accused: The person that is charged with a crime and has to go to criminal court. (See defendant.)
Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment: A court form that the judgment creditor must fill out, sign, and file with the court when the judgment is fully paid. If no liens exist, the back of the Notice of Entry of Judgment can be signed and filed with the court. (See judgment creditor, judgment.)
admission: Saying that certain facts are true. But not saying you are guilty. (Compare with confession.)
(1) what they must do and how they must behave,
(2) what evidence they can use to make their decision (called "admissible" evidence), and
(3) how they can use that evidence to make a decision.
adversary system: The system of trial practice in the United States and some other countries in which each of the opposing (or "adversary") parties has the opportunity to present and establish opposing positions before the court.
affirmation: When an appellate court says that the lower court’s decision was right.
affirmative defense: When a defendant or person responding to a civil case has a reason that would make him or her "not guilty" or not at fault and gives the court new evidence to prove that. The defense has to prove what it says (called "burden of proof"). The defense has to explain this defense in their answer.
Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC): A past government program that used to give money (also called "public assistance") to families with children. This was replaced by Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF).
alimony: Money the court orders you to pay to a spouse or ex-spouse. (See spousal support.)
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.
appeal: When someone that loses at least part of a case asks a higher court (called an "appellate court") to review the decision and say if it was right. This is called "to appeal" or "to take an appeal." The person that appeals is called the "appellant." The other person is called the "appellee."
appellate: Having to do with appeals. An appellate court can review a lower court’s (called a "trial court" or "superior court") decision. For example, California Courts of Appeal review the decisions of the superior courts.
assault: When someone tries or threatens to hurt you. Can include violence, but is not battery. (See battery.)
(1) Cases — when the court uses a calendar to give (or "assign") cases to judges;
(2) Lawyers — when lawyers are chosen (or "appointed") to represent juveniles, conservatees, or poor defendants; and
(3) Judges — when judges are sent (or "assigned") to different courts to fill in while other judges are on vacation, sick, etc., or to help with cases in a court.
assignment of support rights: When a person that gets public assistance (money from the government) agrees to give the state any child support they get in the future. The person gets money and other benefits from the state. So the state can use part of the child support to pay for the cost of that public assistance.
assignment order: A court order (made after a motion) that says a judgment debtor must assign certain rights to the judgment creditor. Useful for payments that the judgment debtor would usually get, like rent from tenants, wages from the federal government, sales commissions, royalties, a business’s accounts receivable, or installment payments on IOUs (also called "promissory notes") or judgments.
at-issue memorandum: A legal paper filed in a civil case that says the case is ready to go to trial. (See memorandum to set.)
automated administrative enforcement of interstate (AEI) cases: Part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) that lets states find, put a lien on, and take property from people in a different state that owe money.
[ Top of Page ]
bail bond: A legal paper that you buy from a bondsman and give to the court instead of bail. The defendant signs it and is let go. But if they don’t come to court when they’re supposed to, they must pay the amount of money on the bail bond.
bail notice: A legal paper from the court that says the court will make a warrant for arrest unless the defendant goes to court or pays bail.
bailiff: A person that is in charge of security in the court. Bailiffs are picked by sheriffs or marshals.
bankruptcy: The legal way for a business or person to get help when they can’t pay the money they owe. In bankruptcy court, they can get rid of debts by paying part of what they owe. There are special bankruptcy judges at these hearings.
battery: Illegal beating or physical violence or control of a person without their permission. (Compare with assault.)
behavior intervention plan: Plan made by a local educational agency (LEA), as part of the individualized education program (IEP), to change the behavior of students that hurt themselves, assault others, or are destructive.
(2) Judges in general or a specific judge.
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.
(1) see how much of a certain chemical is in the blood, or
(2) see who is the parent of a child. (See genetic testing.)
bond: A deed or legal paper that restrains a person or makes a person responsible for something. In court, a bond is a written statement that makes one person obligated to pay another person money, in certain circumstances.
burden of proof: When one person in the case has the responsibility to give more evidence than the other person.
[ Top of Page ]
cause of action: The charges (or "counts") that make up the case or lawsuit.
challenge for cause: Reasons that a lawyer gives for removing a juror or judge from a case. (Compare with peremptory challenge.)
change of venue: When a civil or criminal case is moved from one court jurisdiction to another. (See venue.)
charge: In criminal law, each thing the defendant is accused of. (See count.)
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 custody mediation: See custody mediation.
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 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." (See IV-D.)
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.
