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Understanding Legal Terminology in Family Law

By Bob Matteucci

Those of us who are a bit more… mature… are often baffled by the slang we hear the younger generation using. We can never remember if “no cap” is good or bad, and we “fr fr” are a bit concerned about “rizz.” 

But young people aren’t the only ones with their own language. Lawyers are just as bad — or worse! — about using acronyms, Latin phrases, or words that have a distinct meaning in family law cases, without considering if the people we are talking to know what we are talking about

At Matteucci Family Law, we go out of our way to ensure our clients in the Albuquerque area fully understand whatever topic we are discussing, all of the documents they are signing, and all the steps we are taking to resolve their cases. But if you ever need a refresher, or want to look something up again after you have left our office, the following can serve as a sort of lawyer-to-human dictionary. 

Collaborative Divorce 

Couples in the Albuquerque area who still trust and respect one another, but no longer want to be married to each other, are increasingly opting for collaborative divorces. Attorney Bob Matteucci is one of a handful of lawyers in New Mexico who are certified to guide couples through this process, which brings professionals like financial planners and counselors to the negotiating table.

Community Property

In New Mexico, community property refers to the assets and debts acquired by a couple during their marriage. This includes income, real estate, and other possessions. During divorce proceedings, community property is typically subject to equitable distribution, meaning its value (if not the asset itself) should be divided fairly, though not necessarily equally, between the spouses. Community property does not include property that a party owned prior to marriage or, inherited or was gifted during marriage. Community property is the opposite of separate property. 

Custodial Parent

The custodial parent is the one with whom the child typically resides. This parent typically has primary physical custody but often shares joint legal custody with the child’s other (noncustodial) parent. 

Guardian Ad Litem

“Ad Litem” is a Latin phrase translated as “for the suit.” A guardian ad litem is a person appointed by the court to represent the interests of a minor in a child custody case. The guardian ad litem’s job is to ensure the child’s best interests are considered.

Legal Custody

New Mexico law presumes that parents will share joint legal custody of their child, even after a separation. Legal custody involves parental decision-making about religion, education, child care, recreational activities, and medical and dental care. Even if a parent does not have primary physical custody of his or her children, he or she may still have joint legal custody.


Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution or ADR becoming popular in divorces and custody disputes. It is a professionally facilitated negotiation designed to help the parties in a family law case come to an agreement they can all live with, and the court will approve. It is more structured than a standard negotiation but less formal than a court proceeding.

Order of Protection

Commonly referred to as a restraining order, an Order of Protection is a court order that can protect you and your children from domestic violence by forbidding the abuser from hurting, threatening, or harassing you or your kids. The abuser will be forbidden from contacting you or being in physical proximity to you, your children, your place of work or residence, and your children’s school or activities. If your abuser violates the Order, he or she may be arrested. 

Parenting Plan

A parenting plan is a document outlining the agreed-upon terms for child custody, visitation, and child-rearing responsibilities. 

Physical Custody 

The amount of time a child spends living with a particular parent is known as physical custody. In New Mexico, which encourages parents to share joint custody of their children, one parent typically has primary physical custody (and may be known as the custodial parent) while the other gets significant visitation periods. 

Pro Se

This is a Latin phrase translated as “for oneself.” In the family law context, it is often used to refer to an individual who chooses to represent themselves in court without the assistance of an attorney. The New Mexico court system provides information and forms on its website for people who want to try to get divorced or seek custody of their children pro se

Separate Property

Assets owned by either spouse before the marriage, or acquired through inheritance or gifts during the marriage, are considered separate property. Unlike community property, separate property is generally not subject to division during divorce. 

Special Master 

A special master is a neutral third party hired to assist the parties in a civil lawsuit as they attempt to come to an agreement, or investigate an issue the court would like more information on as it makes its ruling. When Attorney Bob Matteucci is asked to serve as a special master in a divorce case it is typically a case where there are high-value assets to sell, liquidate, value, assess, or equitably divide up.

Spousal Support

Spousal support is the official term for what is commonly called alimony. It may also be referred to as maintenance. Spousal support is money that is paid by one former partner to another to help the recipient maintain his or her quality of life post-divorce. 


Visitation is the time a noncustodial parent or a parent without primary physical custody gets to spend with their child. A child custody agreement will outline the noncustodial parent’s visitation schedule and conditions. 

Serving Families with Dignity & Compassion

If your family law dispute is getting “lit” and you want to ensure things turn out “Gucci,” it’s time to make the Matteucci Family Law team part of your “squad.” 

Attorney Bob Matteucci is a seasoned family law attorney who will go out of his way to ensure you understand what is going on — and are comfortable with — every step taken to resolve your family law case. Contact Bob today to discuss your case.

About the Author
Bob Matteucci is a board certified family law specialist, with a statewide practice in the area of divorce and family law.