Legal Glossary - Chow & Losinski
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Legal Glossary

ABANDONMENT: When a parent leaves a child without enough care, supervision, support, or parental contact for an excessive period of time.


ACCRUAL: The total amount of child support payments that you owe or that are late.


ACQUITTAL: When a judge or jury finds that the person on trial is not guilty.


ADJUDICATION: The judge’s decision in a case or action.


ADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE: Evidence that can legally and properly be used in court.


ADOPTION: The way to make the relationship between a parent and child legal when they are not related by blood.


AFFIDAVITA: written statement that someone swears to under oath in front of someone that is legally authorized, like a judge or notary public.


ALIMONY: Money the court orders you to pay to a spouse or ex-spouse.


ANNULMENT (“NULLITY OF MARRIAGE”): A legal action that says your marriage was never legally valid because of unsound mind, incest, bigamy, being too young to consent, fraud, force, or physical incapacity.


ARREARAGE: Child support that is overdue or unpaid. A parent that has arrearages is “in arrears.”


ASSAULT: When someone tries or threatens to hurt you. Can include violence, but is not battery.


BANK LEVY: Way to enforce a decision against someone that owes money. The money is taken from their checking or savings account at a bank, savings and loan, thrift institution, or credit union.


BAR: All of the lawyers qualified to practice law. For example, a state bar includes all of the lawyers qualified to practice law in that state.


BATTERY: Illegal beating or physical violence or control of a person without their permission.


BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD: The standard that courts use to decide who will take care of the child. Some of the factors courts look at are: the age of the child, the health of the child, the emotional ties between the parents and the child, the ability of the parents to care for the child, and the child’s ties to school, home, and the community.


BURDEN OF PROOF: When one person in the case has the responsibility to give more evidence than the other person.


BURGLARY: When someone unlawfully breaks into or enters a building or home, and they intend to or do commit a theft or other serious crime.


CASE: A lawsuit. Or a complaint filed in criminal, traffic, or civil court.


CASE LAW: Law made by earlier decisions in similar cases.


CHALLENGE: Someone’s right to object to or fight something in a legal case.


CHARGE: In criminal law, each thing the defendant is accused of.


CHILD ABUSE: Hurting a child physically, sexually or emotionally.


CHILD ADVOCATE: Someone with special training appointed by the court to help a child in a case.


CHILD CUSTODY: The rights and responsibilities between parents for their child(ren). A parenting plan must describe the legal custody and physical custody that is in the best interest of the children. This term is also often used to describe who the children live with.


CHILD CUSTODY EVALUATION: An investigation and analysis by an expert of the health, safety, welfare, and best interests of children. It is ordered by a court to help resolve custody and visitation disputes.


CHILD MALTREATMENT: Child abuse and/or neglect.


CHILD NEGLECT: Not taking good care of a child. Neglect can be physical or emotional.


CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES (CPS): State agency that responds to reports of child abuse and neglect. If the agency’s investigations show there is abuse or neglect, they open a child protection case. Then, a case worker makes a plan to help the family.


CHILD SUPPORT: Money paid by a parent to help support a child or children.


CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT (CSE) AGENCY: Agency that exists in every state to find parents that don’t have custody (called “noncustodial parents,” or “NCPs”). Or to find the person assumed to be the father of a child (called a “putative father,” or “PF”). Makes, enforces, and changes child support. Collects and gives out child support money. Also known as an “IV-D agency.”


CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE: All evidence that is indirect. Testimony not based on actual personal knowledge or observation of the facts in dispute.


CITATION: A court order or summons that tells a defendant what the charges are. Also tells the defendant to go to court and/or post bail.


CIVIL CASE: A lawsuit to get property back, to force someone to complete a contract, or to protect someone’s civil rights.


CLAIM OF EXEMPTION: A court paper filed by the judgment debtor that lists each piece of property that the judgment debtor claims is an exempt asset under certain provisions of the law and, therefore, can’t be taken to pay the judgment.


COLLABORATIVE LAW: A way to solve conflicts without going to court. Both sides have a lawyer, but they agree not to go to court unless it is impossible to settle the case.


COMMUNITY OBLIGATIONS: Community obligations are the debts that a husband and wife or registered domestic partners OWE TOGETHER. In most cases that includes anything that you still owe on any debts either of you took on during the time you were living together as husband and wife or as registered domestic partners. (If you bought furniture on credit while you were married or in a registered domestic partnership and living together, the unpaid balance is a part of your community obligations.)


COMMUNITY PROPERTY: Community property is everything that a husband and wife or registered domestic partners OWN TOGETHER. In most cases that includes:
(1) Money or benefits like pensions and stock options that you now have which either of you earned during the time you were living together as husband and wife or as registered domestic partners; and
(2) Anything either of you bought with money earned during that period.


COMPENSATORY DAMAGES: Money that one person must pay another to cover the cost of a wrong or injury.


CONSERVATORSHIP: A court proceeding where a judge appoints a caretaker for an adult that is unable to care for him or herself.


CONTEMPT: When doing something or not doing (or saying) something prevents justice from being had or hurts the honor, respect, or authority of the court. This includes ignoring or disobeying a court order on purpose. Punishment can be a fine or jail.


CONVICTION: When a judge or jury finds a criminal defendant guilty.COUNSELOne or more lawyers that represent a client. Also, legal advice.


COURT ORDER: A legal decision made by a court that commands or directs that something be done or not done. Can be made by a judge, commissioner, court referee, or magistrate.


COURT TRIAL: A trial without a jury. A judge decides the case.


CRIMINAL CASE: A court case that starts because of a crime.


CROSS-EXAMINATION: The testimony a witness gives when the other side’s lawyer is asking the questions at a trial, hearing, or deposition.


