Minnesota Divorce and Family Law Terms

*Note: All family law terms assume Minnesota Situations.

Family Law Terms A-E


Alimony (AKA Spousal Maintenance)

The payment, usually monthly, that one ex-spouse pays to the other ex-spouse after a divorce or legal separation.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

A broad term for the methods, other than going to trial, that the parties can use to settle an issue. The most common examples of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in family law cases are mediation and early neutral evaluation (ENE). In Minnesota, most judges expect the parties to try at least one method of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) before proceeding to request a trial. 


The ending of a marriage due to some defect that existed at the time of the marriage. Therefore, due to this “defect” the court can decide that the couple was never married in the first place. There are only a few circumstances in which the court can annul a marriage. For example, if one of the parties in the marriage was under 18 years old, or if the parties in the marriage are blood-related relatives, you could ask the court for an annulment. Although an annulment is different from a divorce, the steps involved are very similar. 


Formally requesting a higher court to review a decision that was made by a lower court. In Minnesota, this would most typically be asking the Minnesota Court of Appeals to review a decision made by the district court.


Child Custody Evalution – a formal process by which a 3rd party is hired to evaluate, provide a report, and if necessary testify regarding what would be in the best-interests of the child(ren) in any family law case in which custody was at issue. Typically courts find these reports very compelling.

Child Custody, Physical – a legal label which typically refers to where the child lives.  Is not the same thing as parenting time.

Child Custody, Legal – a legal label which refers to who makes major decisions regarding the child’s religion, education, and medical care.

Child Custody, Modification – the process of formally and legally changing at least one of the legal labels from a previous custody determination.  The default standard for this is very high, typically called the “endangerment” standard.

Child Support, Basic – child support designated for meeting the basic needs of the child, like food, clothing, and shelter.

Child Support, Child Care – child support designated for child care expenses paid by either or both parents

Child Support, Medical – child support designated for medical expenses paid by either or both parents.  This includes the cost of medical insurance and out of pocket expenses.

Child Support, Modification – the process of formally and legally changing the amount of child support owed from one parent to another.


Divorce (Dissolution) – the legal process to end a valid marriage. Not the same as a legal separation.


Early Neutral Evaluation (Financial) – an ADR process that involves one neutral, experienced in financial and family issues, who helps promote settlement and provides an evaluation on how he or she thinks financial issues in a divorce should go. The parties are not bound by any of these recommendations.

Early Neutral Evaluation (Social) – an ADR process that usually involves two neutrals, one male and one female, experienced in custody and family issues who help promote settlement and provides an evaluation on how they think custody and parenting time issues in a custody matter should go. The parties are not bound by any of these recommendations.

Family Law Terms F-L


Grandparent Visitation – refers to court-ordered visitation for a grandparent of a child.

Guardian Ad Litem – a court-assigned party who advocates for the best interests of the children involved in a case.


ICMC – short for “Initial Case Management Conference”.

Family Law Terms M-P


Mediation – an ADR process that involves one neutral who tries to help the parties reach a settlement and in some cases can provide an opinion about how the case should go.   The parties are not bound by any recommendation a mediator may make.

Motion – a formal request to the court that the judge do something you want.  There are formal rules which govern procedures for properly making a motion.


Order For Protection (OFP) – an family court order that, among other things, restrains a party from interacting with or being close to another party.


Parenting Consultant – a third party agreed upon by the parties and approved by a judge to oversee future custody and parenting time disputes between a couple.  Their decisions, if within the power a judge has given them, are binding just as judge’s would be.

Parenting Time – the amount of time one parent spends with a child.  Replaced the older term “visitation”.  Most typically measured in overnights.

Parenting Time Expeditor – a third party that may be agreed upon or may be assigned by the court to oversee future parenting time disputes between a couple.  The PTE’s authority is limited only to parenting time issues, however is binding on those issues.

Paternity – the process of establishing a legal father for a child.

PICS – short for “Parental Income for Child Support”.  Refers to the combined income of both parents which is then used as a first step to calculate child support numbers.

Prenuptial Agreement (AKA Antenuptial Agreement) – an agreement made before a marriage to contract on certain marital rights in the event that the couple divorces and/or when one spouse dies.

Pre-Trial – a court appearance in which the parties meet with the judge to report what issues remain unsettled, to schedule out anything related to the trial and to give the parties one last formal opportunity to settle the case.

Property, Marital – any property that is acquired during the marriage that does not fall under one of the non-marital exceptions.

Property, Non-Marital – normally property in a divorce is to be divided between both spouses.  In some cases, one spouse may claim that property should only be given to him or her, without a share to the other as non-marital property.

Family Law Terms Q-Z


QDRO – short for “Qualified Domestic Relations Order”.  This is a legal document which outlines how an interest in a retirement account is given from one spouse to another in a divorce.


Recognition of Parentage – a formal document signed by a man and the mother of the child that acknowledges that man’s status as legal father of the child.


Separation, Physical – refers to a married couple living apart but still legally married.

Separation, Legal – refers to a legal process that divides up the couple’s assets and debts, determines custody, parenting time, child support, and spousal maintenance, but does not formally end the marriage of the couple.  Not the same thing as a divorce.

Service of Process – the formal procedure which is required to give notice to a party in a family case that a case has been started that will affect his or her interests.  Failure to properly serve a party is grounds for a judge to refuse to hear the case.


Third-Party Custody – refers to anyone with proper standing, which is defined by law, attempting to get custody instead of one of the child’s parents.

If you have more questions, please review the links to the left, head back to the MN Family Law Attorney home, or visit Majeski Law.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney, please feel free to email or call using the links in the upper right.