ABA (American Bar Association):

The largest organization of American lawyers, which has no official government standing, but enjoys a prestige in formulating guidelines for the practice of law, giving direction to legislation, lobbying for the law profession, and evaluating nominees for federal judgeships.


Child abandonment is the practice of abandoning one's child(ren) outside of legal adoption. Generally abandonment occurs in two circumstances: 1) criminal abandonment in which a child becomes a foundling; and 2) when a parent has severed all ties with the child(ren) or other parent by failing to provide support or contact for such length of time for the court to find that the familial relationship ceases to exist legally.  Child abandonment may be prosecuted as a criminal offense under state laws.  Vacating the marital home or relocating does not in itself constitute a fault ground of abandonment. Although not all state statutes provide a time period to define abandonment, the court will usually base a finding of abandonment on evidence of an intention not to return or support.  Refer to Uncared For.


The act of taking a person by persuasion, fraud, or by open force or violence. In modern usage, abduction or kidnapping of a child is often called child stealing, particularly when done not to collect a ransom, but rather with the intention of keeping the child permanently, most usually committed in the case where the child's parents are divorced or legally separated, though there is no predominance of the parent not having legal custody, as those who do, will more likely perpetrate the act.  Refer to Parental Kidnapping, Hague Convention or Kidnap.

Ab Initio:

Latin for "from the beginning” generally used in reference to indicate a valid state of being back to its creation.

Absent Parent:

An offensive term which generally refers to a non-custodial parent, obligated to make child support payments, and is physically absent from the child's home. The term also refers to a parent who has abandoned their child(ren) to the other parent with no intention of maintaining contact.  Refer to Abandonment.

Absolute Divorce:

A term used by some states to indicate the final ending of a marriage that permanently terminates the marital union and all property claims, freeing both parties to legally remarry.


Any physical, sexual, emotional and/or other maltreatment or exploitation of a person. For legal purposes, the term "abuse" is specifically defined in Federal and State legislation which provides a foundation for States by identifying a minimum set of acts or behaviors that characterize maltreatment.  Refer to Child Abuse and Neglect or Maltreatment.


    A preferred term to visitation, often used in conjunction with a custody order or other court intervention to assist parents involved in marital discourse, custody disputes, parental alienation, and dysfunctional family relations better cooperate and collaborate in the best interests of their children prior to or following break-up of the family.  Access services usually consist of supervised access (visitation) or monitored transfer of the child(ren) which provide the details of custodial/non-custodial parental interactions.  Refer to Supervised Access (Visitation), Monitored Transfer or Safe Haven.

ACF (Administration for Children and Families):

A division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that administers and funds government policy for state, territory, local, and tribal organizations. ACF is primarily charged to provide for family assistance (welfare), financial child support, child care, Head Start, child welfare, and other programs relating to children and families.  Actual services are provided by state, county, city and tribal governments, and public and private local agencies. ACF assists these organizations through funding, policy direction, and information services.  Refer to HHS (Department of Health and Human Services).

ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union):

A membership organization maintaining a mission to defend and protect "the rights of man set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution" by researching the legalities of public policies and actions and defending clients in court when civil liberties are in question, without charge and often as a “friend of the court”.  Refer to Amicus Curiae.


A generic term referring to a lawsuit or proceeding in a court of law.  Refer to Cause of Action.


Trained professionals (mathematicians), primarily working in the insurance industry that deal with probabilities and evaluating the current financial implications of future inevitable events. In the divorce process an actuary may be called upon to calculate the current assets of marital property and project what the worth would be at some future date, the enduring period if equally split, or financial result of dividing current assets.


The formal act of dispensing or pronouncing a judgment or decree during the legal process of resolving a dispute or rendering a decision on a matter before the court.

Administrative Hearing:

A legal proceeding conducted before a governmental agency that has authority to regulate a particular field or oversee a governmental benefit program; or an administrative hearing officer or judge. There is no jury or deliberations associated with an administrative hearing, instead the agency officer or the administrative law judge will make a ruling.

Admissible Evidence:

Evidence is any testimony, document or demonstrative material that is officially considered by the court in order to decide the merits of a controversy.  The admissibility of evidence is determined by statutory rules of evidence which are the duty of the presiding judge to apply.


Adoption is the process by which the state may form legal parent-child relationship between individuals not directly biologically related.  Adoption creates an equal basis of recognition under the law in terms of inheritance and equitable distribution upon death of an adoptive parent.  Refer to Decree of Adoption, Open Adoption, or Equitable Distribution.


Refer to Alternative Dispute Resolution.


Sexual intercourse between a married person and a third party which may be considered as a ground (reason) for divorce in states which have not adopted “no-fault” divorce. Refer to Grounds, Fault Divorce, or No-Fault Divorce.

Ad Valorem:

A Latin term meaning “according to value or according to valuation”, used in assessing and taxing property.  Refer to Marital Property, Community Property, or Equitable Distribution.


The approach to law where two parties (plaintiff/defendant or complainant/respondent) contend with or oppose one another in a legal action.  The opposing or adverse parties, often represented by legal counsel, present evidence to an impartial decision-making body, generally a jury or the bench (judge) for a determination (verdict or decision).


