Physical custody addresses the period of time each party will have the minor child in his or her physical custody. A court order for joint physical custody means both parties have significant periods of physical custody so that the child has frequent and continuing contact with both parties. Joint physical custody does not necessarily mean that the parties have a 50/50 custody arrangement. A court order for sole physical custody means the child resides with and is under the supervision of one party, subject to the power of the court to order visitation rights to the other party.
Guideline child support is the amount of child support which is presumed to be correct. The court uses a software program called Dissomaster to determine the guideline amount of child support. Dissomaster uses many factors in its calculations including, but not limited to, the parties’ income, the amount of time each party spends with the minor child, etc. The Dissomaster program may also be used to calculate temporary spousal support but not ‘long-term’ spousal support.
Spousal support (aka alimony) is a series of payments made by one spouse to the other spouse. A court may order one party to pay the other party spousal support on a temporary (aka “pendent lite”) basis and/or permanent basis.
A pendent lite order is a temporary order issued by the court. These orders can be issued at any time after the Petition is filed and before the Final Judgment is entered. In general, these orders are designed to maintain the ‘status quo’ of the parties until a final judgment on all issues can be ordered with respect to issues of property division, child custody, visitation, child support, and spousal support.
‘Service’ or ‘service of process’ is the procedure in which a party is provided with copies of certain documents filed with the court or notice of hearings or orders requested. Service can be done personally on the other party or, in some situations, by mail, publication, or posting. For most court documents, service must be done by a person over the age of 18 who is not a party to the action. The person serving the documents completes a Proof of Service which identifies what documents were served, when they were served, and who served them. The Proof of Service is then filed with the court.
Six months and one day is the earliest possible time the marital status of the parties can be terminated. This time period begins when the Respondent is served with the Summons and Petition or when the Respondent appears before the court, whichever occurs first. The marital status will not terminate automatically (a party must first serve a copy of his/her financial disclosure documents on the other party and file the final paperwork with the court before the marital status can be terminated). Sometimes six months is not enough time for parties to resolve all of the issues in their case. In such situations, parties can file for a ‘status only’ judgment which allows the marital status to terminate before the other issues in the case are resolved.
A mandatory settlement conference (“MSC”) is a conference set by the court before a trial. The parties are required to appear in person and make an effort to settle their case by agreement. If no settlement is reached, a trial will be scheduled.
When a child’s parents are unable or unwilling to properly care for a child, another adult may seek to become a child’s legal guardian which requires appointment by the court. The guardian is required to assume important duties and obligations. For example, the guardian:
A guardian has the full legal and physical custody of the child and is responsible for all decisions related to the child. The child’s parents can no longer make decisions for the child while there is a guardianship. The parents’ rights are suspended – not terminated – as long as a guardian is appointed for a minor. Even when the child has a guardian, the parents are still obligated to financially support the child. The guardian may take action to obtain child support.
A guardianship of the person automatically ends when the child reaches the age of 18, is adopted, marries, is emancipated by court order, enters into active military duty, or dies. If none of these events has occurred, the child, a parent, or the guardian may petition the court to terminate the guardianship. However, it must be shown that the guardianship is no longer necessary or that termination of the guardianship is in the child’s best interest.