CUSTODIAL PARENT: The parent that has primary care, custody, and control of the child(ren).


CUSTODY MEDIATION: A meeting with a trained, neutral third party who helps the parents try to agree on a parenting plan for their children.


CUSTODY ORDER: A court order that says who a child will live with and who should make decisions about health care, education, and other important things.


DAMAGES: Money that the losing side must pay to the winning side to make up for losses or injuries. There are 2 kinds of damages: (1) “compensatory,” meaning money to pay for the actual cost of an injury or loss; and (2)”punitive” or “exemplary,” meaning an amount of money that’s more than the actual damages. This is a punishment for willful or malicious acts.


DECLARATION: A sworn, written statement that is used as evidence in court. The statement supports or establishes a fact. The person that makes the declaration certifies or declares under penalty of perjury that the statement is true and correct. The person that makes the declaration is called the “declarant.” The declarant must sign and date the declaration. The declaration must also say where the declaration was signed or that it was made under the laws of the State of California.


DEFAMATION: When 1 person hurts another person’s character, fame, or reputation by making false and malicious statements that are not protected by law.


DEFENSE: In a civil case, the facts or arguments presented by the defendant to show why the plaintiff doesn’t have a right to the relief asked for. In a criminal case, the reasons why a defendant should not be convicted of the charge(s).


DELINQUENT: A child, under 18, that has done something that would be a crime if he or she were 18 or older.


DEPENDENT: In family law, this usually means a child that is financially supported by another person. In juvenile law, this means a minor that is in the custody of the court because he or she was abused, neglected, or molested or is physically dangerous to the public because of a mental or physical disorder.


DEPOSITION: Written or oral testimony given under oath in front of an authorized third person like a court reporter. Depositions take place outside of court. They allow the parties to get a record of a person’s testimony, or to get testimony from a witness that lives far away. They can help the lawyers prepare their court papers called “pleadings.”


DISBURSEMENT: The court’s distribution of money that it receives through fines or bail to the people that, according to the law, should get the money.


DISPOSABLE INCOME: What’s left of an employee’s income after making legally required deductions, like taxes. Disposable income is used to decide how much of the employee’s pay will be taken for a garnishment, attachment, or earnings assignment.


DISSOLUTION: A marriage that is ended by a judge’s decision, also known as a “divorce.”


DIVORCE: A common name for a marriage that is legally ended.


EMANCIPATION: A legal way for children to become adults before they’re 18. Once a child is emancipated, his or her parents don’t have custody or control of him or her anymore.


EQUITABLE: (1) Describes civil suits in “equity” instead of in “law.” In the legal history of England, courts of “law” could order only the payment of damages. But courts of “equity” could order someone to do something or to stop doing something. In American law, courts have power both in law and in equity. But usually, there can be trial by jury in “law” cases but not in “equity” cases. (2) To deal fairly and equally with all concerned. This implies not only a fair or just decision based on the law, but also a judgment guided by common-sense ideas of fairness and justice.


ESTABLISH: A process to prove paternity (fatherhood) and/or to get a court or administrative order for child support.


EVICTION: A court-administered proceeding for removing a tenant from a rental unit because the tenant has violated the rental agreement or did not comply with a notice ending the tenancy (also called an “unlawful detainer” lawsuit).


EVIDENCE: Any proof legally presented at trial through witnesses, records, and/or exhibits.


EXECUTE: (1) To carry out all terms of a contract or court order; (2) to sign (a document); (3) to kill.


EXONERATE: To clear of blame or to relieve from responsibility.


FAMILY LAW COURT: A court that hears family matters, like divorce (“dissolution”), legal separation of spouses, annulment of marriage or domestic partnerships, child custody and support, and domestic violence petitions.


FAMILY LAW FACILITATOR: A lawyer with experience in family law who works for the superior court in every California county to help parents and children involved in family law cases with child, spousal, and partner support problems. Anyone who does not have their own lawyer can see the family law facilitator for free.


FAMILY COURT ORIENTATION: A class that prepares parents for court-ordered mediation. A counselor talks to parents about how their relationship affects their children, and tells them what they need to know about custody and visitation.

FAMILY VIOLENCE INDICATOR (FVI): The Federal Case Registry (FCR) uses this term to identify a person involved in a family violence case or order in another state. “FVI” means the person was involved with child abuse or domestic violence and says not to tell the location of a parent and/or a child that the state believes is at risk of family violence.


FEDERAL CASE REGISTRY (FCR) OF CHILD SUPPORT: A national database of information on all people with IV-D (called “4 D”) cases and people with non-IV-D orders entered or changed on or after October 1, 1998.


FEDERAL PARENT LOCATOR SERVICE (FPLS): A computerized national network and database run by the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). FPLS collects address and employer information, and data on child support cases in every state; compares them; and gives this information to the proper authorities in the states involved. This helps state and local child support enforcement agencies locate alleged fathers and parents that do not have custody of their children. The information is used to establish custody and visitation rights, establish and enforce child support payments, investigate parental kidnapping, and process adoption or foster care cases.


FEDERAL TAX REFUND OFFSET PROGRAM: A federal program that collects overdue child support payments from parents. The program can take a parent’s federal income tax refunds or federal retirement benefits.


FEE WAIVER: Permission not to pay the court’s filing fees. People with very low income can ask the court clerk for a fee waiver form.


FELONY: A serious crime that can be punished by more than 1 year in prison or by death.


FIDUCIARY: A person that acts for another person’s benefit, like a trustee. It can also be an adjective and mean something that is based on a trust or confidence.


FINDING: When a judicial officer or jury says something is a fact.


FORFEITURE: When a person must give up money or property because they didn’t meet a legal obligation.


