In some states, the title of an official of the court (sometimes referred to as a Master) authorized to exercise administrative and limited judicial power.  A magistrate may take testimony, permit discovery of evidence; or officially perform in the capacity to as a judge to hear cases at the lowest level such as small claims lawsuits, conduct preliminary hearings in criminal cases to determine if there is enough evidence presented by the prosecution to hold the accused for trial, or serve as a judge for charges of minor offenses.  Refer to Special Master.

Malicious Prosecution:

A meritless action instituted solely to harass a defendant.  The court may determine that a deliberate misuse of the judicial process is the basis for an action against the original plaintiff and/or prosecutor.


            Refer to Legal Malpractice.


The collective of physical abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse as defined by each state in civil and criminal contexts that characterize a minimum set of acts or behaviors.  Refer to Abuse, Child Abuse and Neglect, or Sexual Abuse.

Mandatory Factors:

Circumstances, information and other dynamics which the court is required to consider before making a final decision relating to the division of property or award of spousal maintenance.  Refer to Equitable Distribution, Community Property, or Spousal Maintenance.

Mandatory Self-Disclosure:

A requirement by the court to reveal information in full to the other party based on a set of court rules, forms and timelines to draft and serve specific requests for information without burdening either party to initiate formal requests and lengthy execution through the discovery process.  Refer to Discovery.


            Refer to Legal Rights of Marriage or Civil Union.

Marriage Counseling:

A type of psychotherapy usually for married couples or established partners that attempts to identify and resolve problems in the relationship. Typically offered by professionals trained in clinical psychotherapy and family systems, marriage counseling focuses on understanding individual needs and motivations, and the way their interactions contribute to problems in the relationship.

Marital Assets:

Refer to Marital Property, Equitable Distribution and Community Property.

Marital Deduction:

A type of tax exemption allowed by the federal estate tax laws for property passed to a surviving spouse who is a U.S. citizen.  Refer to Legal Rights of Marriage or Living Trust.

Marital Misconduct:

Behavior that undermines the marital relationship, as defined by state statute when required to file a complaint for divorce upon specifically stated ground(s).  In the instance a divorce is granted based upon the marital misconduct, the court may further consider the circumstances contributing to the failure of the marital union in determining an award of support to fairly compensate the victim (complainant spouse) for having to assume extra burdens outside of the marriage.  Refer to Divorce A Vinculo Matrimonii, Fault Divorce,  Ground for Divorce.

Marital Portion:

A designation for the financial share of an investment or retirement asset accrued and may vest before, during or after marriage, with inclusions for inflation protection.  The marital portion is usually determined by multiplying the accrued benefit of the asset by a fraction, the numerator of which is the total number of months of the marriage, and the denominator of which is the total number of months of the participation in the investment or pension plan.

Marital Property:

Generally, all jointly-owned real and personal property acquired during the marriage. This may include the main residence, vacation or investment property, automobiles, home furnishings and equipment, furs and jewelry, joint checking and savings accounts, mortgages and revolving loans, credit card debt, and other “co-mingled” assets and liabilities that were purchased or obligated during the course of the union. States differ regarding what property is included and what may be excluded such as gifts and inheritances.  Refer to Community Property, Equitable Distribution or Separate Property.

Market Analysis:

A qualitative review of current sales prices of similar properties in neighboring areas to illustrate the potential value or selling price of a particular piece of property in contrast to similar or comparable real estate recently sold.  Refer to Appraisal, Valuation, Assets, Property, Cost Analysis or Income Analysis.


A contract made in due form of law by which a man and a woman reciprocally engage to live with each by forming a special social, financial, legal and personal dependence upon the other; intended in its origin to endure till the death of one of the contracting parties which may be dissolved only by death or divorce.  Both persons must be willing to form a contract, have the legal capacity to enter into a binding agreement, and actually contract for a legal union, clear of all bars to a lawful marriage.


The person(s) responsible for courthouse security including the metal detectors at the entrance of each courthouse and maintaining order in each courtroom.  A marshal can also serve legal papers to the parties named in a lawsuit.  Refer to Service of Process.


A court-appointed individual, usually an attorney, who assists the court in moving a case forward through various legal proceedings but is not a judge.  Problems relating to pretrial discovery often are handled by a special master who schedules and coordinates discovery, particularly where one or both parties fail to comply with discovery requests, or when the parties fail to agree on the selection of relevant experts.  In some states a tier of fact-finders with authority to exercise most powers conferred upon a judge  Refer to Magistrate.

Maternal Preference:

Concept of custody presumption that mothers are inherently better caretakers of young children, developed in late 19th century in changing response to historical practice of awarding sole custody to fathers based on the then common rules of inheritance and property laws.  By 1990, state courts determined this preference to also be unconstitutional, and gender-neutral custody statutes have replaced maternal preference standards in most every state.  Refer to Tender Years Presumption.