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.
claim of right to possession: A form that the occupants of a rental unit can fill out to temporarily stop their eviction by the sheriff after the landlord has won an unlawful detainer (eviction) lawsuit. The occupants can use this form only if:
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.)
(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. (See damages.)
complainant: Person that wants to start a court case against another person. In a civil case, the complainant is the plaintiff. In a criminal case, the complainant is the state.
complaint: In civil cases, a written statement filed by the plaintiff that starts a case. Says what the plaintiff thinks the defendant did and asks the court for help. Also called the "initial pleading" or "petition." A complaint is also used to start a criminal case.
concurrent sentences: Sentences you can serve at the same time. For example, if you have concurrent sentences of 10 years and 5 years, you must serve a total of 10 years. (Compare with consecutive sentences.)
confession: When someone admits, out loud or in writing, that they committed a certain crime. (Compare with admission.)
consecutive sentences: Sentences that you serve one after the other. For example, if you have consecutive sentences of 10 years and 5 years, you must serve a total of 15 years. (Compare with concurrent sentences.)
conservator: Someone picked by the court to either take care of someone that can’t take care of themselves (called a "conservatee") or take care of the property of the conservatee, or both.
conservator of the estate: A person or business picked by a judge to handle the financial matters of a person when the judge decides that the person (called the "conservatee") can’t do it.
conservator of the person: A person or business picked by a judge to care for and protect a person when the judge decides that the person (called the "conservatee") can’t do it.
consolidation of actions: When at least 2 cases that involve the same people are grouped together. (Compare with coordination of cases.)
Constitution: The central law of our country that sets up the creation, character, and organization of its power and how that power is exercised. The rules and principles, descriptions of the government’s power, and the main rights that the people of a country or state have.
Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA): Federal law that limits how much money can be taken from someone’s paycheck to pay for child support. States can set their own limits as long as these limits are not higher than the federal ones.
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.
continuing exclusive jurisdiction: Theory that only one support order should be valid between the same people at a time. And when a court hears a child support case, it can add to and change that order. The court of continuing exclusive jurisdiction (CCEJ) has control over a support case until another court takes it away. This is defined in the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). (See Uniform Interstate Family Support Act.)
(2) an agreement between 2 or more people that makes, changes, or ends a legal relationship.
coordination of cases: When cases sharing common questions of fact or law pending in different counties are brought together before 1 judge so that the decisions will be consistent. The cases do not have to involve the same parties. (Compare with consolidation of actions.)
(2) money won in a civil suit to pay for expenses.
count: Each separate charge (or statement) in an action. (See charge.)
counterclaim: An independent charge by 1 side in a case (either the plaintiff or defendant) that goes against the claim made by the other side. (Compare with cross-complaint.)
court: A judge or group of judges whose job is to hear cases and carry out justice. (See bench.)
court investigator (guardianship of the person): Someone employed by the court to investigate a guardianship case where the person who wants to be the guardian is a relative of the child. The court investigator writes a report with recommendations to the judge and any other relevant information.
court stamp: An raised seal press or stamp that prints or stamps a seal on court papers. It might say the name of the judicial district or the consolidated city and county. You can read the stamp in photocopies.
creditor: A person or business that is owed a debt (usually money). (See judgment creditor.)
(2) jail or prison;
(4) being removed from office;
(5) being unable to hold any office of honor, trust, or profit. (See public offense.)
cross-complaint/cross-claim: A claim filed by codefendant(s) or coplaintiff(s) against each other. (Compare with counterclaim.)
cross-defendant: The defendant in a cross-claim.
cross-examination: The testimony a witness gives when the other side’s lawyer is asking the questions at a trial, hearing, or deposition.
(1) the care and control of children. See child custody.
(2) when the court imprisons a person after they are found guilty of a crime;
(3) when someone is under the physical control of the court to make sure they go to court when they're supposed to.
[ Top of Page ]
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.
debtor: A person or business that owes a debt (usually money). (See judgment debtor.)
debtor's examination: A court procedure that a judgment creditor may use to make a judgment debtor provide the information about his or her income and assets needed to collect the judgment. (Often called an "OEX", which is short for an "Order of Examination".)
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.
default: When a defendant in a civil case does not file an answer or other response with the court or go to court when they are supposed to, after being properly notified. This is called being "in default."
default judgment: A court decision in favor of the plaintiff when the defendant doesn’t answer or go to court when they’re supposed to.
defendant: In a civil case, the person or organization sued by the plaintiff. In a criminal case, the person accused of the crime.
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).
deliberations: When a jury, for either a civil or criminal case, goes into the jury room to discuss the evidence and testimony and reach a verdict.