FOSTER CARE: A program that gives money to a person, family, or institution to raise someone else’s child.GARNISHMENTA legal process that allows part of a person’s wages and/or assets to be withheld for payment of a debt. Wage or income garnishment is usually involuntary.


GENETIC TESTING: A medical test to determine legal fatherhood (or “paternity”).


GUARANTOR: A person that promises to be responsible for the debt of another person if that person fails to pay the debt on time.


GUARDIAN AD LITEM: A court-appointed adult that represents a minor child or legally incompetent person.


GUARDIANSHIP: In California, a court proceeding where a judge appoints someone to care for a person under age 18 or to manage the minor’s estate (property), or both. In some states, conservatorship of an adult is called guardianship, but not in California.


HABITABLE: A rental unit that is fit for people to live in. A rental unit that follows important building and safety code standards that affect tenants’ health and safety is called “habitable.”


HEARING: A formal court proceeding with the judge and opposing sides present, but no jury.


HEARSAY: Statements by a witness that did not see or hear the incident in question but heard about it from someone else. Hearsay usually can’t be used as evidence in court.HEIR(ESS)A person that inherits or receives money or property from someone that has died.


HOME DETENTION: When an electronic device is put on a prisoner’s body to keep track of where the prisoner goes in the community and what the prisoner does. Used instead of a jail sentence.


IMPEACHMENT: (1) The process of calling a witness’s testimony into question. For example, if an attorney can show that a witness may have made up parts of his or her testimony, the witness is said to be “impeached.” (2) The constitutional process used by the U.S. House of Representatives to “impeach” (or accuse of misconduct) high-ranking officers of the federal government, who are then tried by the Senate.


IMPOUND: To seize and hold in the custody of the law; generally used to refer to objects or animals, not people.


INACTIVE CASE: A pending case that has been filed, but for some reason can’t be processed by the court.


INCOME: Any form of periodic payment to a person, regardless of source, including wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, workers’ compensation, disability, pension or retirement program payments, and interest.


INCOME WITHHOLDING: When automatic deductions are made from wages or income to pay a debt like child support. Income withholding is often part of a child support order. It can be voluntary or involuntary.


INCRIMINATE: To hold yourself or another person responsible for criminal actions.


INDEMNITY: An obligation to provide compensation (usually money) for a loss, injury, or damage.


INDICTMENT: The formal charge issued by a grand jury saying there is enough evidence that the defendant committed the crime to justify having a trial. Used primarily for felonies.


INDIGENT: This term usually refers to a person that is poor, needy, and has no one to look to for support.


INFORMATION: A written accusation charging a person with a crime. It is presented in court by a prosecuting officer under oath and does not come from a grand jury.


INFRACTION: A minor violation of a law, contract, or right that is not a misdemeanor or a felony and can’t be punished by time in prison.


INITIATING JURISDICTION: The state or county court, or administrative agency, that sends a request for action to another jurisdiction in interstate child support cases.


INJUNCTION: A court order that says a defendant can’t perform, or must perform, a specific act.


INSTALLMENT PAYMENTS: Weekly, monthly, or other periodic payments on a debt.


INTERCEPT: When nonwage payments (like federal income tax refunds, state income tax refunds, unemployment benefits, and disability benefits) made to a parent that owes support are taken and given to the parent who is owed support.


INTERSTATE CASES: In child support, cases where the dependent child and the parent that owes support live in different states, or where 2 or more states are involved in some case activity, like enforcement.


IV-A(“4-A”) CASE: A child support case where a custodial parent and child(ren) get public assistance benefits under the state’s IV-A program, which is funded under title IV-A of the Social Security Act. Applicants for IV-A assistance are automatically referred to their state IV-D agency in order to identify and locate the noncustodial parent, establish paternity and/or a child support order, and/or obtain child support payments. This lets the state get back some or all of its public assistance money from the noncustodial parent.


IV-D (“4-D”): Refers to title IV-D of the Social Security Act, which says that each state must create a program to find noncustodial parents, establish paternity, establish and enforce child support obligations, and collect and distribute support payments. Any person that gets public assistance (usually TANF) is referred to the state IV-D child support program. States must also accept applications from families that do not get public assistance, if requested, to help collect child support.


IV-E (“4-E”): Refers to title IV-E of the Social Security Act, which established a federal-state foster care program that gives financial support to a person, family, or institution that is raising a child or children not their own.


IV-E (“4-E”) CASE: A child support case where the state provides benefits or services under title IV-E of the Social Security Act to a person, family, or institution that is raising child(ren) not their own. As with other public assistance cases, the people that get public assistance are referred to their state IV-D program in order to identify and find the noncustodial parent, establish paternity and/or a child support order, and/or obtain child support payments. This allows the state to get back some or all of its public assistance payments from the noncustodial parent.


JOINT CUSTODY: A court order that gives both parents legal and physical custody of a child.


JOINT LEGAL CUSTODY: A type of court order that allows either or both parents to make important decisions about a child’s health, education, and well being.


JOINT PHYSICAL CUSTODY: A type of court order in which a child spends about the same amount of time living with both parents.JUDGEAn official of the judicial branch of government with authority to decide lawsuits brought before courts. The term “judge” may also refer to all judicial officers, including Supreme Court justices.


JUDGMENT: (1) The official decision of a court that resolves the dispute between the parties to a lawsuit; (2) the official decision or finding of a judge or administrative agency hearing officer about the respective rights and claims of the parties to an action; also known as a “decree” or “order,” and may include “findings of fact and conclusions of law”; (3) the final decision of the judge stating which party has won the case and the terms of the decision. Can be “n.o.v.,” which means a ruling in favor of 1 party even though there had been a verdict for the other party, or “summary,” which means a court’s decision before a trial saying that no facts are disputed in the case and that 1 party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.


