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Glossary of Family Law Terms
 


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z #

Select the first letter of the word from the list above to jump to appropriate section of the glossary.  If the term you are looking for starts with a digit or symbol, choose the '#' link.


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ABSOLUTE DIVORCE:  the final ending of a marriage. Both parties are legally free to remarry.

AB INITIO:  Latin for "from the beginning."

ACTION:  a lawsuit or proceeding in a court of law.

AFFIDAVIT:  a written statement under oath.

AGREEMENT:  a verbal or written resolution of disputed issues.

ANSWER:  the written response to a complaint, petition, or motion.

ALIMONY:  a payment of support provided by one spouse to the other.

ALIAS SUMMONS:  another summons when the original is not served on the defendant.

ANNULMENT:  a marriage can be dissolved in a legal proceeding in which the marriage is declared void, as though it never took place. In the eyes of the law, the parties were never married. It is available only under certain limited circumstances.

APPEAL:  a legal action where the losing party requests that a higher court review the decision.

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CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES: Each state has child support guidelines which must be followed in awarding child support. The guidelines are typically a formula. There are only a few circumstances when the court can award child support higher or lower than the guidelines.

COLLUSION: an agreement between two or more persons that one of the parties brings false charges against the other. In a divorce case, the husband and wife may agree to use adultery as a ground in order to obtain a divorce more quickly, knowing full well that adultery was not committed. Collusion is illegal.

COMPLAINANT: the one who files the suit, same as plaintiff.

COMMON LAW MARRIAGE: a common law marriage comes about when a man and woman who are free to marry agree to live together as husband and wife without the formal ceremony. to be common law married, both spouses must have intended to be husband and wife. Only certain states recognize common law marriages.

COMPLIANT: called a Bill of Complaint. the legal paper that starts a case.

CONDONATION: the act of forgiving one's spouse who has committed an act of wrongdoing that would constitute a ground for divorce.  Condonation generally is proven by living and cohabiting with the spouse after learning that the wrongdoing was committed. It often is used as a defense to a divorce.

CONTEMPT: failure to follow a court order. One side can request that the court determine that the other side is in contempt and punish him or her.

CORROBORATIVE WITNESS: a person who testifies for you and backs up your story. If you are asking the court to grant a divorce, you must bring to the hearing a witness who can corroborate your grounds for divorce.

CUSTODY-SOLE & JOINT: refers to the legal arrangements for whom a child will live with and how decisions about the child will be made. Custody has two parts: legal and physical. Legal custody is the decision-making part: physical custody refers to where the child lives on a regular basis. Generally, the parent the child does not live with will be allowed to have regular visits with the child. Parents can make any custodial arrangement that is in the best interest of their children. The standard for custody is "best interest of the child".

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DEFAULT: a party's failure to answer a complaint, motion, or petition.

DEFENDANT: the person the case is brought against.

DISCOVERY: a way for getting information from the other side or other people. Examples of discovery are interrogatories (written questions) and depositions (questions which are usually in person and recorded).

DISSOLUTION: the legal end of a marriage.

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FILING:  giving the clerk of Court your legal papers.

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GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE:  the legal basis for a divorce; the law sets out specific reasons for a divorce which have to be proven before the court can grant a divorce.

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JUDGMENT:  a court's decision.

JURISDICTION:  the authority of the court to hear a case.

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LIMITED DIVORCE: establishes certain legal responsibilities while the parties are separated but does not end the marriage.

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MARITAL PROPERTY: includes all property acquired during the marriage, even if it is not titled in both names, with some exceptions.

MASTER: hears cases like a judge. A master's decision is reviewed by a judge before becoming final.

MOTION: a request to the court.

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PENDENTE LITE:  temporary arrangements for custody, child support, child visitation, alimony, us and possession of the family home, etc., until a final hearing.

PETITION:  a legal paper that starts a case.

PLAINTIFF:  the person who started the case.

PRO SE/PROPER PERSON:  representing yourself in court without an attorney.

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RECONCILIATION:  married people getting back together.

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SERVICE:  providing a copy of the papers being filed to the other side.

SPOUSE:  husband or wife.

SUBPOENA:  a form issued by the court requiring someone to appear in court and/or bring documents.

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UNCONTESTED DIVORCE:  when the defendant is not going to try to stop the divorce and there are no issues for the court to decide about the children, money, or property.

USE AND POSSESSION:  the right of the parent who has custody of a minor child of the marriage to remain in the family home for a certain period of time from the date of the divorce, under certain circumstances.  

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VENUE:  the county where the case is heard.

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WRIT OF SUMMONS:  a form issued by the court directing a party to respond to a complaint, motion, or petition.

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