A non-legal term to describe the division of property or allowance for support given by one member of an unmarried couple to the other following termination of the relationship. The key issue the court attempts to determine is whether there was an agreement that one partner would support the other in return for the second making a home and performing other domestic duties beyond the benefits of personal intimacy.  Refer to Alimony.


A professional in support of a law firm, but not an attorney and unqualified to give legal advice. Also referred to as a Legal Document Assistant (LDA), is a person trained in school or on the job to review and organize material such as financial records to comply with discovery; draft pleadings and documents; and other tasks under the supervision of a licensed attorney; and billed at a lower hourly rate than attorney fees.  Refer to Attorney at Law.

Parens Patriae:

A Latin term meaning "father of his country", which describes the doctrine that the government is the ultimate guardian of all people under a disability; especially children, mentally ill persons, or other legal incompetents when their health or safety so requires the state to take charge of their care and custody. Under this doctrine, in a divorce action or a guardianship application the court retains jurisdiction until the child is 18 years old, and a judge may change custody, financial child support or other rulings affecting the child(ren)'s well-being, no matter what the parents may have agreed or the court previously decided.  Refer to Custody, Incompetent, Incapacitated, or Ward.

Parent Coordinator:

Also referred to as Guardian ad Litem, an attorney, counselor, clinician, or other professional selected by the parents or assigned by the court to facilitate out-of-court decisions on disputed issues usually involving child custody and access (visitation).  The Parent Coordinator may act under a court order to make decisions that are binding on the parents unless otherwise ruled to the contrary by the court.  Refer to Guardian Ad Litem.


The state or relationship between parent and child, sometimes used interchangeably with paternity. Parentage suggests that both mother and father have rights and responsibilities, whereas paternity implies that only the father has duties. In a broader sense, a person's ancestors or their character of a person's ancestral derivation.  Refer to Paternity.

Parental Rights:

A common expression pertaining to all of the legal rights, and corresponding obligations associated with being the parent of a minor child, which include: legal and physical custody of the child; physical access or visitation with the child, entitlement to inherit property from the child or to bequeath property to the child; right to consent to medical care and treatment for the child, right to consent to the marriage of the child or enlistment of the child in the armed forces; ability to contract on behalf of the child; obligation to provide financial support for the child, responsibility to provide a reasonable defense of the child in legal proceedings; obligation to care for, direct and supervise the child; obligation to be legally liable for certain damages caused by the child; obligation to ensure the child regularly attends school; and the obligation to protect and provide a safe living environment for the child.  Refer to Children’s Rights, Civil Rights or Human Rights.

Parenting Education:

A relatively recent requirement in many states for divorcing parents with minor children to attend classes, prior to a hearing or final judgment, in the attempt to convey the legal, social, economic and parental benefits of cooperative association in the best interest of their child(ren).

Parenting Plan:

A collaborative, written agreement made between the parents that documents the allocation of shared rights and responsibilities on how to jointly raise and care for the child(ren).  Typically a parenting plan would include an access schedule, agreed parental arrangements in respect to contentious issues (health, safety, education, religion, etc.), and specify when and how the plan would be updated.


A person or legal entity named as a participant in a lawsuit or other legal proceeding who has an interest in the outcome. A party to a lawsuit may include complainant (a plaintiff filing suit); defendant (person sued or charged with a crime); petitioner (person filing a petition asking for a court ruling); respondent (a defendant usually in opposition to a petition or an appeal); a cross-complainant (a defendant who sues someone else in the same lawsuit), or cross-defendant (a person sued by a cross-complainant).  Refer to Defendant and Plaintiff.

PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome):

A controversial theory that proposes a syndrome of behaviors where one parent is implacably hostile to the other by engaging in a deliberate and systematic effort to cause a breakdown of the relationship between the child(ren) and the other parent ultimately causing the child(ren) to join in the denigration of the “hated” parent.  The purpose of the alienation is often intended to gain or retain custody by creating various conflicts and allegations to manipulate attitudes, feelings and behavior.

Passport Denial Program:

Program operated under the auspices of the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program whereby obligors with financial child support arrearages of at least $2,500 are submitted to the to the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) for Tax Refund Offset and subsequently notify the U.S. Department of State, which "flags" the obligor’s name and refuses to issue a passport in the event of application. The program is automatic, meaning that any obligor with $2,500 in arrearages will be submitted to the State Department unless the state submitting the case for Tax Offset specifically excludes the obligor from the Passport Denial Program.  Refer to Federal Tax Refund Offset Program, Arrearage, Intercept, or PRWORA (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act).


