Personal - A-Z Legal Assistance Glossary





Abuse includes physical abuse, harassment, making a child or other person watch abuse, forcing you to do something you don't want to do or denying a disabled person access to needed care.



To be found not guilty of a crime by a judge or jury.


Adjusted Gross Income

This is the amount of your income before taxes, minus some specific items identified in the tax code.



When an adult becomes the legal parent of someone who is not his or her biological child.


Adoptive Parents

The person(s) who are attempting to adopt, or have already adopted a person.



Any person 18 years old or over.



A written statement made and signed by a person under oath.


Affidavit of service

A written statement, signed by a person under oath, that the person served the party being sued with a summons to appear in court and a copy of a complaint against them.



The person who is given the legal authority to make decisions for someone else.


Agreed Order

An agreement between the two sides in a lawsuit that states what both sides will do for the other.



A defendant's written response to a plaintiff's initial court filing (called a complaint). An answer normally denies some or all of the facts asserted by the complaint.



A written request to a higher court to reconsider, change or reverse the judgment or order of a lower court.



When a defendant or respondent first goes to court or files a form with the court, telling the plaintiff or petitioner and the court they will participate in the court process.


Appearance Form

A form filed with the court notifying everyone that the defendant or respondent will participate in court. A defendant or his representative can file it.



An alternative to court where the parties present their case to a neutral third party (the arbitrator) to reach an agreement.



The total amount of overdue or unpaid child or spousal support. The interest on the payment is included in the amount. This term can also refer to the amount that is overdue on your loan.


Arresting Authority

The law enforcement agency that arrested you.



Anything you own that has monetary value, including money in the bank.


Attorney's Fees

The payment made to a lawyer for his or her legal services.


At-will employees

Employees who can leave a company for any reason, but also can be fired for almost any reason. There are certain reasons, like discrimination or retaliation, for which an employee cannot be fired.



Money paid to release someone from jail. This money is intended to make sure that person comes back to court for trial and will usually be returned if they come to all their court appearances.



A proceeding that legally declares that you are unable to pay your debts. It also provides you with protection while attempting to repay your debts.



Any person or entity (like a charity) that gets property or money from an estate.


Birth Certificate

An official legal document showing place of birth, time of birth, and the parent’s names.


Burden of proof

A description of how much proof you need to win your case. Some cases require only convincing the judge your story is more likely than the other side’s, other cases require stronger proof.


Certified Copy

A document that is sworn to be true by the court clerk. The clerk usually does this by stamping the document.


Certified Mail

Mail that gives you proof of delivery.


Certified Order

A court order that has been officially authorized.


Child Custody

The care and control of a child.


Child Support

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


Child Support Order

The decision of the court telling the non-custodial parent to pay child support.


Circuit Clerk

The officer in the Circuit Court Clerk's Office who takes care of files, documents, and provides certified copies.



An order from the court to come to court on a certain date and time, usually because of something minor like a traffic ticket.


Citation to Discover Assets

An order from the court for a person to come to court on a certain date and time to be questioned under oath about how much money you have and property you own.


Civil court

The court in which Civil cases are heard. These are cases that are not about breaking a criminal law. Types of civil cases can be about contracts, damages to property, injuries from a car accident, divorce, child support, child abuse and neglect, eviction, foreclosure, settling someone's estate after they die, or suing someone for money.


Civil Cover Sheet

A form completed by the plaintiff that is submitted along with the complaint. The civil cover sheet records basic information about the case, including the names of the parties, the type of case, and what the plaintiff is requesting.



Two people who live together.



Property you promise to give up if you don’t repay a loan or bond.



A written statement by the plaintiff that starts a lawsuit. It says what the

plaintiff thinks the defendant did and asks the court for help.



When someone gives his or her legal permission for someone else to do something.


Consent Foreclosure

An agreement for land to be foreclosed, or sold by the lender. The buyer and lender can save the cost of litigation in such cases.


Contempt of Court

Any thing you do, inside or outside of court, which violates a court order or shows disregard to the court. A judge can order someone to be fined, lose their case, or even sent to jail for contempt of court.


Contested Case

A case where both sides present opposing arguments and evidence.



When the judge delays the trial either at the request of the parties or because the judge decides to delay it.



An agreement between two or more people that's enforceable by law.



