Money that a court orders paid to party (usually the plaintiff) who has suffered a loss by another party determined to have caused the loss (usually the defendant).

Dating Violence:

Violence committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim. The existence of such a relationship is determined by the following factors: 1) length of the relationship; 2) type of relationship; and 3) frequency of interaction between the persons involved.


A decision is the “finding of facts” and “conclusion of law” made by a judge. The decision forms the factual and legal basis of the court's judgment, of which the judge has great discretion to interpret the facts and draw inferences therefrom.  Refer to Appeal.

Declaratory Statute:

An act by the legislature for the purpose of clarifying the common law by declaring what it is, and has ever been. Refer to Statute, Public Statute, Private Statute, Temporary Statute, Perpetual Statute, Remedial Statute, Affirmative Statute, Negative Statute, Penal Statute, or Classifications of Law.


An order by the court that has the force of law.  It may be interlocutory, a temporary or provisional decision until completion of a waiting period, or a final judgment which settles the matter in dispute.  Refer to Absolute Divorce, Final Judgment and Interlocutory Judgment.

Decree of Adoption:

The document that finalizes an adoption and formally creates a legal parent-child relationship between the adoptive parents and the adopted child, as though the child were born as the biological child of its new parents. It places full responsibility for the child on its new parents and changes the name of the child to the name selected by its new parents, and orders a new birth certificate to be prepared and issued for the child.

De Facto:

A Latin term indicating "in fact" or "in reality", which is used to qualify other legal terms or conditions by acting or existing in fact, with or without lawful authority, which for all practical purposes, must be accepted, but has no formal legal basis.


A false statement that injures another person's reputation and exposes such person to public contempt, hatred, ridicule, or condemnation. If the false statement is published in print or through broadcast media, such as television, radio or a newspaper, it is termed libel. If it is only spoken in a public venue, it is termed slander.  Refer to Libel or Slander.

Default Judgment:

A decision awarded to the plaintiff when a defendant fails to contest the case, generally caused by a failure to answer a complaint, motion, or petition.


A clause in a deed, lease, will or other legal instrument that completely or partially negates the document if a certain condition occurs or fails to occur. Defeasance also means the act of rendering something null and void.  Refer to Void or Will.


An accused person or institution against whom a civil or criminal action is brought in a court of law.  Refer to Respondent.

De Jure:

A Latin term meaning “in law” indicating a legitimate act done according to law or by right.  In matters of family law, usually refers to compliance with an order or judgment by the court.


A financial term used to describe a failure to make payments when due.  Refer to Arrearage.


A term meaning to delay or voice opposition, generally made as a written response to a complaint filed in a lawsuit which, in effect, pleads for dismissal on the point that even if the facts alleged in the complaint were true, there is no legal basis for a lawsuit.

De Novo:

A Latin term for "anew", which means starting over, commonly used in the form of an appeal in which an appeals or trial court holds a trial as if no prior trial had been held at a lower level.


A person who is unable to care for or support their self and must be supported by another person. Under the tax rules of the Internal Revenue Service, a person (parent, guardian, custodian) may claim a tax exemption for a dependent who has a certain relationship to the taxpayer, such as a son or daughter, brother or sister, mother or father, etc., or who makes the taxpayer's household his or her primary residence.


A proceeding in which the sworn testimony of a witness is taken by a court reporter, commission, or other competent authority before trial, and reduced to writing in due form of law.


Individuals in a line of birth from a particular individual who are commonly necessary to determine entitlement to share in the estate of a person who dies without a will. State statutes of descent and distribution, which vary by state, also provide for the surviving spouse together with descendants to share in the estate of the deceased. Refer to Heirs at Law, Inheritance, Probate or Per Stirpes.


            Refer to Obiter Dictum.

Direct Examination:

The initial questioning of a witness by the attorney representing the party on whose behalf the person was subpoenaed to appear.  Direct examination usually seeks to establish the merits of the lawsuit by eliciting evidence in support of necessary facts to satisfy a required element of a party's claim or defense.  Refer to Cross Examination or Subpoena.

Directed Verdict:

A ruling by the court made in the defendant’s favor, that as a matter of law, a reasonable jury could not decide in support of the plaintiff's claim.  A directed verdict is typically made after the plaintiff has presented all available evidence but has failed to offer the court the minimum amount of evidence to prove the claim.  In a criminal case, a directed verdict is a judgment of acquittal for the defendant.  Refer to Summary Judgment.


A set of formal procedures utilized as part of the pre-trial litigation process during which each party requests relevant information and documents from the other side in an attempt to learn pertinent facts (opposing version of the facts, witness statements, evidence, etc.) through various discovery devices.  Refer to Deposition, Interogatories, Privileged Communication, and Subpoena Duces Tecum.


The act or attempt to deprive a rightful heir from a hereditary succession to a title, office, estate, or property, or other asset that would otherwise lawfully pass on the death of the owner.  State laws prohibit spouses from disinheriting each other, of which the surviving spouse is usually entitled to at least one third of the total assets, regardless of what may be stated to the contrary in the will.

Dismissal :

A judge's ruling to voluntarily terminate a lawsuit or one of the causes of action by one of the parties; the act of a plaintiff dismissing a lawsuit upon settling the case; or an appeals court's act of dismissing an appeal by letting the lower court decision stand.  A dismissal may be executed with prejudice, meaning it can never be filed again, or dismissal without prejudice, leaving the possibility open of bringing the suit again if the defendant does not follow through on the terms of the settlement.  Refer to With Prejudice and Without Prejudice.

Disposable Income:

The portion of a person's earnings remaining after deductions required by law (e.g., Federal, State taxes, etc.) used as the income baseline to determine the amount of a pay subject to a garnishment, attachment, or child support withholding order.  Refer to Garnishment or Child Support Payment.

