Your marriage has ended and you have no recourse other than to file for a divorce. If you’ve never been involved in a divorce before, you’re going to encounter a lot of language that’s foreign to you. Here’s an overview of some of the common terms that are used in a divorce proceeding.
- Complaint—The divorce complaint is the official document that is filed with the court. The complaint identifies the plaintiff (the person filing the document) and the defendant (the person from whom the divorce is sought. The complaint asks the court to legally terminate the marriage, stating specific grounds. In most instances, in what is known as a “no-fault” divorce, the filing party does not attribute blame to the defendant, but simply tells the court that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” The complaint also identifies what the plaintiff wants with respect to custody and visitation, support and the division of marital debts and assets.
- Equitable distribution—As a part of the divorce proceeding, the parties must divide the debts and assets acquired during the marriage, a process also referred to as a property settlement. There are generally two different ways a state may do that—through community property laws or through equitable distribution. Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state. That means that, when it comes time to divide property and allocate debts, the court will consider a number of factors, such as age and health of the parties, length of the marriage, and potential earning capacity, in order to determine what’s equitable (or fair). The ultimate distribution need not be equal, only fair.