Refers to the identify, relationship and obligation between a male parent and a child, most commonly associated with biological ties, but can mean the legal relationship imposed by a court on a man who has no biological ties to a child.  Refer to Parentage, Lord Mansfield’s Rule, or Voluntary Acknowledgment.

Paternity Test:

A means of scientific evaluation using genetic materials (DNA) from a potential parent and child to determine the similarity of biological characteristics and the mathematical probability of a natal match.  In the event a child's DNA does not match that of the alleged father, he is excluded 100% as the biological parent. If the child's DNA does match that of the alleged father, there is a 99% probability match the alleged father "could be" the father of the child, but cannot be conclusively proven based on the shared DNA characteristics between related individuals, such as brothers. Refer to Putative Father.

Penal Statute:

An act of the legislature which orders or prohibits a thing or action under a certain penalty of law. Refer to Statute, Public Statute, Private Statute, Declaratory Statute, Perpetual Statute, Affirmative Statute, Negative Statute, Temporary Statute, or Classifications of Law.

Pendente Lite:

A Latin term meaning "pending the litigation" is used to describe matters that are contingent upon the outcome of a lawsuit, and usually refer to a court order for temporary custody, access, alimony, and/or child support until the parties negotiate a settlement agreement or until a judgment is made by the court.  Pendente lite should not be confused with lis pendens.  Refer to Legal Separation.

Per Capita:

A Latin term meaning "by head" referring to the number of people, and used to designate a system of inheritance under which an individual descendant takes a share which is equal in size to the shares of each of the other descendants, regardless of the relationship of that descendant.  Refer to Descendent, Heirs at Law, Inheritance, Per Stirpes, Pretermitted Heir, Living Trust or Probate.

Per Curiam:



Per Incuriam:

Latin term meaning “through or by a mistake of the court” referencing instances when a court declares that an earlier decision was in error.  Refer to Decision or Appeal.


The crime of knowingly telling a lie under oath; punishable by criminal prosecution under Title 18 of the U.S. Code.  When a person, having taken an oath before a competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any case in which a law of the U.S. authorizes an oath to be administered, that person will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly, or that any written testimony, declaration, deposition, or certificate so made and subscribed, is true, willfully and contrary to such oath states or subscribes any material matter which is believed to be false; or in any declaration, certificate, verification, or statement under penalty of perjury, willfully subscribes as true any material matter which is known to be untrue.  Refer to Knowingly.

Permanent Spousal Support:

Type of support awarded until either the death of the payor or the remarriage of the recipient. Some agreements may include a "cohabitation" clause that states spousal support is terminated if the recipient cohabits with another person in the avoidance of marriage. Permanent spousal support, as with the other periodic types of support may be modified by the court if the party seeking the modification can show a material change in circumstances.  Refer to Alimony, Lump Sum, Temporary, or Rehabilitative Spousal Support.

Perpetual Statute:

An act of the legislature intended for the continuance of the law of which there is no limited time, although the act may not be expressly declared so. If, however, a statute is passed which does not express a limitation, and is to be governed by another which is of a temporary nature, the newly passed statute will also be temporary and dependent upon the existence of the governing act.  Refer to Statute, Public Statute, Private Statute, Declaratory Statute, Temporary Statute, Affirmative Statute, Negative Statute, Penal Statute, or Classifications of Law.

Personal Property:

Assets not described as real estate, houses, buildings or unimproved land. Personal property may include cash, checking and savings accounts, stocks and bonds, jewelry, furs, art, antiques, collectibles, pets, and intellectual property.  Refer to Property, Marital Property, Separate Property, or Real Property.

Per Stirpes:

A Latin term meaning “by roots” or representation in reference to the descendants of a common ancestor or branch of a family.  The term is commonly used in wills and trusts to describe the distribution of property when a beneficiary dies before the person whose estate is being divided has become deceased.  Per stirpes designates a system of inheritance under which children take among them the share which their parent would have taken had that parent survived the decedent. Thus any children are said to claim their share by “representing” their parent as opposed to property divided per capita, where all entitle descendant would take an equal share.  Refer to Descendent, Heirs at Law, Inheritance, Per Capita, Living Trust or Probate.

Petit Jury:

Ay trial jury of twelve persons whose duty it is to find facts as opposed to the grand jury whose duty it is to return an indictment. A group of citizens selected to hear the evidence presented by both sides at trial and determine the facts in dispute. Federal criminal juries consist of 12 persons. Federal civil juries consist of six persons.  Refer to Trial by Jury or Voir Dire.