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." (See also discovery.)
direct examination: When a witness testifies and answers questions posed by the party that asked them to testify. (Compare cross-examination.)
direct income withholding: A procedure that orders an employer in another state to withhold support from an employee’s paycheck without having to go through the IV-D agency or court system in that state. With this order, withholding can start right away, unless the obligor doesn’t agree, and no court pleadings are required. (See also income withholding, wage withholding, obligee, obligor.)
discovery: The gathering of information (facts, documents, or testimony) before a case goes to trial. Discovery is done in many ways, such as through depositions, interrogatories, or requests for admissions. It can also be done through independent investigation or by talking with the other side’s lawyer.
discrimination (in renting): Denying a person housing, telling a person that housing is not available (when the housing is actually available at that time), providing housing under inferior terms, harassing a person in connection with housing accommodations, or providing segregated housing because of a person's race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, source of income, age, disability, whether the person is married, or whether there are children under the age of 18 in the person's household. Discrimination also can be refusal to make reasonable accommodations for a person with a disability.
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.
disqualification: When a judge decides (usually voluntarily) not to hear a case. In most cases, this decision has to do with an outside interest of the judge’s that may influence his or her ability to decide the case in a fair and impartial way.
dissolution: A marriage that is ended by a judge’s decision, also known as a "divorce." (Compare nullity.)
diversion: Instead of going to jail, a defendant goes to a rehabilitation ("rehab") program and is supervised by a probation officer. When the defendant finishes the program, the charges are dismissed and the defendant is not sentenced. (Compare electronic surveillance, home detention.)
due process: The regular way that the law is administered through the courts. The U.S. Constitution says that everyone has to have a day in court, has the right to be represented by a lawyer, and the right to benefit from court procedures that are speedy, fair, and impartial.
[ Top of Page ]
earnings withholding order: Court order delivered ("served") by a levying officer or registered process server that directs a judgment debtor’s employer to withhold the earnings of the judgment debtor for the purpose of wage garnishment.
electronic surveillance: Use of an electronic device to keep an eye on where a sentenced person is in the community and to restrict his or her activities, instead of putting the person in jail. (See also home detention.)
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. Learn more about emancipation.
employer’s return: Form returned to a levying officer by an employer that states whether the judgment debtor still works there and when the debtor is paid, and corrects any wrong information about the debtor or employer for the purpose of wage garnishment.
en banc: Court sessions where all the judges of a court participate, instead of the usual number. For example, the U.S. circuit courts of appeals usually use panels of 3 judges, but all the judges in the court may decide certain matters together. When that happens, they are sitting "en banc" (sometimes spelled "in banc"). It comes from French and means "on the bench."
endorsed-filed copies: Copies of court papers that are stamped in the top right corner to show when they were filed. Compare with certified copy.
enforce: To take legal steps to make sure someone complies with a judgment.
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. (See also injunction.) 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.
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).
eviction notice: A notice that the landlord serves on the tenant asking the tenant to move out and explaining why. Some notices give the tenant the chance to fix the problem, like pay back rent or stop doing something prohibited in the lease. There are many types of notices. Click here for more information on eviction notices.
executor: A person named in a will to carry out the will’s instructions and requests. The executor is usually supervised by the probate court. Among other things, the executor takes care of the estate, pays the debts and estate taxes of the person that died, and distributes that person’s money and other property by following the instructions in the will.
execution of judgment: Legal process of enforcing a judgment, usually by seizing and/or selling property of the judgment debtor.
exempt assets: Property of a judgment debtor that is legally protected from being taken to pay the judgment.
exhibit: A document or an object shown and identified in court as evidence in a case. Normally, the court assigns an identifying letter or number in alphabetical or numerical order before exhibits are offered as evidence.
exonerate bail: When the court returns money or property to the defendant or bondsman. (See also bail exoneration.)
ex parte: These Latin words mean "from 1 side only." An example is a motion that is made without giving notice to the other side. In many courts, even ex parte motions require 24-hour notice to the other side except under unusual circumstances.
[ Top of Page ]F
Facilitator: See Family Law Facilitator.
Family Court Services: Part of the family court that helps parents with child custody and visitation issues. It provides services like custody mediation or child custody evaluations. To find the Family Court Services department in your court, find your court.
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. Click here for more information on the Family Law Facilitator.
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.
FAPE: Stands for a "free, appropriate public education." Used to describe special education rights.
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 question jurisdiction: Authority given to federal courts to hear a case if it involves the interpretation or application of federal law, like the U.S. Constitution, acts of Congress, and treaties.