A person who pleads, intercedes or speaks on behalf of another, or in favor of an idea, especially in a context of legal or social issues.  Refer to Amicus Curiae or Advocacy (link to CRC)

AFCC (Association of Family and Conciliation Courts):

An interdisciplinary and international nonprofit association of professionals concerned about the care and custody of children and the collaborative resolution of family conflict

AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children):

Government aid program to impoverished families more commonly referred to as “welfare”. Replaced in 1996 by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program, created by the Welfare Reform Law of 1996. TANF became effective July 1, 1997. See TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).


A written statement of facts sworn (affirmed) under oath to a judicial officer or other authority to administer an oath (e.g. a notary public), declaring that the contents are true, complete and accurate to the best of their information, knowledge and belief.  Affidavits are valuable to the court in presenting evidence and preserving the testimony of persons who are unable to appear in court due to illness, incarceration, moving out-of-state, death, etc; and are often used in circumstances to support a motion.

Affirmative Statute:

An act of the legislature which is enacted in affirmative terms and therefore does not take away from the established common law.  An Affirmative Statue declares that when certain requisites shall have been complied with, deeds shall, have in evidence a certain effect which does not prevent their being used in evidence, though the requisites have not been complied with, in the same manner as they might have been before the statute was passed.  Refer to Statute, Public Statute, Private Statute, Declaratory Statute, Temporary Statute, Perpetual Statute, Negative Statute, Penal Statute, or Classifications of Law.

Age of Majority:

The legally defined age at which a person is considered an adult with the attendant rights, responsibilities and liabilities associated with adulthood.  With some exceptions, as defined by state laws, parental duty of financial support to a child generally ceases when the child reaches the age of majority, usually at age 18. Refer to Legal Majority or Emancipation.


A verbal or written resolution of a disputed issue even without legal obligation, which may be legally enforceable; or in law, another name for a contract including all the elements of a legal bond: offer, acceptance, and consideration (payment or performance), based on specific terms.  Refer to Separation Agreement, Property Settlement, or Marital Property.


Short form for “Also Known As”, used to identify an alias, maiden name, or another name, or different spelling of the same name used by the same person.

Alias Summons:

Issuance of a facsimile summons when the original is not served on the defendant.

Alienation of Affection:

An intentional, malicious interference with a marital relationship by a married person and a third party which may be considered as a ground (reason) for divorce in those states which have not adopted a pleading of “no-fault” divorce.  Refer to Grounds, Fault Divorce or No-Fault Divorce.


Also called maintenance or spousal support, alimony is a court-ordered payment of support provided by one spouse to the other to fulfill a financial obligation incurred from the marriage. The amount is usually set by a judge with some jurisdictions having a statutory formula to follow, while others leave the determination to the discretion of the court.  Refer to Lump Sum, Temporary, Permanent or Rehabilitative Spousal Support.

Alimony Trust:

A rarely used trust fund method of establishing and paying extremely expensive awards involving complex gift and income tax analyses.

Allodial System:

The manner and use of acquiring and possessing real property, allowing free and full ownership of land, with all rights pertaining thereto, as legally entitled under United States property laws.  Refer to Real Property.

Alternative Dispute Resolution:

Out-of-court processes, collectively referred to as ADR, involving methods of arbitration, mediation, negotiation or collaborative law to develop settlement agreements for court approval and final judgment (decree) of divorce. Refer to Collaborative Law, Mediation and Arbitration.


An approach to a civil action (i.e. divorce) where spouses are polite and willing to work towards a jointly satisfying compromise in their best interest and that of their child(ren).

Amicus Curiae:

Amicus curiae is a Latin term meaning "friend of the court".  Generally the term refers to a point of view made by an interested person or organization, not party to the case, for the purpose of setting a precedent in the legal area of interest. The term may also refer to an outsider who may inform the court on a matter in which a judge is doubtful or mistaken in a matter of law.

Animus Manendi:

A Latin term meaning “intention of remaining”, and used to legally describe the acquisition of a domicile based on habitation in one place, with the intention of remaining there; for without such intention no new domicile may be gained, nor may the existing be lost. Refer to Domicile or Residence.


A scheduled payment made on regular, fixed intervals generally established under a contract to provide retirement income. The length of the interval that the agreement establishes between payments is called an annuity period.  Refer to Income.


A court decree that states that a marriage was never valid, to void the marriage as though it never legally existed in the eyes of the law; usually granted on the basis of fraud, legal incompetence, or through a religious tribunal.


The legal written responsive pleading to a complaint, petition, or motion that answers a claim or allegation.

Antenuptial Agreement:

Refer to Prenuptial Agreement.


A legal action where the losing party requests that a higher court review the trial court's decision based on “finding of facts” or “conclusions of law”.  Appeals are made for the purpose of modifying or reversing a decision due to a substantial error of law or fact that significantly and adversely affects the outcome of the case.