Any finding of guilt, which results in regular probation, conditional discharge, fine, time served, or a sentence of incarceration.



Counsel is another name for attorney.



An affidavit made to oppose an affidavit that is already made.



A claim brought by a defendant against a plaintiff.


Counterfeit Checks

Checks that look genuine but are fraudulent.


Course of conduct

Two or more acts that make a series of events.


Court Clerk

An officer in the Court's Clerk's Office who takes care of clerical matters like filing documents and providing certified copies.


Courtesy copies

A copy of a document or motion that must be brought to the judge's chambers after it is filed with the court.



A creditor is someone to whom you owe money.


Custodial Parent

The parent who the court has given care and control of the child.



The physical and legal control of a child.


Custody of the Court

When someone is under the physical control of the court to make sure they go to court when they are supposed to.



A person who owes money to another.



A document that transfers ownership of a real property (land, house, etc).


Deed in lieu of foreclosure

A lender will take the deed to your home and forgive any debt they have against you for the property.



When a party in a civil case does not file an answer or go to court when they are supposed to, but was properly notified. This is called being "in default."


Default judgment

An official decision in a civil case that resolves the dispute in favour of the Plaintiff when the Defendant failed to file an answer or go to court when they were supposed to after being properly notified.



The person or organization sued by the plaintiff in a lawsuit.



The defendant's arguments against the plaintiff’s charges. These can include claims that the defendant did nothing wrong.


Deferred payment price

The amount of a debt which has been incurred and will be paid back at some point in the future.



Any late support payment that remains unpaid after the entry of the support order. This late payment can also be a late interest payment.



A person who relies on another for support, such as a child or disabled adult.



When a person has a condition which prevents them from performing all usual physical or mental functions. This usually means a permanent state, like blindness, but in some cases is temporary.



A short written record of everything that happens in a civil case.


Domestic Abuse

Abuse by one household or family member against another household or family member.


Domestic Battery

The crime that results when one family member physically hurts another family member.



The state in which the law says you are a citizen.


Emotional distress

Significant mental suffering, anxiety, or alarm.


Equitable Distribution

Instead of requiring a 50/50 split of marital property, equitable distribution takes into account the financial situation of each spouse as well as the following factors:

  • The length of the marriage;
  • The age and physical and emotional health of the spouses;
  • The income or property brought to the marriage by each spouse;
  • The standard of living established during the marriage



The amount that is left after you pay off your loan with the amount you get from selling the house.



All of the property a person owns at their death.


Evict / Eviction

To terminate the ownership or lease and be physically removed from the property you used to lease or own.



Anything presented to a court to prove a fact, which may include the testimony of witnesses, records, documents, or objects.



The person in charge of distributing the property left in a will.



When a criminal record gets "expunged," it is as if the crime never occurred. Each law enforcement agency expunges, or destroys, their records.


Fair Credit Billing Act

The Act that gives guidelines for a person to dispute something on their credit card statement.


Family or household member

A family or household member means: spouses and former spouses, parents, children and stepchildren, persons who formerly shared the same home, Persons who dated or were engaged, regardless of gender, persons who allegedly have a child in common, persons with disabilities and their personal assistants


Fault Grounds

Claiming that the other spouse is the cause of the marriage failing. Examples of these grounds are physical cruelty, mental cruelty, adultery, etc.



A serious crime, such as murder, rape, or burglary, which is punishable by a prison sentence of more than a year.


Filing Fee

A fee charged by a public official, such as a Court Clerk, to accept a document for processing.


Grounds for Divorce

This is the legal term for the reasons for which you can divorce. For example, mental cruelty or irreconcilable differences.


Guardian Ad Litem

A court-appointed adult that represents a minor.



When a person is appointed by a judge to take care of a child or disabled person. They might also be appointed to manage finances or estates.



Harassment means engaging in conduct that would cause a reasonable person emotional distress.



A proceeding before a referee or administrative judge. You get to present your case and then the referee or administrative judge will then make a decision.


Hearing Officer

A person appointed by an agency to handle hearings on agency issues.



Anyone who receives property from someone who has died.


In Custody

When law enforcement or the court imprisons a person as a suspect in a crime or after they are found guilty of a crime.


Independent Contractor

A person hired to do a specific job and whose work is not supervised.