A formal written request to a court, which initiates a legal proceeding asking for an order or ruling on a particular matter, indicating the name, address of the complainant (plaintiff), and the statutory grounds and facts upon which the request for the court intervention is based.  Refer to Complaint for Divorce.

Physical Custody:

Relates to the primary location (residence) of the child and the adult with whom the child resides.   Refer to Joint Physical Custody, Joint Legal Custody or Shared Parenting.

PKPA (Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act):

Federal legislation enacted to address interstate custody problems by mandating state authorities cooperate with each other in returning children kidnapped by a parent.  PKPA prioritizes the "home state" jurisdiction by requiring full faith and credit cannot be given to a State that exercises home jurisdiction as a "Significant Connection State" when there is a "Home State"; and authorizes continuing exclusive jurisdiction in the decree State so long as one parent of the child remains in that home jurisdiction.  Refer to Abduction, Hague Convention, Kidnap, or Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).


The party who initiates a lawsuit by filing a complaint/petition with the clerk of the court against the defendant/respondent(s) demanding damages, performance and/or court determination of rights, such as a complaint of action for divorce with the Circuit Court of the county.  Refer to Complainant, Defendant or Respondent.


The formal written statements of the parties expressing their respective claims and responses (defenses) in a lawsuit.  The pleadings may include the complaint (petition), answer, counterclaim, certificate of proof of service, and the method of notice (delivered by sheriff, mail, or legal notice published in a newspaper).  Refer to Caption.


The condition or practice of having more than one spouse at one time, also called plural marriage.  Whereas bigamy also meets this criteria, generally the second spouse in a bigamous marriage is unaware of the first; where in a polygamous marriage all spouses are aware and support one another in the relationship.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1878 that plurality of wives (polygamy), as originally permitted by the Mormon religion, violated criminal law and was not defensible as an exercise of religious liberty.  Refer to Bigamy, Marriage, or Civil Union.

Postnuptial Agreement:

A written contract signed after a marriage has been legally entered into by a husband and wife to indicate the future disposition of property in case of divorce or the death of either spouse.  A postnuptial agreement is often made to revise a prenuptial agreement though there may be no immediate intention of the parties to separate.  If a divorce is imminent, then a postnuptial agreement is called a Separation Agreement or Settlement Agreement.  Refer to Settlement Agreement, Marital Property, Separate Property, Community Property, Equitable Distribution, or Pre-Nuptial.

Power of Attorney:

A legally executed, written instrument authorizing another (not necessarily a lawyer) to act as “attorney-in-fact” (agent) on behalf of the principal (authorizing party).  There are two types of powers of attorney. A general power of attorney permits the execution of all activities on behalf of the principal, and will continue in effect (if made durable) in the event the principal is incapacitated.  A special power of attorney grants legal authority to execute certain functions limited to specific matters, such as selling a particular piece of real estate, handling a probate bank account, or other time sensitive, similar restricted purpose.

Prayer for Relief:

The request made to the court, usually at the end of a pleading, asking for the nature and manner of relief sought.  Refer to Attachment, Court Order, Injunction, Pendente Lite, Motion to Vacate Marital Home, or Temporary Restraining Order.


A rule of law established by a previously decided case that is recognized as binding on future cases that have facts and/or legal issues similar to a dispute currently before a court.


The concept that what happens in court or by stipulation of the parties will affect future proceedings. Generally, court orders are said to be without prejudice meaning the parties have a right to a trial on all matters, including those decided by temporary orders. However, orders executed with prejudice means that even at trial the earlier order determines the outcome.  Refer to With Prejudice and Without Prejudice.

Preliminary Hearing:

A common term referring to a judicial proceeding that occurs prior to trial.  Refer to Pretrial Conference.

Premarital Assets:

Assets acquired before marriage, which may or may not have been co-mingled during the course of the marital union. These assets are often made part of the marital estate in equitable distribution states, but excluded from distribution in community property states.  Refer to Separate Property, Marital Property, Community Property and Equitable Distribution.

Prenuptial Agreement:

A written contract entered into by a couple, usually made on the prospect of marriage for the benefit of the married pair, to establish and detail rights and responsibilities in the event of death or divorce during marriage. The agreement typically lists all of the property each person owns and their debts; conveyance of any part of the estate for the benefit of the child(ren); and limitation regarding a spouse’s rights to property, financial support, or inheritance upon divorce.  Prenuptial agreements are usually enforced in equity by a specific performance of them, provided they are fair and reasonable, and the intention of the parties is consistent with the principles and policy of law, becoming correspondingly less enforceable in relation to the number of years married.

