Family Law Legal Glossary

Click on the first letter of the word from the list above to go to the appropriate section of the glossary. Contact us if you would like a personal injury law glossary or one of other legal glossaries for your website.

Ab Initio: Latin for “from the beginning.”

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 written.

Alienation of Affection: The defendant diminishes the martial relationship between the plaintiffs and the latter’s spouse.

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 spousal support.

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 circumstances.

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 summons.

Appellant: The individual who brings the appeal.

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 involved.

Appraisal: The procedure for determining the fair market value of an asset for equitable distribution in divorce.

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 business.

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

Click on the first letter of the word from the list above to go to the appropriate section of the glossary. Contact us if you would like a personal injury law glossary or one of other legal glossaries for your website.

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