JURISDICTION: (1) The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a case; (2) the geographic area over which the court has authority to decide cases; (3) the territory, subject matter, or persons over which lawful authority may be exercised by a court.


JURISDICTIONAL LIMIT: The maximum amount of money that a court can award. The limit is $5,000 for most small claims cases, but a claimant can’t file more than 2 small claims court actions for more than $2,500 anywhere in the state during any calendar year.JURORA person selected to be on a jury.


JURY: A group of citizens picked according to law and authorized to decide a case. Can be: (1) grand, that is, a body of citizens that determines whether probable cause exists that a crime has been committed and whether an indictment should be issued; (2) hung, that is, a jury that can’t agree on a verdict after a suitable period of deliberation ; (3) petit (or “trial”), that is, an ordinary jury for the trial of a criminal or civil action; or (4) special, that is, a jury ordered by the court, on the motion of either side, in cases that are unusually important or complicated.


JUVENILE: A person younger than the legal age of adulthood, which usually is 18 years but in some cases is 21 years.


LAWSUIT: (1) A legal action started by a plaintiff against a defendant based on a complaint that the defendant failed to perform a legal duty, which caused harm to the plaintiff; (2) a legal dispute brought to a court for resolution.


LAWYER: A person qualified to represent clients in a court of law and to advise them on legal matters.


LEGAL CUSTODY: A parent’s right and responsibility to make decisions about a child’s health, education and well being. There are two types of legal custody orders: joint legal custody and sole legal custody.


LEGAL PARENT: A person who is recognized by the law as the parent of a child.


LEGAL SEPARATION: You and your spouse or domestic partner can end your relationship but still remain legally married or partnered, and get court orders on parenting and money issues, with a judgment of legal separation.


LEVY: To obtain money by legal process through seizure and/or sale of property.


LIBEL: False and malicious material that is written or published that is defamatory and hurts a person’s reputation.


LIEN: A claim on property to prevent the sale or transfer of that property until a debt is paid. The lien may be enforced or collected by levying on the property.


LITIGANTS: The parties (sides) involved in a lawsuit.


LITIGATE: To conduct or engage in a lawsuit.


LITIGATION: A case, controversy, or lawsuit. The people involved in lawsuits (plaintiffs and defendants) are called “litigants.”


MAGISTRATE: A judicial officer with the power to issue arrest warrants and find probable cause at preliminary hearings.


MALFEASANCE: Performance of an act that should not have been done at all.


MANDATORY: Required, ordered.


MARITAL SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT: In a dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or annulment, a stipulated judgment will often include a marital settlement agreement (MSA). A marital settlement agreement is a written contract between you and your spouse that contains detailed legal wording about how the issues in your case will be handled. It is usually used when there are complicated issues of property, debt, support, or custody that need to be set out in the judgment.


MARSHAL: A peace officer that has the power to arrest, to serve legal papers in civil cases and subpoenas and to act as bailiff in the courtroom.


MAYHEM: Unlawfully and violently depriving a person of a part of his or her body or disabling, disfiguring, or making it useless (includes injury to eyes, tongue, nose, ears, etc.).


MEDIATION: A process in which a neutral person (or people) helps people who have a dispute to communicate so they can reach an agreement.


MEDICAL SUPPORT: Kind of child support where medical or dental insurance coverage is paid by a parent. Depending on the court order, medical support can be that parent’s only financial obligation, or the parent may also have to pay child support and/or spousal support.


MEMORANDUM OF CREDITS, ACCRUED INTEREST, AND COSTS AFTER JUDGMENT: In small claims court, a form used to get back your costs for collecting your judgment.


MINOR: A person under the age of 18 years.


MINUTES: The official (permanent) record of a court proceeding, that tells things like what witnesses appeared, what motions were made, and what findings were reached.


MIRANDA WARNING: Refers to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that says when a person is arrested or questioned by police, he or she must first be told about certain rights against self-incrimination (saying something that makes it sound like you are guilty).


MISDEMEANOR: A crime that can be punished by up to 1 year in jail.


MISTRIAL: A trial that has been ended and declared void (of no legal effect) due to prejudicial error in the proceedings or other extraordinary circumstances.


MODIFICATION: A change or alteration, like modification of a sentence (where the terms of punishment for a defendant are changed) or of a probation order (where a new probation order is issued changing the terms of the original order).


MONEY JUDGMENTA:  Specific amount of money awarded by the court to a person as payment for damages (losses or injuries) suffered.


MOOTA:  Point or question related to a legal case that usually has no practical importance or relevance to the case. A moot point is a point that can’t be resolved by the judge, is not disputed by either side, or is resolved out of court.


MOTION: An oral or written request that a party makes to the court for a ruling or an order on a particular point. A “motion to reduce bail” asks the court to lower the amount of bail needed to release the defendant from custody and guarantee that he or she will appear in court when required. A “motion to release on own recognizance (OR)” asks the court to let a defendant go without paying bail if the defendant agrees to appear when the court tells him or her to. A “motion to set” asks the judge to set a date for a future trial. A “motion to quash” asks the court to make something void or ineffective, such as to quash a subpoena.


MULTISTATE FINANCIAL INSTITUTION DATA MATCH (MSFIDM): Process that matches the financial accounts in more than 1 state with parents that owe child support. States submit data on parents that owe support to the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE). A state can then put a lien on and take all or part of an account.


NEGLIGENCE: When someone fails to be as careful as the law requires to protect the rights and property of others.


NONCUSTODIAL PARENT (NCP): The parent that does not have primary care, custody, or control of a child.


NONFEASANCE: Failure to perform an act that you are legally responsible for.