An informal, non-adversarial method of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in which a neutral third party helps resolve a dispute outside of the court to develop an informed and consensual separation agreement. The mediator does not have the power to render a decision on the matter or order an outcome, but instead facilitates difficult discussion and encourages compromise between conflicted spouses.  Mediation may be voluntary or the court may order a referral, especially in matters involving issues of custody and access.  Mediation is a non-binding process and may be terminated at any point by either or both parties.  However, upon approval by the court, a mediated agreement is enforceable under the law. Refer to Alternative Dispute Resolution, Collaborative Law, and Arbitration.

Medical Support:

A specific form of financial child support in which medical and/or dental insurance coverage is the primary or sole responsibility of the non-custodial parent.  Depending on the court order, medical support may be one of several financial obligations, including child support and/or spousal maintenance.  Refer to QMSCO (Qualified Medical Child Support Order).

Memorandum of Law:

An informal instrument recording some fact or agreement filed as an attachment to pleadings or other court papers setting forth the legal research and outlining the facts, procedural elements and legal arguments involved in a particular legal matter in support of a request to the court.  These memorandums are reviewed by judges who use them to help decide how to proceed with the case.  Refer to Proposed Findings.


In most states, a person under the age of legal majority (usually 18 years of age), and must be under the care of a competent adult (parent or guardian) unless otherwise legally emancipated.  Refer to Emancipation or Age of Majority.

Miranda Warning:

A warning requiring law enforcement officials to notify a person of legal entitlements before conducting an interrogation, including the right to remain silent, the right to have an attorney present, the right to a court appointed attorney, and the advisement that any statements made by the suspect may be used against that person in court.


A lie by one spouse before marriage that provides grounds for an annulment, such as failure to disclose an existing legal marriage, which may render a subsequent action, agreement or relationship void.  Refer to Annulment, Bigamy, Grounds or Void.


The legal, post-divorce procedure to change or adjust a separation agreement or court order. Most courts allow modification of prior judgments, agreements or orders based on an unanticipated “material change of circumstance”, supported by public policies which advocate that all child-related issues should be modifiable as the “best interests of the child(ren)” change.

Monitored Transfer:

The process of conducting a transfer of children (under court order) at a neutral drop-off/pick-up location to ensure a safe, peaceful exchange from one parent to the other is made on the premises under the monitored direction of trained staff.  Refer to Safe Haven Center.


In a legal context, a matter that is not subject to a ruling by the court because the issue had been resolved before being heard.


A written application requesting or “moving” the court to grant a temporary order, or rule on a legal matter.  If both parties agree to the motion, they “stipulate to the matter”, otherwise the motion is considered contested.  Motions are usually heard at a special or ex parte session of the court for such requests as making an amendment of pleadings, more time to answer a complaint, a continuance due to unforeseen difficulty, as well as for receiving temporary orders relating to support, maintenance of health and life insurance, and temporary custody of minor children, or for more controversial matters such as restraining orders and requests to vacate the marital home.  Refer to Attachment, Continuance, Ex Parte, Pendente Lite, Automatic/Temporary Restraining Order, or Motion to Vacate Marital Home.

Motion for Attachment:

Refer to Attachment.

Motion for Pendente Lite:

Refer to Pendente Lite.

Motion in Limine:

A pretrial motion requesting the court to prohibit the other side from presenting, or even referring to, evidence on matters said to be so highly prejudicial that no steps taken by the judge can prevent the jury from being unduly influenced.

Motion to Strike:

Upon motion of a party, a court may remove certain pleadings and evidence from the docket upon finding such material totally irrelevant, scandalous, or without proper notice.  Refer to Direct Examination, Cross Examination, Pleadings, or Evidence.

Motion to Vacate Marital Home:

An application to the court to issue an order directing one party to depart the residence previously shared by both spouses prior to filing a complaint (petition) for divorce.  Refer to Injunction, Court Order or Motion.

MSFIDM (Multi-State Financial Institution Data Match):

Process created under authority of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act by which delinquent financial child support obligors are matched with accounts held in financial institutions doing business in more than one state.  States submit data to the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) on a non-custodial parent in the instance of an arrearage for child support payments, indicating whether the obligor should be submitted for MSFIDM match. OCSE ensures the accuracy of the data and transmits the file to participating multi-state financial institutions, which match the information against open accounts and return matches to the appropriate states for enforcement actions (placing a lien or seizing all or part of the account).  Refer to Arrearage, OCSE (Office of Child Support Enforcement), PRWORA (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act), or FCR (Federal Case Registry).