Plain Language of Legal Terms Dictionary

Below is our “plain language of legal terms” dictionary so you have a better understanding of legal terminology that often appears in a family law case in Illinois. Remember, family law varies (often widely) in the U.S. Therefore, the information below is based upon our experience in the Illinois courts.

AlimonyMeans the same thing as Maintenance in Illinois
Billable HourIn addition to a retainer, most lawyers charge clients using the billable hour method. They break down what they do for the client into (usually) .1 or .2 (out of 1.0 representing an hour) increments. So clients pay a retainer to get the attorney to agree to represent them, and then they are billed by the attorney who uses a .1, .2, etc. increment showing what work they have.
Child SupportMoney sent by the non-custodial parent to the parent who has custody (the parent who the child lives with the most). IL has a child support calculator that can calculate this amount. See our Resources page for the link. Courts normally prefer child support to be based upon this statutory calculation. Do not try to deviate downwards because in the Court's view, this is your child's money, not yours.
Flat FeeOne dollar amount that equals how much a client would pay for their entire legal representation. For the total case. This is a rare business practice in the legal world.
efilingIn Illinois, all court documents must now be efiled. Efiling a document does not mean a judge will read it. Efiling also does not mean you can retrieve the document after you file it. This depends upon the county as they are different and have different ways to efile. Efiling can be horribly frustrating because the technology used may be buggy and the language/forms/directions can be in legalese.
HearingA time when both parties cannot agree on something so they appear before the Judge. This is not the same thing as a Trial.
Marital Settlement AgreementThis is a document that lists, in detail, all of the financial issues. It includes things such as child support, alimony, how marital property and real property are going to be divided when the couple gets divorced. In short, it's all about money.
No-fault stateIn Illinois, it does not matter why you are getting divorced. So if there is a cheating spouse, that won't affect things like who pays child support or how much maintenance is possible. It just does not matter in Illinois.
Parenting timeSame thing is visitation.
Petition for Dissolution of MarriageThe legal document that a Petitioner files to start a divorce action in court.
PetitionerMeans the same thing as the Plaintiff. This is usually the person who files for divorce or custody. The person who starts the legal action.
Pre-trialWhen the attorneys meet with the judge off-the-record. It's a good way to get an idea of what the judge thinks of the case. This is normally not an option if you are a pro-se litigant
Pro perSame thing as pro se. In Illinois we normally say "pro se".
Pro se litigantSomeone who has filed their appearance to represent themselves in a legal case without an attorney
Prove-UpA prove-up is the last appearance you have in front of the judge before you get divorced. You will have had everything negotiated by this date and will go through things in your Marital Settlement Agreement in front of the Judge.
QDROA Qualified Domestic Relations Order. Pronounced "quad-roe". These are separate orders that a judge signs so that the marital portion of a pension or 401K gets divided between the divorcing parties.
RetainerYes, it is something you wear after braces. But in the legal world, this is a larger amount of money you pay a firm to get them to agree to represent you. Note, this is NOT a flat fee agreement.
RespondentSame thing as defendant. The person who is on the other side of the v.
StatusIn Illinois, family law cases most frequently have statuses or case management conferences. This is where the Judge wants to know what is happening with your case. It is not the same thing as a Hearing.
Uncontested Prove-UpWhen the divorcing parties are in total agreement on all of the issues, and then go before the judge to legalized the divorce
TrialThese are rare in Illinois family law cases. They are costly and at the end of many months of statuses, possibly hearings, and a pre-trial meeting with the Judge. Most cases do not go to trial in IL family law lawsuits. A trial will be in front of a judge only (no jury trials).

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