Glossary of Family Law Terms
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Ab Initio: Latin for "from the
Abandonment: The action of one spouse
leaving the marital home without consent of the other spouse. This
is considered grounds for divorce in some states.
Abduction: Unlawfully taking another.
Absolute Divorce: Declaration by a court
that the marriage has been dissolved so that the parties are no
longer married to each other and are free to marry someone else.
Accrue: To propagate or build upon.
Action: Judicial proceeding.
Administrative Officer: The official who is
appointed instead of a judge to preside over the child.
Admissible: Any form of testimony or
evidence that is allowed into court.
Adultery: When one spouse has sexual
intercourse with a third party. This is considered grounds for
divorce in some states.
Adversarial Divorce: A divorce where each
spouse is unable to come to any agreement.
Adversary: The opposing party in a lawsuit.
AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children):
Financial support in the form of cash given to a family with
children in need of financial help.
Affidavit: A written statement of facts
that are made under oath and which must be witnessed and signed by
a notary or another official authorized to administer oaths.
Affirmative Defense: New facts or legal
defenses in response to the opposing spouse's pleading.
Agreement: Mutual assent between two or
more parties; normally leads to a contract; may be verbal or
Alienation of Affection: The defendant
diminishes the martial relationship between the plaintiffs and the
Alimony: Support paid by one ex-spouse to
the other as ordered by a court in a divorce (dissolution) case.
Alimony is also called "spousal support" in California
in some states. Usually it is paid by the male to his ex, but in
some cases a wealthy woman may have to pay her husband, or, in
same-sex relationships the "bread winner" may pay to
support his/her stay-at-home former partner. Many counties and
states have adopted formulas for alimony based on the income of
each party. Payment of alimony is usually limited by time based on
the number of years of marriage. Lengthy marriages may result in a
life-time of payments. A substantial change in circumstance, such
as illness, retirement, or loss of income, can be grounds for the
court to grant a modification or termination of the payment.
Failure to pay ordered alimony can result in contempt of court
citations and even jail time. The level of alimony can be
determined by written agreement and submitted to the court for a
stipulated order. Income tax-wise, alimony is deductible as an
expense for the payer and charged as income to the recipient.
Alimony is completely different from child support.
Alimony Pendente: A pretrial order for
Allegations: Claims made against the other
spouse in the lawsuit.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR):
Methods, such as mediation and arbitration, couples can use to
obtain a divorce settlement without a trial.
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
Answer: The formal response for a divorce,
separation or annulment petition. The response or answer contains
the admission or denial of the allegations made by the petitioner
or against the petitioner.
Anetuptial Agreement: A legal contract
signed by two people prior to marriage which states limitations to
spouse's rights to property, support, or inheritance if the
marriage ends in divorce.
Appeal: A request to the higher court for
review of the lower court's decision and reversal of the judgment.
Appearance: A formal submission to the
courts by the defendant (respondent) in response to a complaint or
Appellant: The individual who brings the
Appellate Court: The court in which an
appeal is heard.
Application: The primary step in all
divorce proceedings and court order. (The standard forms are
available from the court office.
Apportion: To divide and assign according
to a definite rule. The division is not necessarily equal but is
fair according to the respective interests of the parties
Appraisal: The procedure for determining
the fair market value of an asset for equitable distribution in
Appraisal Report: A report of the results
of an appraisal which begins with the definition of an appraisal
problem and leads to a specific conclusion using reasoning and
relevant descriptive data.
Arbitration: A legally binding, but not a
judicial procedure. When a neutral third party makes judgment on a
case. This is not permitted in most states or provinces.
Arrearages: A term used to describe the
amount of money less the court order amount of support. If a
spouse does not pay the full amount of support, the missing amount
is considered the arrearages.
ASSETS - cash, property and investments
along with anything else that may be of value to an individual or
Assignment: The release by an AFDC
recipient of all rights to support arrearages owed the recipient
and of the right to receive current child support as the result of
the receipt of AFDC.
Attachment: The process by which the court
seizes the property of a debtor.
Automatic Wage Deduction: A court ordered
child support system in which the non - custodial parent has the
support amount deducted directly from his or her paycheck which is
then distributed by the employer.
Award: A decision made by a court to
compensate a person for something.