children visit with the other parent, how much child support is paid, whether there is spousal support paid, etc. On temporary orders, the courts look to maintain the status quo.

• Uncontested divorce – Is when the two parties are able to come to an agreement (either with or without lawyers/mediators/collaborative counsel) about the property, children, and support issues. When the parties can agree and present the court with a fair and equitable agreement, approval of the divorce is almost guaranteed.