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. Click here for more information on fee waivers and court fees.
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. (See also trustee.)
file-stamped: See endorsed-filed copies.
fix-it ticket: A common name for a traffic ticket given for a malfunction on a vehicle, like a broken taillight. After fixing the problem, the vehicle owner has to get a police officer to sign the ticket to show the problem is taken care of.
foreperson: When the jury first meets to decide a case, they vote to pick 1 member of the jury as their foreperson. The foreperson is in charge of making sure that discussions take place in an orderly way, that the case and issues are fully and freely discussed, and that every juror has a chance to participate in the discussion. When the jury finishes deciding the case, the foreperson counts the votes and completes and signs the verdict form.
forfeiture: When a person must give up money or property because they didn't meet a legal obligation. (See also bail forfeiture.)
[ Top of Page ]
garnishment: A 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. (See also direct income withholding, income withholding, wage withholding.)
general plan of conservatorship: A conservator's formal plan for taking care of the conservatee's personal and financial needs. This plan must be filed with the court within 90 days after the conservator has been appointed by the court. Both conservators of the person and conservators of the estate must prepare and file general plans.
genetic testing: A medical test to determine legal fatherhood (or "paternity"). (See also blood test.)
grand jury: A group of 16 to 23 citizens that listen to the prosecutor's evidence of criminal allegations and decide whether there is probable cause to believe a person committed a crime and to charge them with that crime. (See also indictment.)
guardian ad litem: A court-appointed adult that represents a minor child or legally incompetent person. (See also ad litem.)
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. (Compare with conservatorship.)
guidelines: In family law, a standard method for figuring out child support payments based on the income of the parent(s) and other factors according to state law. The Federal Family Support Act of 1988 says states must use guidelines to calculate support for each family unless there is a written court finding saying the guidelines would be inappropriate for that case.
[ Top of Page ]
habeas corpus: The name of a writ used to bring a person before a court or judge to decide whether that person is being unlawfully denied his or her freedom. The term comes from Latin.
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." See uninhabitableand implied warranty of habitability.
held to answer: A judge's decision at the end of a preliminary hearing in a trial court saying there is enough evidence against the defendant to have a trial. (See also bind over.)
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. (See also electronic surveillance.)
homicide: When 1 person kills another directly, or has someone else kill that person, or the person is killed by the omission of another (that is, by their failure to act when the law requires them to act). It is not always a crime. Homicide can be:
(1) excusable - the result of a lawful act when no hurt was intended or from an act of self-defense;
(2) criminal - the result of any wrongful act without any excuse or justification in law; or
[ Top of Page ]
IEP: Stands for "individualized education program." An IEP is designed to meet the exceptional educational needs of public school students that are eligible for special education services.
immunity: A right to be excepted from duty or penalty. (See also privilege.)
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.
implied warranty of habitability: A legal rule that requires landlords to keep their rental units fit for people to live in. A rental unit must comply with important building and housing code standards that affect tenants' health and safety.
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. (See also direct income withholding, wage withholding.)
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. (See also information.)
in forma pauperis: This is a Latin phrase meaning permission given by a court to a person to file a case without paying the required court fees because the person can't afford to pay them.
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. (See indictment.)
innocent: Found by a court to be not guilty of criminal charges; acquitted. (See also acquittal.)
instructions to jury: Instructions given by a judge to a jury immediately before they decide a case, telling the jury what laws apply to that case. (See also admonition to jury, jury instructions.)
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.
interrogatories: Written questions sent by 1 side in a lawsuit to an opposing side as part of pretrial discovery in civil cases. The side that receives the interrogatories must answer them in writing under oath. (See also discovery.)
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.
intestate: To die without making a will or leaving instructions for disposal of your property after death. (See also testate.)
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. (See also IV-D, public assistance, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).)
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. (See also foster care.)
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. (See also IV-D.)
[ Top of Page ]
jeopardy: Risk to a defendant of possible conviction and punishment. In a criminal case, the defendant is usually said to be "in jeopardy" after the preliminary hearing has taken place and the jury has been sworn in.
judge: An 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. (Compare disposition, verdict.)
judgment debtor's statement of assets: In small claims, the form listing the judgment debtor's assets and sources of income that the judgment debtor must complete and send to the judgment creditor within 30 days after receiving notice of the court's decision.
Judicial Council: The Judicial Council of California is the constitutionally mandated body responsible for improving the administration of justice in the state. The council is made up of judges, court executives, attorneys, and legislators. It was established to standardize court administration, practice, and procedure by adopting and enforcing court rules.