Dissenting Opinion:

Alternative interpretations of the majority or concurring opinion of a lower trial court judgment. 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, not another judge(s) ability to analyze or deduce the question of law.  In the instance judges do not agree, the formal decision will be based upon the view of the majority, and one member of the majority will write the opinion. The judges who did not agree with the majority may write separately in dissenting or concurring opinions to present their views.  Refer to Opinion or Concurring Opinion.

Dissipation of Assets:

The deliberate wasting of assets (i.e. gambling, extravagant spending, excessive borrowing, irresponsible use of credit cards, etc.) that might otherwise be available for distribution upon divorce. Refer to Marital Property, Equitable Distribution.


A term more recently applied to divorce, generally referring to: a) no-fault, non-confrontational approach to ending the marriage union; or b) a simplified court procedure for terminating a marriage when there are no disputes involving complex issues such child support, custody, spousal maintenance, or property division.  Refer to No-Fault Divorce.


A divorce is the termination of a marriage by legal action for fault (ground) or no-fault, requiring a petition or complaint for divorce (or dissolution in some states) by one spouse.  State law governs that only the court may grant a judgment of divorce. Separation agreements, property settlements, parenting plans, and other promises or covenants must be approved by the court to be legally binding.  Refer to Fault Divorce, No-Fault Divorce, or Ground for Divorce.

Divorce A Mensa Et Thoro:

A Latin term meaning “from bed and board”, referencing a kind of divorce which does not dissolve the marriage bond, but simply relieves the plaintiff (petitioner) from the obligation to cohabit with the defendant (respondent).  Neither spouse has the right to remarry establishing a legal relationship more akin to a legal separation than divorce.  Refer to Legal Separation.

Divorce A Vinculo Matrimonii:

A Latin term meaning a divorce from the bond of marriage, generally in reference to a complaint for divorce on the basis of a ground or fault.  States have different statutes and interpretations for dissolving a marriage including such grounds as canonical disabilities before marriage; impotence; bigamy; cruelty or abuse; malicious desertion; and or imprisonment.  In the event a marriage is dissolved a vinculo for reasons of adultery, the parties may marry again but the guilty party may not marry their paramour (the person with whom they shared clandestine intimate relations).


A formal record or log containing brief entries of judicial proceedings. Also referred to as a court calendar, trial schedule, or trial list containing a list of cases hearings scheduled by a court on a particular day, week or month.

Doli Incapax:

Latin term meaning “incapacity for guilt”, referring to the rule that a child of a certain age is presumed not to be able to gather together sufficient awareness of right and wrong to be guilty of a criminal offence. Doli incapax generally applied to children from ten to 14 years of age until abolished by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

DOMA ( Defense of Marriage Act of 1996) :

Federal law that permits the rejection of same sex marriage.  It allows each state to deny any marriage-like relationship between persons of the same sex which has been recognized in another state; and explicitly recognizes for purposes of federal law that marriage is "a legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife" by explicitly stating that spouse "refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."

Domestic Partners:

Domestic partners are unmarried couples, including persons of the same sex, living together in long-term relationships, who may be entitled to some of the same social, financial and legal benefits as married couples.  Refer to Common Law Marriage, Civil Union, or Cohabitation.

Domestic Relations Court:

In certain states, the name of the court having the judicial authority to investigate and decide on cases involving marital issues or family disputes, especially parental rights and obligations, including child custody, financial support, and the general welfare of children as may be determined in their best interest.  Refer to Family Law Court.

Domestic Relations Order:

A court order used to allocate interests between divorced spouses in nonqualified pension plans, usually state and municipal pensions, as compared to private retirement accounts such as a 401(k) of 403(b).  Refer to Qualified Domestic Relations Order.


The determination of a person's legal home of residence defined as the location where the person primarily lives or intends to return if currently living elsewhere.  A person may legally have only one domicile, but may have several residences to which a domicile may be established by birth; by legal settlement of the father, in the case of minor children; by marriage; by continued residence; by payment of requisite taxes; by lawful exercise of a public office; by hiring and service for not less than one (1) year; or by other manner determined by state and local statutes. In divorce, domicile is important in establishing jurisdiction in the application of the law and to identify the appropriate venue to file a complaint (petition).  Refer to Residence.

Donatio Mortis Causa:

Latin term meaning “gift made because of a death” referencing a bequeath made in anticipation of the death of the donor.  This is one of the few exceptions to the need for a testamentary disposition to be made in writing and witnessed.  Refer to Beneficiary, Heir, Heirs at Law or Probate.


The term used to describe a wife's common law right to inherit from her husband. Conversely, the husband's right to inherit from his wife is called “curtesy”.  In most states, the surviving spouse of a marriage cannot be disinherited and generally entitled to not less than one third of the marital property.  Refer to Disinheritance and Heritance.

DPPA (Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act):

An amendment to the Child Support Recovery Act (CSRA) that established felony violations for traveling in interstate or foreign commerce to evade a financial child support obligation or for failing to pay a child support obligation which is greater than $2,500 or has remained unpaid for a period longer than two years.  Refer to CSRA (Child Support Recovery Act).

Due Process:

The fundamental premise that a court cannot adjudicate a matter until the party(s) directly concerned have been notified of its pendency and have been given a reasonable opportunity to be heard in sufficient time to prepare a position on the issues involved. In civil law, the legal rights of a party to initiate or defend an adverse action threatening liberty or property. In reference to criminal law, the constitutional guarantee that a defendant will receive a fair and impartial trial.

Duty of Support:

An obligation imposed or imposable by law to provide the financial support for a child, spouse, or former spouse, including an unsatisfied obligation to provide support.