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Get to know these common family law terms

You might go through your entire life without ever needing the services a family law attorney provides. On the other hand, you may find yourself in a situation in which such a lawyer is invaluable. Examples of these situations include getting a divorce, adopting a child or negotiating child custody and child support.

If you ever do need to consult with an attorney or appear in family court, you may hear many terms with which you are not familiar. We would like to help you learn about some of these terms so that you always understand what is happening with your case. While this list isn't exhaustive, it will help you define some of the most common terms you might hear in New York family law courts:

  • Modification: The process of changing a previous court order
  • Judgment: A decision the judge or the court makes
  • Emancipation: When a minor child seeks to separate from his or her parents legally
  • Change in circumstance: A significant change in one or both parents' financial, emotional or physical circumstances
  • Mediation: An out-of-court form of alternative dispute resolution used in divorce and other family matters
  • Paternity: Legally fathering a child
  • Guardianship: A person assigned to watch over and protect another person
  • Arrear: Overdue or unpaid debt such as child support
  • Petitioner: The person who initiates a family law case
  • Respondent: The person who responds to a petitioner's case

It is likely that you will hear other terminology if you are seeking assistance from a family court. We want you to know that it is always acceptable and even encouraged to ask questions about any terminology that you do not understand. Your grasp of the law and its terms gives you the greatest chance of resolving your issues to your satisfaction.

Please continue to review our web pages to learn more about family law in the state of New York. We also invite you to contact our lawyers for personalized guidance.

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