Judicial Council forms: The Judicial Council of California has created many forms (called "Judicial Council forms") to standardize the preparation of court documents. People involved in lawsuits (also called "litigants") must use Judicial Council forms that are labeled "mandatory" and may use forms that are labeled "optional."
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.
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. (See also grand jury, petit jury.)
jury instructions: The guidelines given by the judge at the beginning and end of a trial that explain what the law in the case is and how the jurors should evaluate the evidence. (See also admonition to jury, instructions to jury.)
juvenile: A person younger than the legal age of adulthood, which usually is 18 years but in some cases is 21 years. (See also minor.)
[ Top of Page ]
keeper: An officer that the court appoints to be responsible for money or property legally seized in connection with a pending case.
keeper levy: A judgment enforcement procedure in which the levying officer takes over the operation of a judgment debtor's business for a limited time to obtain cash and credit card receipts for payment to the judgment creditor. (See also judgment creditor, judgment debtor.)
[ Top of Page ]
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. (See also action, case.)
LEA: Stands for "local educational agency," usually the local school district, responsible for providing special education services to eligible public school students.
lease: An agreement for renting real property, including residential property, like a house or an apartment. A lease is usually in writing and it covers a specific amount of time, such as 1 year. A rental agreement for a place where you live (apartment or house) can be a written agreement or a verbal agreement between the landlord and the tenant.
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 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.
lessee: (See tenant.)
lessor: (See landlord.)
Letters of Conservatorship: A court paper that states that the conservator is authorized to act on the conservatee's behalf. Also called "Letters."
levying officer: Sheriff or marshal that is given the power by a writ of execution to levy on a judgment debtor's property.
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. (See also levy.)
limited conservatorship: A conservatorship for developmentally disabled adults.
lis pendens: Jurisdiction of a court over property until final decision of a case; from the Latin for "a pending suit."
local child support agency: See child support enforcement (CSE) agency.
Local forms: Courts create local forms to standardize the preparation of documents in their court. Click here to see a sample local form (PDF). Local forms are different from Judicial Council forms. Local forms can usually only be used in the court that adopted the form. Most Judicial Council forms can be used in every Superior Court in California. Click here to see a sample Judicial Council Form (PDF). Judicial Council forms always have "Judicial Council of California" printed in the bottom left corner of the first page. You can usually get local forms at a court clerk's office or on a court's web site. Look for "forms" or "court forms."
long-arm jurisdiction: Legal provision that lets 1 state claim personal jurisdiction over someone that lives in another state. There must be some meaningful connection between the person and the state or district that is claiming jurisdiction in order for the authority of a court or agency to reach beyond its normal jurisdictional border.
LRE: Stands for "least restrictive environment." This means that, whenever possible, special education students must be placed in regular classrooms with their mainstream, nondisabled peers while still having their special educational needs met.
[ Top of Page ]
maim: To cripple or mutilate in any way; to injure a person in a way that deprives him or her of the use of any limb or other part of his or her body; to seriously wound, disfigure, or disable. (See also mayhem.)
manifestation determination: Part of a pre-expulsion assessment in which the individualized education program (IEP) team figures out if a special education student's misconduct that otherwise could result in expulsion is, instead, a direct manifestation of that student's identified disability and, therefore, not something for which the student may be expelled from school.
manslaughter: The unlawful, but unintended killing of a person. Can be voluntary, like when someone is killed unlawfully under circumstances that don't include a premeditated intent to kill. Or involuntary, like when someone is killed unintentionally as a result of someone else performing another unlawful act or negligently performing a lawful act. (Compare with murder; see also homicide.)
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.
mediation: A process in which a neutral person (or people) helps people who have a dispute to communicate so they can reach an agreement. (Compare arbitration, neutral evaluation.) Click for more information on custody mediation.
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.
memorandum to set: A paper filed by 1 or more parties in a court case saying the case is ready for trial. (See also at-issue memorandum.)
minor: A person under the age of 18 years. (See also juvenile.)
minute order: The courtroom clerk's written minutes of court proceedings. A minute order is done when a trial judge sits officially, with or without a court reporter, and a clerk keeps minutes of the court session. In this cases, the minute order may be the only record of an oral order made by the judge. Copies of the minute orders are usually kept in the case files and the court clerk's office. The format of minute orders can vary from court to court. Generally, they include the name of the court, the name of the judge and the court clerk, the case number and names of the parties in the case, the date of the order, the nature of the proceedings, and the court's ruling. The length of a minute order can be a single page or it can be several pages long.
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. (See also felony.)