Refers to the act of a litigant or an attorney appearing in court to plead (argue) or defend a direct interest in a cause of action before the court. Rules relating to the formalities of appearing before the court are governed according to state statutes, federal court processes, local court procedures, and preferences of individual judges.

Appellate Court:

A court that hears appeals from the lower trial court of record.


The party which lost in the trial court and appealing a decision to the appellate court to overturn or modify the judgment, based on the argument that  legal errors were made during the trial that justify overturning the decision of the trial court.  Refer to Appeal.


The party which received the favorable judgment in the trial court and seeks affirmation or confirmation by the appellate court of the trial court’s decision.


The systematic and comprehensive analysis of the value, price or worth of an asset, particularly in establishing marital property in cases of divorce, by examining the characteristics of the particular asset to formulate help support an opinion about value.  An appraisal is usually accomplished by a certified professional using a cost, income or market analysis approach.  Refer to Marital Property, Cost Analysis, Income Analysis, or Market Analysis.

Approximation Rule:

A relatively recent, and highly controversial, concept developed by the American Law Institute to assist the court in deciding child custody cases by asserting the premise that maintaining approximately the same parenting routines after divorce as the parents and child(ren) experienced before divorce is in the best interest of the child(ren).


A legally binding, non-judicial procedure held before an impartial third party (arbitrator), who acts in the capacity as a private judge.  Arbitration is an increasing alternative means of settling disputes without proceeding to a court trial to avoid the expense, delay, and rancor of litigation.  Under Title 9 of the U.S. Code and the Uniform Arbitration Act, arbitrated decisions are generally enforceable under state and federal law.


In general, money owed but not paid.  A term often used to describe the accumulated debt amount owed after the date due and often used in conjunction with deficient financial child support or spousal maintenance payments.  Refer to Delinquency.


Any unlawful threat or attempt, coupled with apparent ability, to force or commit a violent injury of bodily harm to another, whether from ill will or extreme carelessness that such violence is considered imminent.  Refer to Battery.


A resource that has economic value to its owner such as cash, accounts receivable, inventory, equipment, real estate, securities etc., that belong to a person, corporation, estate, or other entity  In the instance of divorce, personal assets are primarily considered in the form of real or personal property.  Refer to Marital Property or Separate Property.


In matters of divorce, assignment refers to the transfer or formal giving of right, title or interest in property to another person or entity. Assignments may by ordered by the court as part of a property distribution; or in some cases as an attempt by one party to fraudulently conceal property from another.


A lien on personal or real property issued by the court to preserve marital assets legally referred to as a Writ of Attachment.  An attachment is generated by court order, usually ex parte, in response to a motion if there is substantial risk that a restraining order to dispose of any marital assets would be violated.  Refer to Ex Parte.

Attachment Disorder Theory:

A behavioral concept developed in the late 1960’s, often cited in child custody cases suggesting a condition that infants and young children are at risk of developing serious psychological problems as an older child and adult if time away from the primary caregiver is prevented, impaired or disrupted for more than a few hours at a time; the legal effect of which denied access to the non-custodial parent.  Additional behavioral research indicates children are resilient and sufficiently adaptable to form attachments to more than one caregiver, questioning the viability of the Attachment Disorder Theory.

Attorney at Law:

A state-licensed professional, trained and qualified to advocate, prepare, manage and try a case in a court of law. Also commonly referred to as a lawyer, but has achieved certification by an independent governing board usually the bar association of the state in which licensed to practice.  Refer to Lawyer.

Attorney Fees:

Payment for legal counsel made to a lawyer for varying purposes of service including: a) retainer (a partial upfront payment as part of an hourly or per job fee agreement); b) per job or service agreement (preparing a legal document); c) hourly service rate (especially sustained litigation); or d) contingency (percentage of any money won for a client with the stipulation of no fee if no recovery).  Generally attorney fees are paid by the person (client) who hired the lawyer, although in some circumstances a law or contract will require the losing party of a lawsuit to pay the opposing party's legal (court) costs and attorney fees.  In matters of family law the court may also order the more affluent party to pay the other party's attorney fees, even in the absence of a clear legal victory.  Refer to Court Costs, Fee Agreement, Contingency Fees, or Legal Costs.

Attorney for the Child(ren):

An attorney appointed by the court to represent and promote a cause espoused by the child(ren) without generally substituting own judgment for same, such as for the purpose of protecting the child(ren)'s interest from an untrustworthy parent.  Refer to Guardian Ad Litem.

Attorney of Record:

The legal counsel that is officially representing a party, whose name appears in the permanent records or files of a case, and generally authorized to perform certain functions in a proceeding including signing pleadings or other forms, and appearing in court on behalf of a client.

Automatic Restraining Order:

    An automatic restriction placed on the disposition of assets by court order which is affected upon the occurrence of certain events, such as a complaint/petition for divorce, to protect the distribution, transfer or suppression of property.  Violation of an automatic restraining order may result in a contempt of court finding and subject the party to incarceration, financial penalties or other sanctions.


The decision of a judge, commissioner, or other authorized non-judicial arbiter of a controversy, to legally give a judgment of money to a party in a lawsuit, arbitration, or administrative claim.