NOTARY PUBLIC: A person authorized under civil law to administer oaths, to attest (affirm) and certify that certain documents are authentic, and to take depositions.


NULLITY: The legal invalidation of a marriage; annulment.


OBJECTION: A formal protest made by a party over testimony or evidence that the other side tries to introduce.


OBLIGATION: Law or duty that requires parties to follow their agreement. An obligation or debt may be created by a judgment or contract, like child support.

OBLIGEE: The person, state agency, or institution owed a debt (usually money) like child support (also called “custodial party” if the money is owed to the person with primary custody of a child).


OBLIGOR: The person that must pay child support or perform some other financial obligation.OFFENSEAn act that violates (breaks) the law.


OFFICE OF CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT (OCSE): The federal agency responsible for administering the nationwide child support program.


OFFSET: Amount of money taken from a parent’s state or federal income tax refund before he or she receives it, or from an administrative payment like federal retirement benefits, to pay a child support debt.


ORDER: (1) Decision of a judicial officer ; (2) a directive of the court, on a matter relating to the main proceedings, that decides a preliminary point or directs some steps in the proceedings. Generally used to invalidate a prior conviction, for example, an order issued after a hearing where a prior conviction is found invalid because certain legal standards weren’t met during the time of trial and conviction. Or to set a fee, for example, an order telling a defendant to pay back the county for costs for a court-appointed attorney. Or to show cause, for example, an order to appear in court to give reasons why an action can’t, should not have been, or has not been carried out.


OWN RECOGNIZANCE (OR): When a person is released from custody and not required to pay bail because of his or her promise to come to court to answer a criminal charge. If the defendant does not return to court when promised, he or she can be charged with a misdemeanor.


PARDON: When the chief executive of a state or country releases a convicted person from the punishment given him or her by a court sentence.


PARENTAGE (PARENTAL RELATIONSHIP): A legal determination of who the parents of a child are.


PARENTING CLASSES: Classes that help parents focus on the needs of their children and give parents information to provide a nurturing non-threatening home environment. Sometimes the court may order one or both parents to go to parenting classes so they can learn to communicate better about their children’s needs.


PARENTING PLAN: A detailed custody and visitation agreement that says when the child will be with each parent and how decisions are made. The parenting plan may be developed by the parents, through mediation, with the help of lawyers, or by a judge after a trial or hearing.


PAROLE: A conditional release from prison that allows the person being released to serve the rest of the sentence out of prison if all conditions of release are met.


PARTNER SUPPORT: In family law, court-ordered support of a registered domestic partner or ex-partner.


PARTY: One of the litigants in a court case. At the trial level, the parties are typically called the “plaintiff” or “petitioner” and the “defendant” or “respondent.” On appeal, parties are called the “appellant” and “appellee.”


PASSPORT DENIAL PROGRAM: The names of obligors that owe $5,000 or more in child support are sent to the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement for tax refund offset and to the U.S. Department of State to indicate that a passport can’t be issued for that person.


PATERNITY: Legal determination of fatherhood. Paternity must be determined before a court can order child support or medical support. Also called parentage or parental relationship.


PATERNITY SUIT: A lawsuit to decide who the father of a child is if the parents were not married when the child was born. Also called “establishment of parental relationship.”


PAYEE: Person or organization in whose name child support or other money is paid.PAYORPerson that makes a payment.


PENALTY: Punishment for breaking a law.


PENALTY ASSESSMENT: An amount of money added to a fine.


PENDING: The status of a case that is not yet resolved by the court.


PERJURY: A false statement made on purpose while under oath in a court proceeding.


PERMANENCY PLANNING: A court action that gives a dependent child a permanent place to live, like an adoption or a guardianship.


PERMANENCY PLANNING HEARING: A hearing to give a dependent child a permanent place to live. The hearing generally happens up to 18 months after the child is taken away from the parents.


PERSONAL INJURY: A kind of civil case that asks for damages for physical injury to people and/or property, or for wrongful death.


PETITION: A formal written request given to the court asking for a specific judicial action.


PHYSICAL CUSTODY: Where the children live, who takes care of them, and how much time they spend with each parent. There are two types of physical custody arrangements: primary or sole physical custody and joint or shared physical custody.


PLAINTIFF: A person that brings an action; the party that complains or sues in a civil case.


PLEA: n a criminal case, the defendant’s statement pleading “guilty” or “not guilty” in answer to the charges.


PLEA BARGAIN: Negotiation between the prosecuting attorney and the person accused of a crime or that person’s lawyer to exchange a guilty plea for conviction of a lesser charge, if the court approves.


POWER OF ATTORNEY: When a person (the “principal”) authorizes someone else (the “agent” or “attorney in fact”) to take care of business for the principal. A power of attorney authorizes the agent to do whatever is necessary to manage the principal’s assets. A “limited” or “special” power of attorney can be made more restrictive, by setting time limits for the agent to serve, limiting the agent to certain actions, or authorizing the agent to manage only particular assets. There are “general” powers of attorney, “limited” or “special” powers of attorney, and “durable” powers of attorney. A general or limited power of attorney ends when the principal becomes incapacitated. A durable power of attorney stays in effect if the principal becomes incapacitated.


PRECEDENT: A court decision in an earlier case with facts and legal issues similar to a dispute currently before a court. Judges will generally “follow precedent,” meaning that they use the principles established in earlier cases to decide new cases dealing with similar facts and legal issues. A judge will overlook precedent if a party can show that the earlier case was decided incorrectly or that it differed in some significant way from the current case.


PREJUDGMENT CLAIM OF RIGHT TO POSSESSION: A form that a landlord in an unlawful detainer (eviction) lawsuit can serve with the summons and complaint on anyone living in the rental unit who may claim to be a tenant, but whose name the landlord does not know. Anyone living in the rental unit can join the eviction case (even if they are not listed on the court papers) by filling out and filing this form.