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).
moot: A 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 employer: An organization that hires and employs people in 2 or more states. A multistate employer does business in each state, and its employees must pay taxes in the state where they work.
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.
municipal court: Before the Trial Court Unification Act of 1998, there were municipal courts in judicial districts that had more than 40,000 people. Municipal courts heard these kinds of cases: (1) cases asking for less than $25,000; (2) all adult criminal misdemeanors with penalties of no more than 1 year in county jail or a fine of $2,500; and (3) preliminary hearings in felony cases. Now, all these cases are heard in superior court.
[ Top of Page ]
neutral evaluation: When a neutral person (or persons) hears brief written and oral presentations, then considers the strengths and weaknesses of each side's contentions and evidence, and offers an overall evaluation of the dispute. (Compare arbitration, mediation.)
new hire reporting: A program that requires all employers to report newly hired employees to the State Directory of New Hires (SDNH) in their state. This data is submitted to the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH), and compared against child support order information in the Federal Case Registry (FCR) for possible enforcement of child support obligations through wage garnishment.
nolo contendere: No contest; from the Latin for "I do not wish to contend." A plea of nolo contendere has the same effect on a criminal sentence as a plea of guilty, but may not be taken as an admission of guilt for any other purpose. For example, a person might plead nolo contendere and pay a fine or serve jail time as if guilty, but if he or she were sued in a civil case afterward, the other side would still have to prove that the person was guilty.
noncustodial parent (NCP): The parent that does not have primary care, custody, or control of a child. (See also custodial parent.)
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.
Notice of Opposition to Claim of Exemption: In small claims court, a paper filed by the judgment creditor opposing the judgment debtor's claim that certain assets are exempt from collection.
nullity: The legal invalidation of a marriage; annulment. (Compare dissolution.)
[ Top of Page ]
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.
opinion: A judge's written explanation of the decision of the court in appellate cases. Because a case may be heard by 3 or more judges in the appellate court, the opinion in appellate decisions can take several forms. If all the judges completely agree on the result, 1 judge will write the opinion for all. If all the judges do not agree, the formal decision will be based on the majority view, and 1 member of the majority will write the opinion. The judges that do not agree with the majority may write their own dissenting or concurring opinions to state their views. A dissenting opinion disagrees with the majority opinion because of the reasoning and/or the principles of law the majority used to decide the case. A concurring opinion agrees with the decision of the majority opinion, but offers comment or clarification or a completely different reason for reaching the same result. Only the majority opinion can be used as binding precedent in future cases. (See also precedent.)
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. (See also court order, support order.)
Order to Appear for Examination: A court order telling the judgment debtor to come to court on a specified date and time to answer questions about his or her property and sources of income. Also called a "debtor's examination."
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.
[ Top of Page ]
panel: (1) In appellate cases, a group of judges (usually 3) that decide the case; (2) in the jury selection process, the group of potential jurors; (3) the list of attorneys that are available AND qualified to be appointed by the court to represent criminal defendants that can't afford their own lawyers.
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.
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.
pendente lite: Describes orders made during the actual progress of the lawsuit prior to final disposition; from the Latin for "during the suit."
pending: The status of a case that is not yet resolved by the court. (See also active status.)
peremptory challenge: A challenge to a potential juror in a case, by either the defense attorney or the prosecuting attorney, that usually results in that person's disqualification from service on the jury and does not require either attorney to say why the challenge is made. The law limits the number of peremptory challenges allowed. (Compare challenge for cause.)
periodic rental agreement: An oral or written rental agreement that states how often the rent is due, like every week or every month, but does not specify the total number of weeks or months that the agreement will last.
personal service: Refers to when court forms are personally served (delivered). The person who serves the forms must tell the other person that these are legal papers, then leave the papers near the person (at their feet is fine). The person they serve does not have to accept the papers or say or sign anything.
petit jury (or trial jury): A group of citizens that listen to the evidence presented by both sides at trial and figure out the facts in dispute. Criminal juries are made up of 12 people; civil juries are made up of at least 6 people. (See also jury and grand jury.)
petition: A formal written request given to the court asking for a specific judicial action. (Compare motion.)
petitioner: A person that presents a petition to the court.
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.
plea: In a criminal case, the defendant's statement pleading "guilty" or "not guilty" in answer to the charges. (See also nolo contendere.)
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.
points and authorities: Also called "P's and A's." "Points and authorities" refers to the written legal argument given to support or oppose a motion. It includes references to past cases, statutes (codes), and other statements of law that emphasize either the legality of the motion requested or the legal basis for the court to deny the motion.
polling of jury: A practice in which jurors are asked individually whether they agree with the final verdict in the case they just decided.
