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Common Terms Used in Family Law and What They Mean

By May 15, 2023 Posted in Child Custody

The practice of family law can be broad and covers issues including prenups, divorce, and child custody agreements. Although knowing all the terms in the area can be difficult, and you are certainly not expected to, your attorney handles all the legalese on your behalf. To discuss options on your family law needs, connect with an Iowa family law attorney from Simpson Legal Group, and read on to learn common terms you might hear during your consultation to help improve your understanding of the process. 

Common Family Law Terms


An affidavit is a written statement where the person who signs the statement, the affiants, is swearing or affirming the content of the document to be true. 

Petitioner and Respondent

In a family law action such as a divorce, the party that files the action is known as the petitioner, while the person who is served with the action is the respondent. For example, if a wife files for divorce against her husband, she is the petitioner, and he is the respondent. 


An answer is a written response by a respondent that also is affirmed to be true. An answer is often a general denial to allow for the parties involved in the dispute to come to a more specific agreement later. A failure to answer can lead to a default judgment, or the failure to deny specific allegations can result in their being considered admitted. 

Default Judgment

When a respondent fails to answer, the court may consider the information available to it and enter a default judgment, which can be against the respondent’s best interests. You often have a limited amount of time to respond to the filing, so it is important to connect with a family law attorney for support as soon as possible after being served with the documents. 


As explained by the Iowa Judicial Branch, “service” or “service of process” means the formal delivery of legal documents, such as a complaint or a petition, which ensures that the opposing party is given notice and an opportunity to respond. 

Complaints and Petitions 

A complaint is the term used for an original filing with the court and is often used to describe civil actions like small claims suits. A petition is likewise a term used for an action filed with the court and is used to describe divorce proceedings.  

Connect with a Family Law Attorney from Simpson Legal Group for Help 

To learn how we can help in your unique situation, give us a call at 712-256-9899 or visit our site to schedule your consultation.

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50 Northcrest Drive, Council Bluffs, Iowa 51503
Phone: 712.256.9899

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