Interference with personal liberty

Committing or threatening physical abuse, harassment, intimidation or wilful deprivation that forces or prevents someone from engaging in or refraining from some conduct.


Interim Order

A temporary order telling a person to do something. This order is usually given in the middle of a trial or hearing, most of the time lasting until the end of a trial or hearing. A common example is an Interim Order of Protection.


Irreconcilable Differences

When a couple cannot agree about things in their marriage and don’t think they can ever come to an agreement. This is one of the reasons you can site as reasons for filing for a divorce.


Joint custody

Allows for maximum involvement of both parents in the lives of their children, and requires parents to consult and cooperate on all significant matters concerning the children, such as education, health care, religious training, etc. Joint custody does not mean equal custody.



An official decision by a court that resolves the dispute between parties.


Judicial Sale

A sale of property ordered by a court to satisfy an unpaid obligation



The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a case.


Leave of Court

Permission obtained from a court to take some action, which would not be allowable without such permission.


Legal Separation

A legal declaration saying that a husband and wife agree to live separately and divide their finances and custody of children. This is usually a step taken by couples thinking of getting divorced, but it can be reversed.



The right of a lender to take your property or a specific item, such as a car, in case you fail to make up the payment.


Magistrate Judge

Judges that can handle a wide range of matters referred to them by district judges in civil cases. If all of the parties give their consent, a civil case can be reassigned to a magistrate judge for trial.



Money the court orders one spouse to pay the other spouse or ex-spouse. This can also be referred to as “alimony.”


Marital Property

Property acquired by either spouse during the marriage.



The attempt to settle a legal dispute with a third party who works to reach a fair agreement between the parties.



A neutral third-person that will help resolve disputes between two parties.


Memorandum of Judgment

A brief summary or outline of a judgment.



A person less than 18 years old.



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



A request made to the judge in a case that asks for a specific ruling or order.


Motion for a Rule to Show Cause

A motion for Rule to Show Cause is used when one party believes that the other party has violated a Court Order or Judgment.


Motion for a Turn Over Order

This motion asks the court to command the defendant to turn over any non-exempt assets or property in the defendant's possession when the plaintiff pursues collecting a judgment that has been entered against the defendant.


Motion to Continue a Court Date

This is a motion that can be brought by the parties or the Court itself. It is used to change the date of hearing to a later date. The Court may grant this motion for a number of reasons including an unusual or complex case, the need for physical or mental examinations, or delay due to other claims the party may be involved in.


Motion to Dismiss a Case

This motion is used when a party is arguing that a case should not be heard, even if all the claims made in the case are true. If this motion is granted it means that the court felt that there was no legal remedy for the claims being argued, even if they did actually happen.


Motion to Dismiss a Party

This motion is used to release a party from a claim in court when either you or the party themselves believes that they are not properly part of the claim. The court will grant this motion if they feel that the part was improperly included in the claim, or if the court determines that it lacks personal jurisdiction or subject matter jurisdiction over the party.


Municipal ordinance

A law or regulation of a city or local government.


National Credit Bureaus / Credit Reporting Agencies

Agencies that report personal and financial information about people to lending companies. The lending companies are asking for this information because they are going to lend money to people.



When a person acts with less care or caution than a regular person would have in the same situation. This usually deals with responsibilities of parents or guardians who neglect their dependants.


No-Fault Grounds

When neither spouse is to blame for the failure of the marriage. An example of this ground is irreconcilable differences.


Non-Custodial Parent

The parent, who does not have care and control of the child and who, in child support cases, has been ordered to pay child support.



A written announcement or warning. For example, a notice to the other side that on a certain date a particular motion will be made in court.


Notice to Withhold Income for Support

A notice sent to the non-custodial parent’s employer which directs the employer to take the child support payment out of the non-custodial parent’s paycheck.



The person, state agency, or institution owed a debt (usually money).



The person that must pay child support or perform some other financial obligation.


Of Sound Mind

When a person can understand and relate personal information to a court.



It is a decision of the court asking the person, against whom it is made, to do or not do something.


Order of Protection

A written order made by a judge against the abuser in a domestic violence case. This order attempts to stop further domestic abuse and may also impose other restrictions.



To release someone from punishment for a crime they were convicted of committing.