PRIMARY PHYSICAL CUSTODY: A type of court order in which a child lives with one parent more than the other parent.


PROBABLE CAUSE: A reasonable basis for assuming that a charge or fact is well founded.


PROBATE: The judicial process to determine if a will of a dead person (called the “decedent”) is genuine or not; lawful distribution of a decedent’s estate.


PROBATE COURT: The department of each county’s superior court that deals with probate conservatorships, guardianships, and the estates of people that have died.


PRO BONO: Legal work done for free; from the Latin meaning “for the good.”


PROCEDURE: The rules for conducting a lawsuit. There are rules of civil procedure, criminal procedure, evidence, bankruptcy, and appellate procedure.


PUBLIC ASSISTANCE: Benefits, like money or food stamps, to help people or families in need. Information on people that apply for certain kinds of public assistance (like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, TANF) is automatically sent to the state IV-D agency to identify and locate the noncustodial parent, establish paternity, and/or obtain child support payments. This lets the state get back some or part of the money it pays to people as public assistance.


PUBLIC DEFENDER: A lawyer appointed by the court, usually to represent a defendant in a criminal case that can’t afford to hire a lawyer.


PUTATIVE FATHER: The person said to be the father of a child but who has not yet been medically or legally declared to be the legal father.


QUALIFIED MEDICAL CHILD SUPPORT ORDER (QMCSO): An order or judgment that provides for medical support for a child of a parent covered by a group health plan or provides for health benefit coverage for the child.


QUALIFIED DOMESTIC RELATIONS ORDER (QDRO): An order or judgment issued by a court and approved by a pension plan, that divides a pension plan in order to make a fair division of property or to pay for child or spousal support.


QUASH: To make void, to vacate, to annul, to set aside. For example, to quash a subpoena means that the court will not enforce the subpoena because it has been voided or set aside.


QUASI-COMMUNITY PROPERTY: Quasi-community property is any type of property that was acquired by either one or both spouses or domestic partners when living in another state that, had it been acquired while living in California, it would have been considered community property. In other words, if you or your spouse or partner were living outside of California during your marriage or partnership, and you had any earnings, bought any real estate, or acquired any other type of property that in California would be community property, that property is called quasi-community property. And, in a divorce or legal separation in California, it will be treated as community property.


QUIET TITLE: A case in which the ownership of real property is in dispute, and the court must decide who owns (or has title to) the property. To “quiet title” is to declare that a certain person is the legal owner of the real property in dispute.


REBUTTAL: Evidence presented at trial by 1 party in order to overcome evidence introduced by another party.


RECIDIVIST: Habitual criminal, repeat offender.


RECIPROCITY: A relationship in which 1 state gives certain privileges to other states or the citizens of other states on the condition that the first state and its citizens receive the same privileges in those other states.


RECUSE: To excuse (oneself) or be excused from a criminal or civil proceeding because of conflict of interest. For example, a judge may recuse himself or herself from a case because of personal or professional involvement with 1 or more of the parties.


REFERRAL: Usually refers to an alternative program, like drug/alcohol rehabilitation (“rehab”) instead of serving time in jail.


REGISTER OF ACTIONS: The official permanent court record of actions in civil cases, including small claims. May be kept electronically and/or in a ledger.


RENT CONTROL ORDINANCES: Laws in some communities that limit or prohibit rent increases, or that limit the reasons why a landlord can evict a tenant.


RENTAL AGREEMENT: An oral or written agreement between a tenant and a landlord, made before the tenant moves in that sets the terms of the tenancy, like the amount of the rent and when it is due.


RENTAL UNIT: An apartment, house, duplex, condominium, or room that a landlord rents to a tenant to live in. When a tenant uses the rental unit to live in, it is called a “residential rental unit.”


RENTER’S INSURANCE: Insurance that protects the tenant’s property against losses, including theft or fire. This insurance usually also protects the tenant against liability (legal responsibility) for claims or lawsuits filed by the landlord or by others who may claim that the tenant negligently injured another person or property.

REPAIR AND DEDUCT REMEDY: The tenant’s remedy of deducting from future rent the amount necessary to repair defects covered by the implied warranty of habitability. The amount deducted cannot be more than one month’s rent. Tenants should be careful when using this remedy and should talk to a lawyer first to make sure it is appropriate for their situation.


RESPONDENT: The person against whom an appeal is made; the responding party in a dissolution, nullity, adoption, or probate case.


RESTITUTION: The act of restoring or giving the equivalent value to compensate for an injury, damage, or loss.


RESTRAINING ORDER: A court order that tells a person to stop doing something for a certain amount of time, usually until a court hearing is held.


REVIEW AND ADJUSTMENT: Process in which current financial information is obtained from both parties in a child support case by a IV-D agency and evaluated to decide if a support order needs to be adjusted.


SANCTION: (1) To concur, confirm, or ratify. (2) A penalty or punishment intended to make someone obey the law.


SATISFACTION: Payment of a judgment amount by the losing party.


SEIZURE ORDER: Court order (after motion) allowing a levying officer to levy on personal property in a private home.


SEPARATION DATE: The date of separation for divorces or registered domestic partnerships is when one spouse (or both) or one partner (or both) decides that the marriage or partnership is over and takes some actions to show this (like moving out of the house).


SEPARATE PROPERTY: Separate property is everything that a husband or wife or registered domestic partnersOWNS SEPARATELY. In most cases that includes: (1) anything that you owned before you got married or registered as domestic partners; (2) anything you earned or received after your separation; and (3) anything that either of you received, as a gift or by inheritance, at any time.