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.
preliminary examination/hearing: A proceeding before a judicial officer in which evidence is presented so that the court can determine whether there is probable (sufficient) cause to hold the accused for trial on a felony charge.
presentence report: A report prepared by the probation department for the judge when sentencing a defendant. Describes defendant's background: financial, job, and family status; community ties; criminal history; and facts of the current offense. A presentence report must be done in felony cases and may be requested in misdemeanor cases.
pretrial conference: A meeting of the judge and lawyers to plan a trial, discuss which matters should be presented to the jury, review proposed evidence and witnesses, and set a trial schedule. Typically, the judge and the lawyers also discuss the possibility of settling the case.
prima facie: Not requiring further support to establish existence, credibility, or validity; from the Latin for "from first view." A prima facie case is sufficient on its face because it is supported by the necessary minimum evidence and free from obvious defects. Prima facie evidence is sufficient to support a certain conclusion unless contradictory evidence is presented.
privilege: An advantage not enjoyed by all; a special exemption from prosecution or other lawsuits. (See also immunity.)
probation: (1) A sentencing alternative to imprisonment in which the court releases a convicted defendant under supervision of a probation officer that makes certain that the defendant follows certain rules, for example, gets a job, gets drug counseling; (2) a department of the court that prepares a presentence report.
probation officer: Officers of the probation department of a court. A probation officer's duties include conducting presentence investigations, preparing presentence reports on convicted defendants, and supervising released defendants.
probation report: (See also presentence report.)
proceedings: Generally, the process of conducting judicial business before a court or other judicial officer. A "proceeding" refers to any 1 of the separate steps in that process, like, a motion, a hearing.
pronouncement of judgment: When the judge formally issues a judgment in a case.
proof of service: The form filed with the court that proves that court papers were formally served on (delivered to) a party in a court action on a certain date. (See also service of process.)
pro per: An short form of "in propria persona." Refers to persons that present their own cases in court without lawyers; from the Latin for "in one's own proper person." (See also pro se.)
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. (See also IV-D.)
public offense: A crime. Compare to private or civil wrongs that violate "private laws," for example, a contract between 2 parties. The difference between civil/private and criminal/public wrongs is that public offenses focus on the behavior of the offender while the law of civil wrongs focuses on making an injured person whole. (See also crime.)
[ Top of Page ]
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.
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.
[ Top of Page ]
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.
record sealing: A request for a court order to "seal" the record of a misdemeanor conviction. To be eligible for sealing, the crime must have been committed before a defendant's 18th birthday and the judge must have already granted a "release of penalties" order. A sealing order closes any records related to the case, including conviction, charge, and arrest records. If a judge grants an order to seal the record, in the eyes of the law, the misdemeanor is considered to never have happened.
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.
remand: (1) When an appellate court sends a case to a lower court for further proceedings; (2) to return a prisoner to custody.
remittitur (of record): The transfer of the records of a case from a Court of Appeal to the original trial court for further action or other disposition as ordered by the appellate court.
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. See lease and periodic rental agreement.
rental application form: A form that a landlord may ask a tenant to fill out before renting that asks for information about the tenant, like the tenant's address, telephone number, employment history, and credit references.
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.
request for admission: A method of discovery in which 1 party formally and in writing asks the opposing party to admit the truth of certain facts relevant to a case. (See also discovery.)
reset: To put on the court calendar again. (See also calendar.)
residential hotel: Any building that contains six or more guest rooms or efficiency units that are designed, used, rented or occupied for sleeping purposes by guests, and which is the primary residence of these guests.
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. (See also injunction.)
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.
revocation: The act of voiding or canceling something, usually probation or a driver's license.
[ Top of Page ]
satisfaction: Payment of a judgment amount by the losing party.
security deposit: A deposit or a fee that the landlord requires the tenant to pay at the beginning of the tenancy. The landlord can use the security deposit, for example, if the tenant moves out owing rent or leaves the unit damaged or less clean than when the tenant moved in.
sentencing guidelines: A set of rules and principles established by the United States Sentencing Commission that trial judges use to determine the sentence of a convicted defendant in a federal court case.
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).
(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.
sequestration: Members of a sequestered jury are usually housed together in a hotel and are not allowed to contact people outside of the court. Sequestration rarely occurs and is meant for jurors' protection. It is used to keep the jurors away from the media during a controversial trial where widespread media coverage could influence a juror's decision. In rare cases, there may be attempts to influence the jurors' deliberations through threats.
service by publication: When service of process is done by publishing a notice in a newspaper or by posting on a bulletin board of a courthouse or other public facility after a court determines that other means of service are impractical or have been unsuccessful. (See also service of process.)
service of process: The delivery of legal papers to the opposing party. The papers must be delivered by an adult aged 18 or older that is not involved in the case and that swears to the date and method of delivery to the recipient. (See also personal service, substituted service.)
