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Top Family Law Terms Defined

Most people are familiar with these simple terms; divorce, legal, parent, spouse, child, and family. But, family law and other related terms are not as commonly understood when combined and used in a court of law. We’ll be defining the top family law terms you need to know and help you understand how they may affect you and your family.

Child Support

Child support is a payment often legally required from one parent to another after a divorce, to help cover the costs of taking care of a minor child. A court will decide if one parent owes another child support, and typically you can expect a noncustodial parent as the one who is responsible for payments. Of course, every child support case is different, and consulting with a lawyer can help ensure that you have a proper child support plan in place.

Child Custody

Determining child custody is a bit different than child support. Child custody means the court has decided on a custodial parent, whether that be one of the child’s biological parents or otherwise. This person is the individual who can make decisions on behalf of the child. A child may have two types of custody, legal and physical.

Legal & Physical Custody

Legal custody refers to the individual who is able to make parental, life decisions for the child. Physical custody, on the other hand, refers to the actual possession of the child. It is common for parents to share physical custody, but have only one parent with legal custody.

Joint Legal Custody

Some courts may decide that both parents share custody equally between their children. If they do decide to, then both parents have a say in how their child is raised. Shared custody can be either legal or physical.

Sole Custody

In some cases, only one parent or guardian is granted custody of a child. This may be for a number of reasons, but sole custody gives a single individual full responsibility of the child. However, if there is a co-parent, a parent without custodial rights is still typically entitled to visits with their child. Sole custody does not mean that the guardian can limit the child from seeing and being around others.

Custody vs. Adoption

Child custody is not always just for biological parents. Some courts will award custody to someone other than a biological parent if it’s in the best interest of the child. However, having custody vs. full parental rights are two different things. Biological parents may always have some legal rights in their children’s life, unless their child goes through a legal adoption process. If that happens, then the natural parents will lose those legal rights.

Full Parental Rights

Full parental rights mean having sole legal and physical custody of a child. If a guardian is not a biological parent, they cannot have full parental rights without a formal adoption agreement.


Not all children are able to be adopted. Only children whose biological parents agree, or are otherwise required to have their parents rights terminated may go through the adoption process. An adoption means someone is legally taking another’s child, and raising the child as their own.

Grounds for Divorce

In Texas, it is required that a couple provide at least one reason for why they’d like a divorce. There are many reasons a couple may wish to split, however, Texas law states that one of these seven reasons must be met to start the divorce process:

  1. Insupportability

  2. Cruelty

  3. Adultery

  4. Conviction of Felony

  5. Abandonment

  6. Living Apart

  7. Confinement in Mental Hospital

Legal Separation

You may have heard of the term legal separation before, however, it’s not something that the state of Texas recognizes. Some states have different laws for people who file for a divorce vs. legal separation, but in Texas, the only option is to file for a divorce.

If you have family law or business law questions, please do not hesitate to contact The Stuart Firm at (432) 284-4411. We offer consultations and we’re looking forward to hearing from you.