SETTLEMENT: An agreement reached among the parties that resolves the case at any time before a judge’s decision in the case or a jury verdict.


SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT: In a dissolution, legal separation, or annulment of marriage or domestic partnership, a stipulated judgment will often include a settlement agreement. A settlement agreement is a written contract between you and your spouse or domestic partner that contains detailed legal wording about how the issues in your case will be handled. It is usually used when there are complicated issues of property, debt, support, or custody that need to be set out in the judgment.


SHOW CAUSE: A court order telling a person to appear in court and present any evidence why the orders requested by the other side should not be granted or executed. A show cause order is usually based on a motion and affidavit asking the judge to make certain decisions.


SLANDER: Defamation of a person’s character or reputation through false or malicious oral statements.


SMALL CLAIMS CASE: A civil case for a monetary judgment of $5,000 or less.


SMALL CLAIMS COURT: The division of the trial court that handles civil cases asking for $7,500 or less. The plaintiff can file either a small claims case or a regular civil (of limited jurisdiction) case in superior court. Small claims court is designed to be simple, quick, and less costly than a regular civil lawsuit. In small claims court there are no lawyers, no rules of evidence, and no juries. The plaintiff has no right to appeal the judge’s decision, but the defendant may appeal. An appeal would mean a new trial before a different judge. Lawyers can participate in the appeal.


SOLE LEGAL CUSTODY: A type of court order in which one parent has the legal authority to make the major decisions affecting the child, like health care, education, and religion. If the parents do not agree on a decision about the child, the parent with sole legal custody has the right to make the final decision. “Sole custody” does not give one parent the right to move away with the child without notice to the other parent unless the court order specifically gives that right.


SOLE PHYSICAL CUSTODY: A type of court order in which a child lives with one parent more than the other parent.


SOLE PROPRIETORSHIP: An unincorporated business that is owned by one individual.


SPECIAL EDUCATION: Instruction specially designed to meet the unique needs of a child whose disability affects his or her educational performance or ability to learn in a regular classroom.


SPOUSAL SUPPORT: Court-ordered support of a spouse or ex-spouse; also called “maintenance” or “alimony.”


STATE PARENT LOCATOR SERVICES (SPLS): A unit within each state’s child support enforcement agency that locates noncustodial parents to establish and enforce child support obligations, visitation, and custody orders or to establish paternity.


STATEMENT OF FACTS: Any written or oral declaration of facts in a court case.


STATUS OFFENSE: An act, committed by a child, that is illegal only because of the child’s age (e.g. truancy, underage drinking, etc.).


STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS: A law that sets the deadline for parties to file suit to enforce their rights. For example, if a state has a 4-year statute of limitations for breach of a written contract, and “John” breached a contract with “Susan” on January 1, 1996, Susan must file her lawsuit by January 1, 2000. If the deadline passes, the “statute of limitations has run” (or the claim is “time-barred”) and “Susan” may not be allowed to sue. There are very few conditions that allow a statute to be extended or “tolled” (kept from running).


STATUTORY DAMAGES FOR MALICE: A financial penalty set by law if one of the parties has acted with malice. Malice is conscious, intentional wrongdoing based on ill will, hatred or total disregard for the other’s well-being.


STAY ORDER: An order issued by a court stopping court proceedings until a further, specified event takes place.


STIPULATED JUDGMENT: An agreement between the parties to a case that settles a case. For example, if you and your spouse agree on all the matters about your divorce, you can submit a stipulated judgment to the court. The stipulated judgment must be signed by both you and your spouse, and will list your agreements about the division of property and debts, child and spousal support and child custody and visitation. Once the stipulated judgment is signed by the judge, it becomes the judgment in your case.


STIPULATION: An agreement relating to a pending court proceeding between parties or their attorneys.


SUBLEASE: A separate rental agreement between the original tenant and a new tenant to that rents all or part of the original tenant’s unit. The new tenant is called a “subtenant.” The agreement between the original tenant and the landlord is still in place, and the original tenant continues to be responsible for paying the rent to the landlord and for other tenant obligations.


SUMMONS: A notice to a defendant or respondent that an action against him or her was filed in the court issuing the summons and that a judgment will be taken against him or her if the defendant or respondent doesn’t answer the complaint or petition within a certain time.


SUPERVISED VISITATION: Visitation between a parent and a child that happens in the presence of another specified adult. The court may order supervised visitation when there has been domestic violence, child abuse, or a threat to take the child out of state. Click here for more information on supervised visitation.


SUPPORT ORDER: A court order for the support of a child, spouse or domestic partner. A support order can include monetary support; health care; payment of debts; or repayment of court costs and attorney fees, interest, and penalties; and other kinds of support.


SURROGATE PARENT: A person that substitutes for the legal parent to advocate for a child’s special educational rights and needs; can be selected by the child’s parent or appointed by the local educational agency (LEA).


TEMPORARY ASSISTANCE TO NEEDY FAMILIES (TANF): Time-limited public assistance payments made to poor families, based on title IV-A of the Social Security Act. TANF replaced Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC, also called “welfare”) in 1996.


TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER: A court order, sometimes called a “TRO,” that says a person must not do certain things that are likely to cause harm that can’t be fixed. Unlike an injunction, it can be granted immediately, without notice to the opposing party and without a hearing. It is intended to last only until a hearing can be held. TROs are often used in domestic violence cases to protect a person from violence or the threat of violence.


TENANCY: The tenant’s exclusive right, created by a rental agreement between the landlord and the tenant, to use and possess the landlord’s rental unit.TENANTA person who rents or leases a rental unit from a landlord. The tenant has the right to the exclusive use and possession of the rental unit during the lease or rental period.


TESTATE: Having made a will or having died leaving a valid will.


