Divorce Words and Phrases - What They Really Mean

Author: Brian James | | Categories: child custody , divorce attorney , divorce mediation , divorce mediator , family mediation services , marital mediation , parenting coordinator

Divorce Words and Phrases - What They Really Mean

Going through a divorce can be an emotional ordeal and a difficult time for the divorcing parties, surrounding family members, and children. Emotions may be running high as everyone adjusts to the “new normal”.

Given divorces are not an everyday occurrence, some of the procedures, terms, and phrases may be confusing or hard to understand, especially for those experiencing a divorce for the first time.

At such a juncture in one’s life, it’s important to be aware of and fully understand the terms and phrases that are used by your mediators, attorneys, and the courts. To help you understand the terms, acronyms, and phrases regularly used throughout divorce proceedings, CEL and Associates have created this reference guide. Here you’ll find valuable information allowing you to comprehend and communicate effectively with everyone involved.


The word "custody" is no longer used in Illinois. It has been replaced by the more neutral words Parenting Responsibility. Parenting Responsibility is specific to decision making for minor children, specifically related to school, health, dental, vision, extra-curricular activities (lessons, sports, therapy) and religious decision making. You can either have shared or sole decision making for the minor children. 

Despite what you may read, a majority of divorcing and never married people with minor children agree on shared decision making when it comes to their minor children. However, if there is conflict regarding decision making around decisions specific to the children's school, health, dental, extra-curricular activities or religion, then sole decision-making power may need to be given to one parent to avoid future conflict.

Residential or Custodial Parent.

In Illinois, these terms no longer exist. They have been replaced by the designation of "Primary Residence" for the children. Primary residence is specific to the children's address for school residency purposes only and nothing more.

When determining Primary Residence, from my perspective as a Divorce Mediator, considering the following:

  • Whose residence is in the children's school district/the school district you want the children in.
  • If both residences are in the same school district, which parent is better suited to receive and respond to mail that will get sent from the children's school, doctors, dentists, etc.
  • With the above, which residence do you want the bus to pick up and drop off the children from? Though you will have to speak with the school district, most school districts will only allow for one address for bus routes.

Please remember, Primary Residence only matters for residency for school purposes and nothing else in IL.

Right of First Refusal (RFR).

When structuring a weekly and holiday schedule for your children, there should be specifically defined times that each parent has and is responsible for the children (For example Friday at 5:00 p.m. - Sunday at 5:00 p.m., Monday after school at 3:00 p.m. - Wednesday morning school drop-off at 8:00 a.m.).

What the RFR is used for is when one parent is unable to physically be with the children during their scheduled time, the other parent has the first "right" to be with them before the parent who has them has someone else watch them. The RFR requires that you contact each other when you are going to be away from the children during your time with them, with the parents agreeing on a when the time period it's required you contact each other. For example - you have the children from Friday at 5:00 p.m. to Sunday at 5:00 p.m. and you want to go to the Cubs game with friends and will be away from the children for 6 hours and you have set the RFR at 4 hours. In this example, the parent with the children will be away from them for greater than 4 hours, and as such, they are required to ask the other parent in advance if they want to be with the children while they are at the Cubs game. However, it should be noted that the other parent is not required to take them, and they have the option to say no. If they say no, the responsibility to find someone to be with the children falls on the parent who has them.

When children are young, the RFR is set anywhere between 2-6 hours. As they get older and can be home alone more, the RFR can be extended. Some people set the RFR at being gone overnight, where others don't have the RFR in their agreement at all.

When I work with clients, I pose this question to them: "Say you are home alone, haven't seen your children in 4 days and find out that your children have been left with a sitter for XXX hours. At what number of hours would you be upset that the other parent did not contact you to be with them: 1 hour 2 hours, 3 hours). This is the number of hours you want to set the RFR at."

Equitable vs. Equal when it comes to the division of marital assets and debts in a divorce.

Illinois is an equitable, not equal, state when it comes to the division of assets and debts in a divorce. This does not mean that a 50/50 division is not appropriate, yet that is not presumed in all cases. In a large majority of mediated divorce, the division of assets ends up being 50/50.

However, there are times when 50/50 does not make sense. For example, one parent was a stay at home parent and their earning potential is diminished, significant difference in age and/or income of the parties, one party having a significant non-marital asset (inheritance, pre-marital money), one party having physical or mental health issues that limit/prohibit their ability to work, one party is retired, etc.

When warranted, it makes sense to negotiate an equitable division of assets and debts vs. 50/50. Mediation is a good way to do this, as the mediator works with the parties together in order to reach a solution that makes sense for both of them vs. an attorney who may be telling their client they can get 75% of the assets and pay 0% of the debts, even though their situation does not warrant anything other than a 50/50 division.

Sadly, after receiving bad advice from friends, family, the internet, from something they read, an attorney, people who are going through a divorce believe they have rights and are entitled to more than what is appropriate. They enter the divorce negotiation process with unrealistic and unattainable expectations as to how assets are to be divided, expectations they will never achieve despite how much money they spend in court.

Alimony/Maintenance/Spousal Maintenance/Spousal Support.

These are all the same thing, which is, financial assistance that recognizes a partner's contribution to the marriage and helps the recipient achieve financial independence. Alimony is available only to those who were legally married; and, rules vary by state.

Though going through a divorce can be an emotionally turbulent time, not all divorces have to be difficult or end up in court. Divorce mediation is becoming increasingly popular and is an opportunity to save money and your sanity.

The team CEL and Associates are experienced divorce and family mediators helping couples and families divorce amicably, ensuring a fair outcome for everyone. We’re focused on making a difference in our client’s lives by helping them with problem-solving strategies to resolve conflicts with empathy and self-determination. We serve Chicago, the suburbs and Northeast Wisconsin including Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry & Will Counties in Illinois & Kenosha, Milwaukee, Walworth, & Racine Counties in Wisconsin.

To learn more about how we can help, please click here or get in touch with us today.