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.
severance of actions: To separate multiple criminal actions, defendants, causes of action, or cross-complaints for separate trials.
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. (Compare libel.)
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: See Primary Physical Custody.
State Case Registry (SCR): A database maintained by each state that contains information on individuals in all IV-D cases and all non-IV-D orders established or modified after October 1, 1998. (See also IV-D.)
State Directory of New Hires (SDNH): A database maintained by each state, that contains information about newly hired employees in that state. (See also new hire reporting.)
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.
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.
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.
subpoena: An official order to go to court at a stated time. Subpoenas are commonly used to tell witnesses to come to court to testify in a trial. The term subpoena is also used generally to apply to a subpoena duces tecum.
substituted service: Service of process on a party by leaving the court papers with someone other than a party to the lawsuit; valid only if certain specified procedures are followed. (See also service of process.)
summary judgment: A court decision made on the basis of statements and evidence presented for the court record without a trial. It is used when no factual disputes exist in the case. Summary judgment is granted if, based on the undisputed facts in the record, a party is entitled to judgment in his or her favor as a matter of law.
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. (See also noncustodial parent, obligation, obligor.)
surety bond: An insurance policy taken out by a defendant with a national insurance company in which the insurer agrees to pay the court the amount of bail required for the defendant's release if the defendant fails to come to court when he or she is supposed to.
surety bond register: A bound, dated volume made available to the public and containing information about each surety bond deposited with the court. It is used by surety bond insurance companies and their bail bondsmen to check the status of their outstanding bail bonds. A company can find out from the register whether or not bonds have been or exonerated.
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).
suspend: To postpone, stay, or withhold certain conditions of a judicial sentence for a temporary period of time.
suspended sentence: In criminal law, this means the defendant doesn't have to serve the sentence at the time the sentence is imposed.
[ Top of Page ]
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 at will: A right to occupy property for an indefinite period of time. The right is given by the property owner or landlord. Ending a tenancy at will requires the same legal procedure as ending a month-to-month tenancy. (See lease.)
tenant screening service: A business that collects and sells information on tenants, like whether they pay their rent on time and whether they have been defendants in eviction (unlawful detainer) cases.
testate: Having made a will or having died leaving a valid will. (See also intestate.)
till tap levy: A judgment enforcement procedure in which the levying officer makes a trip to a business and picks up the money in the cash register or cash box. Many counties now combine this procedure with a keeper.
toll: See statute of limitations.
tort: A 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. (See also damages.)
tortfeasor: A 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.
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.
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.
[ Top of Page ]
U.S. attorney: A lawyer appointed by the president of the United States in each federal judicial district to prosecute and defend cases for the federal government. The Office of the U.S. Attorney has a staff of assistant U.S. attorneys that appear as the government's attorneys in individual cases.
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. (Compare to habitable.)
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.
uphold: When an appellate court agrees with the lower court decision and allows it to stand. (See also affirmation.)
[ Top of Page ]
vacate the default judgment: Getting a default judgment removed or erased. (See also default judgment.)
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.
voir dire: The process by which judges and lawyers select members of the jury by questioning them to make sure they can fairly decide the case.
[ Top of Page ]
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 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." (See also direct income withholding, earnings assignment, income withholding.)
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, and 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.
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.
writ: A written court order saying that certain action must be taken. Can be a writ of: (1) attachment—an order to attach specified property; (2) certiorari—an order by an appellate court granting or denying a review of judgment; (3) execution—an order to enforce a court judgment; (4) habeas corpus—an order to release someone that has been unlawfully imprisoned; (5) mandamus (or mandate)—an order to perform any act designated by law to be part of a person's duty or status; or (6) prohibition—the opposite of a writ of mandate that orders that further proceedings or other official acts be stopped (usually issued from a higher to a lower court).
Writ of Execution: An order issued by a court requiring the performance of a specified act, or giving authority to have it done. It is used to allow the levying officer the power to take the judgment debtor's property.
writ of possession: A document issued by the court after the landlord wins an eviction (unlawful detainer) lawsuit. The writ of possession is served on the tenant by the sheriff. The writ informs the tenant that the tenant must leave the rental unit within five days, or the sheriff will forcibly remove the tenant.
[ Top of Page ]