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Common Family Law Terms

Posted by Shawn Murphy | Feb 16, 2023 | 0 Comments

In the world of family law, the vast array of terms and acronyms can sometimes be confusing overwhelming.  You might wonder what your attorney is referring to when they mention, "prepare for FCS CCRC," or maybe you have seen commentary on community property or heard the term Epstein Credits and wondered what it all means.  Below we have attempted to identify and define the most commonly used family law terms that you are likely to encounter throughout your dissolution or custody matter.  Of course, you should always consult with an experienced family law attorney to learn how these terms apply to your specific circumstances.


  1. Annulment: See Nullity of Marriage.
  2. Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders (“ATROs”) Now Known as the Standard Family Law Restraining Orders (“SFLRS”): The four, statutorily mandated temporary restraining orders that apply to (a) Petitioner when the Summons is issued and 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-110)]
  3. Best Interest of Child (“BIC”): An initial judicial determination that supports an order for custody, visitation, counseling services or the appointment of a 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 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, 3111(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 an initial, temporary order or a 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, whichever occurs first. [Family Code §§3900, 3901, 4050 et seq.]
  8. Community Property (“CP”): Except as otherwise provided by statute, all real and 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 the 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 5.260(a)(3)]
  11. Date of Separation (“DOS”): The date of separation for dissolution purposes occurs only when parties have come to a parting of the way with no present intent of resuming their marriage and their conduct evidences a complete and final break in the marital relationship. [Marriage of Manfer (2006) 144 CalApp4th 925, 930, 50 CalRptr3d 785, 789]
  12. Declaration of Domestic Partnership: A statutorily-prescribed declaration signed by 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) incurable insanity. These are the only two grounds upon which a dissolution may be granted in California. [Family Code §§2300, 2310]
  15. “DOM”: Date of marriage.
  16. Domestic Partners: Two adults who 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 has had a child where a presumption of paternity applies;

-- Child of a party, or a child who is the subject of a 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]

  1. 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 or personal property;

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

-- Prohibit ownership or possession of firearms. [Family Code §§6250, 6320, 6321, 6322, 6324, 6325, 6389]

  1. Dwelling Exclusion: See DV-TROs.
  2. Earnings Assignment Order for Support: An order directing the support obligor's employer to pay the obligee a portion of the support obligor's present and/or future earnings. [Family Code §§5208, 5230]
  3. Epstein Credits: Reimbursement to a party for paying community debts from separate property after the date of separation. [Family Code §2626; Marriage of Epstein (1979) 24 Cal3d 76, 83-84, 154 CalRptr 413, 417-418 (superseded by statute on another issue)]
  4. Evaluator: See Child Custody Evaluator.
  5. 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.]
  6. Family Centered Case Resolution: A tool to allow family courts to better assist the parties by providing judicial assistance and management during the marital dissolution action for the purpose of expediting 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]
  7. 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)]
  8. Family Law Facilitator (“FLF”): Local programs staffed by attorneys to assist unrepresented litigants in obtaining child support, spousal support and/or health insurance. [Family Code §10000 et seq.]
  9. Family Support: An order or stipulation that designates 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 is adjusted to reflect the effect of additional deductibility and maximize the tax benefits for both parents. [Family Code §§92, 4066] (Originally, the primary purpose for such awards was to obtain spousal support tax treatment under federal law. However, current law restricts this classification. See Internal Revenue Code §215.)
  10. Final Declaration of Disclosure (“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 Disclosure 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]

  1. Guideline Support: Statewide uniform child support guideline. [Family Code §4050 et seq.]
  2. In Pro Per: A self-represented litigant.
  3. Income and Expense Declaration (“I&E”): A form in 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 for support orders, need-based attorney fees and costs orders, and most other monetary orders. [California Rule of Court 5.260; see also Judicial Council form FL-150]
  4. “IRMO”: In re Marriage of [parties' names]. An abbreviated title used in marital dissolution actions.
  5. Kick-Out Order: See DV-TROs.
  6. Kid's Turn: A program offered in some counties to help children cope with the stress and problems associated with divorce.
  7. Legal Separation: A judgment determining custody, support and property rights that stops short of dissolving the marriage. A legal separation judgment is based on the same grounds as a dissolution of marriage judgment. [Family Code §§2010, 2310]
  8. Limited Scope Representation: 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]
  9. Mandatory Settlement Conference: Unless excused by the Court, a pretrial conference at which each party and his or her trial attorney must appear and be prepared to negotiate in good faith for a resolution of the issues or risk sanctions. [Orange County Superior Court Rule 707; Sacramento County Superior Court Rule 14.11(E); Santa Clara Superior Court Family Rule 6.F; Los Angeles Superior Court Rule 5.14]
  10. 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 San Francisco Uniform Rule 11.13]
  11. Marriage: A personal relationship arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman, to which the consent of the parties capable of making the contract is necessary. [Family Code §§300, 308.5]
  12. Mediation: A process in which a neutral facilitates confidential communications between disputing parties to assist them in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement. [Evidence Code §1115(a)]
  13. Minor Child: An individual under 18 years of age. [Family Code §6500]
  14. 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]
  15. Nonprobate Transfer: An instrument, other than a will, that transfers property on death (e.g., a joint tenancy deed or bank account with right of survivorship). [Family Code §2040(d)]
  16. 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 the marriage:

-- The Petitioner was not capable of giving his or her 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;

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

  1. Order to Show Cause (“OSC”) Referred to in Family Law as a Request For Order (“RFO”): A Court order requiring the person to whom it is directed to appear for 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 CalApp3d 479, 483, 114 CalRptr 356, 358; see also Judicial Council form FL-300]
  2. 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 (see paragraph 26 above).
  3. 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.
  4. Paternity: A judicial finding that a particular individual is the father of a child, including a finding that the man is a “presumed” father as that term is defined under the Uniform Parentage Act. [Family Code §7610 et seq.]
  5. Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure (“PDOD”): 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 his or her completed Income and Expense Declaration. [Family Code §2104(c); see also Judicial Council Form FL-140]
  6. 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 to 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)]
  7. 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 had 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]

  1. 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 partnerships, and for which a Certificate of Registered Domestic Partnership has been issued. [Family Code §298.5]
  2. Reservation of Jurisdiction: When the Court retains jurisdiction over a particular issue so it can be decided at a later date. [See, e.g., Family Code §§2337, 2550]
  3. 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. [Family Code §2112; see also Judicial Council Form FL-142]
  4. Separate Property (“SP”): The separate property of a married person includes all of the following:

-- Property owned by the person before marriage;

-- Property acquired by the person after marriage by gift, bequest, devise or descent;

-- Rents, issues and profits of the property described above. [Family Code §770]

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

-- Based in whole or in part on statements 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; Penal Code §11165.1]

  1. 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 of time that the Court determines 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)]
  1. 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)]
  2. Stipulated Judgment: 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]
  3. 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)]
  4. 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]
  5. Wage Assignment: See Earnings Assignment Order.
  6. 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 CalApp3d 366, 374, 217 CalRptr 301, 306]

If you have any specific questions about how these terms might apply to your circumstances, At Murphy Family Law, Shawn can guide you through the process. Contact us at (530) 433-0801 or complete our online form to schedule a confidential consultation today.

About the Author

Shawn Murphy

Attorney - Certified Family Law Specialist


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