Plain language legal dictionary

Legalvorce is committed to making the law simpler, more affordable, and available to everyone. In the spirit of this goal, we've created the Plain Language Legal Dictionary.

What is the Plain Language Legal Dictionary? Simple. It's a collection of over a thousand common legal terms defined in simple, everyday language. We cut out the legalese so anyone can make sense of their agreements, contracts, and documents.

If you've come across a term you don't quite understand, click the letter it starts with above. If your term isn't in there, let us know. We'd be happy to add it.

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Affidavit: a written statement under oath.

Agreement: a verbal or written joint resolution of disputed issues.

Alimony: money one spouse is required to pay the other spouse for support. Alimony must be requested at the final hearing, otherwise it may never be granted in the future.

Annulment: legal process of dissolving a marriage in which it is declared void. The law treats it as if the parties were never married. Annulment is granted only under certain limited circumstances.

Answer: a written response to a complaint, petition or motion in which to express agreement or lack of agreement.

Arrearages: money for overdue or unpaid court-ordered alimony and/or child support.

Automatic Court Orders: court orders that go into immediate effect when the divorce proceedings begin.

Best Interests of the Child: a legal standard used by the courts to determine if child custody, visita- tion and support agreements reached by the divorcing parents are the most advantageous for the child, given the circumstances.

Child Support: court-ordered payment by a parent to aid in the financial needs of a child.

Collusion: a deal struck between two or more people to have one party declare a false charge against the other. In divorce, one spouse may claim infidelity as the reason for wanting a divorce, although neither party committed adultery.

Complainant: the party who files the suit, also known as “plaintiff.”

Complaint: the legal paper that starts a case.

Contested Divorce: when both parties are unable to come to an amicable agreement during divorce proceedings.

Custody: the legal arrangement stating with whom the child will live and by whom decisions about the child are made. Custody includes 1) legal custody which is the decision making element, and 2) physical custody which is where the child calls home on a regular basis. Decisions about custody are made “in the best interest of the child”.

Decree: the court’s formal order of granting the divorce.

Default: failure to answer a complaint within a specified timeframe.

Defendant: the person the case is brought against. In divorce cases, as opposed to criminal or civil disputes, the defendant is also often referred to as the Respondent.

Discovery: the act of sharing information between sides.

Equitable Distribution: division of property in which an asset accumulated during the marriage belongs to the spouse who earned or acquired it.

Filing: giving the clerk of the Court your legal papers and making a public record.

Grounds for Divorce: the legal reason for a divorce.

Judgement: a court’s decision.

Jurisdiction: the authority a court has to hear and try a case.

Marital Property: jointly-owned assets during a marriage.

No-Fault Divorce: divorce that doesn’t require one spouse to prove the other’s misconduct.

Notice: legal process of informing one spouse about legal action involving him or her.

Order: a court’s ruling on a specific legal issue.

Petition: the legal paper that starts a case.

Petitioner: spouse who started the case by filing for divorce. Also known as “plaintiff.”

Pro Se: representing yourself in court without an attorney.

Residency Requirement: length of time an individual must live in a state or county before legal action can be filed in that state or county.

Respondent: the person whom the divorce is brought against also often referred to also as the Defendant.

Separate Property: assets that belong to one spouse and cannot be divided.

Spousal Support: payment to support a spouse’s finances. Also know as “alimony.”

Uncontested Divorce: when both parties agree on the terms of the divorce without issue.

Venue: the county where the case is heard.

Visitation: a non-custodial family member’s right to spend time with children as approved by the court.



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