TESTATOR: A person that has made a will or that has died leaving a valid will.


TESTIFY: To give evidence under oath as a witness in a court proceeding.


TESTIMONY: Evidence presented orally by witnesses during trials, before grand juries, or during administrative proceedings.


THIRD-PARTY ACTION: Generally, an action taken by anyone that is not a party to an underlying contract, agreement, or other transaction.


THIRD-PARTY CLAIM: An interest or share in property that has been taken by order of a court.


TIME-SHARE: The plan for how the parents share time with their children. Also called visitation or parenting plan.


TIME WAIVER: When you give up the right to have a certain phase of the legal process take place within the normally specified amount of time.


TITLE: The ownership or evidence of ownership of land or other property.


TORTA: Private or civil wrong; failure to perform some duty required by law or custom, resulting in harm to another. The victim of a tort may have the right to sue for damages to compensate for the harm suffered. Victims of crimes may also sue in tort (in a civil case) for the wrongs done to them.


TORTFEASOR: Person that commits or is found guilty of a tort.


TRANSCRIPT: A Written, word-for-word record of what was said at a trial or some other formal conversation like a hearing or deposition.


TRANSFER: A Judge’s order to transfer a case from 1 court to another before a hearing or trial is held in the matter.


TRANSITION: The moving of a child from one place where they are taken care of (like home, school or day care) to another.


TRIAL: A court process in which the issues of fact and law are heard and decided according to legal procedures so a judicial officer or jury can make a decision in the case. Can be either (1) a bench trial—a trial that is heard and decided by a judge, or (2) a jury trial—a trial that is heard and decided by a jury.


TRUST FUND: Money, stocks, bonds, or securities held under the control of someone for the use and benefit of another.


TRUSTEE: (1) The person that has custody of or control over funds or items for the benefit of another; (2) in a bankruptcy case, a person appointed to represent the interests of the bankruptcy estate and the unsecured creditors. The trustee’s responsibilities may include selling the property of the estate, making distributions to creditors, and bringing actions against creditors or the debtor to recover property of the bankruptcy estate.


UNCLAIMED FUNDS: Support payment that can’t be disbursed because the identity of the payor, or the address of the payee, is unknown.


UNIFORM INTERSTATE FAMILY SUPPORT ACT (UIFSA): Uniform state laws that provide mechanisms for establishing and enforcing child support obligations in interstate cases (when a noncustodial parent lives in a different state than his or her child and the custodial parent).


UNINHABITABLE: A rental unit that has problems or defects so serious that they affect the tenant’s health or safety. A rental unit may be uninhabitable if it is not fit for people to live in, or if does not follow important building and safety code standards that affect the tenants’ health and safety.


UNREIMBURSED PUBLIC ASSISTANCE: Money paid in public assistance to support a child (like, TANF or AFDC) that a noncustodial parent that was ordered to pay child support has not yet paid back.


VERDICT: The final decision about the guilt or innocence of a criminal defendant made by a judge or jury. In a civil case, can be: (1) general: a jury verdict in a civil case in favor of the plaintiff or in favor of the defendant; (2) special/directed: a judge’s verdict in a civil case, after considering applicable law and after the jury states its conclusions on specific factual issues.


VISITATION: A plan for how the parents will share time with their children. Also called time-share.


WAGE ASSIGNMENT: A legal procedure that requires the employer of a judgment debtor to withhold a portion of the judgment debtor’s wages to satisfy a judgment. Also used to order an employer to transfer (or assign) parts of future wage payments to pay a debt, like child support.


WAGE ATTACHMENT: An involuntary transfer of a portion of an employee’s wage payment to repay a debt.


WAGE GARNISHMENT: A legal procedure that requires the employer of a judgment debtor to withhold a portion of the judgment debtor’s wages to satisfy a judgment. Also used to order an employer to transfer (or assign) parts of future wage payments to pay a debt, like child support.


WAGE WITHHOLDING: A legal procedure that allows deductions to be made from wages or income on a regular schedule. The deductions are used to pay a debt, like child support. Wage withholding often is incorporated into a child support order. It can be voluntary or involuntary. Also known as “income withholding.”


WAIVER: To give up a legal right voluntarily, intentionally, and with full knowledge of the consequences.


WARD OF THE COURT: A minor that is under the care and control of the juvenile court and not his or her parent(s).


WARRANT: A written order issued and signed by a judge or judicial officer directing a peace officer to take specific action. Can be: (1) an arrest warrant—orders a peace officer to arrest and bring to the court the person accused of a crime to begin legal action; (2) a bench warrant—a judge’s order to arrest and bring a person to court because the person has failed to appear in court when they were supposed to; (3) a recall warrant—an order to remove from Department of Justice and state police computers information about canceled warrants to avoid mistaken arrests; or (4) a search warrant—an order based on a finding of probable cause directing law enforcement officers to conduct a search of specific premises for specific persons or things and to bring them to the court.


WARRANTY OF HABITABILITY: A promise that goes with the rental of residential property that it will be fit for people to live in (habitable), including working plumbing, gas, electrical and heating systems, hot and cold running water, locking doors and windows, watertight roof, windows, walls and doors, an other health and safety conditions, including clean and sanitary maintenance of the building and grounds, enough bins to store garbage and no rodents or vermin. This promise is part of the law, even if the landlord does not include it in the lease or rental agreement.


WILL: A legal paper that lists a person’s wishes about what will happen to his or her personal property after death.


WITHOUT PREJUDICE: A term used when rights or privileges are not waived or lost. A dismissal of a lawsuit without prejudice means a new suit can be brought on the same cause of action if it is within the statute of limitations.


WITNESS: A person called by either side in a lawsuit to give testimony before the judge or jury.