The persons who the court says are the father and mother of the child.



A government document that includes a person's identity and citizenship. It permits a person to travel outside the country.



The person who the court says is the father of a child.



A fixed amount of money paid to a person by an employer during retirement.



The deliberate and wilful giving of false, misleading, or incomplete testimony under oath.


Personal Jurisdiction

The authority of the court to make a decision that affects the parties in the case.


Personal Notice

When a defendant receives notice of a lawsuit in person.



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


Petition for Dissolution of Marriage

A formal written request filed in court that asks for a divorce.


Petition for Rule to Show Cause

A petition used when one party believes the other party has violated a court order or judgment.



The person that presents to the court a formal request asking for a specific judicial action.


Petition for Visitation

A written legal request to the court asking the court to award visitation rights.



A person that sues in a lawsuit.


Plenary Order of Protection

An order granted by a judge in a domestic violence case after a victim and alleged abuser present their arguments.


Police Report

When a police officer writes a description of what happened at an accident or at an occurrence.


Preliminary Injunction

An order issued by a judge that stops the defendant from doing a certain activity. This order makes a temporary restraining order permanent.


Preliminary Motion

A request made to the judge, made before the case, that asks for a specific ruling or order.


Prima facie

When the facts of your situation allow you to bring a case of discrimination.



The person who signs a power of attorney, giving someone else the right to make decisions for him or her.


Pro Se

Pronounced 'Pro Say.' A person who represents themselves without lawyer.



When a person who has been convicted of a crime is released from jail but still has to follow rules associated with the sentence. These rules can include paying fines or doing community service.


Reasonable person

A legal term used to compare someone’s actions to what an average and reasonable person would have done in the same situation.



A person appointed by a court administrator to take into custody the property or funds of others, pending litigation.


Recorder of Deeds

Government office that keeps records and documents on property ownership.



The person at an administrative hearing who acts like a judge and makes a decision on the facts.


Registered Agent

The person who receives notice of legal actions when a corporation is sued.



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



A formal written answer to a petition filed with the court by the respondent.


Return Date

The date by which you are required to file an appearance or other required response with the court.


Return Receipt

Proof of delivery with the recipient's signature, and the date and time of delivery; often combined with certified mail.





Rule to Show Cause

A petition used when one party believes the other party has violated a court order or judgment.



When a judge penalises a party for improper conduct in a court case.



When a criminal record is "sealed," your file remains intact but under seal, which means most of the general public, will not have access to the record. However, law enforcement will still have access to your records.



You and your spouse are living "separate and apart" from each other in different places.



When the person being sued receives a Summons to appear in court and a copy of a complaint against them.


Settlement Agreement

An agreement by both sides in a lawsuit that settles all the issues of the dispute without going to trial.


Sole Custody

The right given to one parent in a custody case that allows them to make decisions about their children’s care. This parent makes decisions about the child’s education, health and religious practices.


Statutes of limitations

Length of time to file a suit in court.



A court order requiring someone to show up in court and provide evidence in a court case.



A notice to a defendant that a lawsuit against him or her was filed in a court and that the defendant has to appear in court.



A court order holding the case open for a specific period of time, usually between six months and two years. During that time, no judgment of guilt is entered. If all the conditions of supervision are followed, the case is dismissed and no conviction is ever entered against the individual.


Temporary Restraining Order

An order that tells one person to stop harassing or harming another. The judge issues this order before the preliminary injunction


To give evidence under oath as per the law.



A court process where the issues of your case are heard and either a judge or jury makes a decision about your case.


Uncontested Case

A case in which your spouse is not going to fight over whether there should be a divorce or over any other issue that a judge might need to decide, such as child custody or maintenance.



To cancel or erase a judgment of the court. If a judgment or sentence is vacated, it no longer has any legal effect.


Victim's Statement

A statement given by the victim of a crime detailing the criminal incident.



The right of a parent who does not have custody of a child to see the child regularly.



To give up a legal right.



The act of giving up a legal right.



A person who has a guardian appointed by the court to care for and take responsibility for them.


Wilful Conduct

When a person intentionally does something that they know is wrong.


Wilful deprivation

Wilfully denying a person a necessity, which they depend on, and thereby exposing them to physical, mental or emotional harm.



A person who swears under oath to give true evidence.

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