Preponderance of the Evidence:

A standard of proof in a civil case lower than “clear and convincing evidence”, referring to the degree of substantiation a litigant must establish to prove a case or claim, meaning more probably than not the litigant is right.  Refer to Burden of Proof or Clear and Convincing Evidence.

Presumed Father:

The individual acknowledged under law to be the legal father of a child, which may not be the biological father, until successfully challenged in a formal legal proceeding.  The law in most states creates a "rebuttable presumption" that if a woman conceives or gives birth to a child while she is married, her husband will be "presumed" to be the father of the child. A similar "presumption" can also be created if a father voluntarily allows his name to be placed on a child's birth certificate.  Refer to Lord Mansfield’s Rule or Putative Father.

Pretermitted Heir:

A child or spouse who is not mentioned in a will and whom the court believes was accidentally overlooked by the person who made the will. For example, a child born or adopted after the will is made may be deemed a pretermitted heir. If the court determines that an heir was accidentally omitted, that heir is entitled to receive the same share of the estate as she would have if the deceased had died without a will. A pretermitted heir is sometimes called an "omitted heir."  Refer to Descendents, Heirs at Law, Inheritance, Living Trust or Will.

Pretrial Conference:

A meeting of all parties and counsel with the trial judge, sometimes held in the judge's chambers, to plan the trial, discuss which matters should be presented to the jury, review proposed evidence and witnesses, form general impressions and learn settlement recommendations of the court, and to set a trial schedule. Typically, the judge and the parties also discuss the possibility of settlement of the case during which most litigants come to agreements because the parties hear, for the first time, how the judge would likely decide the case; especially when the pretrial judge may also try the case.

Private Statute:

Legislative acts which concern only a particular species, or person; or may relate to any particular place or to several particular places, or legal jurisdiction(s) to which the court will not take notice without a pleading.  Private statutes may be rendered Public by being so declared by an act of the legislature.  Refer to Statute, Public Statute, Temporary Statute, Perpetual Statute, Declaratory Statute, Remedial Statute, Affirmative Statute, Negative Statute, Penal Statute, or Classifications of Law.

Privileged Communication:

In reference to judicial proceedings, generally refers to legal advice (verbal, written, electronic) and other private interactions between an attorney and client, but is extended to include other confidential relationships such as marriage, patient-psychiatrist, and priest-penitent.  Rules vary from state to state, but essentially protects any private communications, if obtained through a bonafide confidential relationship, from being introduced as evidence or to be examined by the opposing party during discovery, and may include the privilege against self incrimination.  Refer to Discovery or Evidence.


The legal process of proving the authenticity and validity of a will, and administering the estate of a deceased person to ensure an appropriate distribution of property.  The probate process may include qualifying a person as an executor or administrator of the estate; identifying and inventorying the deceased person's property; paying debts and taxes; identifying heirs and successors; and distributing the deceased person's property according to the will or, if there is no will, according to state law.  Refer to Inheritance or Heirs At Law.

Pro Bono:

A Latin expression short for pro bono publico, meaning "for the public good". Generally used to characterize work done at little or no compensation for charitable, social, environmental, and other concerns in the public interest; and to assist people experiencing legal problems with limited or no funds.

Production of Documents:

Refer to Discovery.

Professional Responsibility:

Refer to Ethics Rules.

Pro Hac Vice:

A Latin term meaning "for this one particular occasion" in reference to an out-of-state attorney who has been granted special permission to participate in a particular case, even though the lawyer is not licensed to practice in the state where the case is being tried.

Pro Per:

An abbreviated expression meaning “do it yourself” and corruption of the Latin phrase in propria persona often used in mediation and collaborative law to designate when clients have determined to represent themselves.  Refer to In Propria Persona or Pro Se.


Assets divided into real and personal possessions, goods or belongings.  Property may include real estate (improved or unimproved); fixtures, furniture and equipment; cash, marketable securities and investments, precious items (furs, gold, silver, jewelry, etc.); and other tangible things of value.  Property may also include any intangible rights considered a source or element of income or wealth.  Refer to Marital Property and Separate Property.

Property Settlement:

A generic term applied to agreements made in a lawsuit for the division of property owned or acquired by marriage partners during their marriage, often involving the payment of compensation by one party in satisfaction of the other party's claims, to resolve distribution differences usually without necessity of court intervention.  Refer to Marital Property, Separate Property, Community Property and Equitable Distribution.

Proposed Findings:

A document prepared for the court setting forth the best case scenario describing how the judge should find the facts and make conclusions of law to favorably decide the case.  Refer to Memorandum of Law.

Pro Se:

A Latin term meaning “on one’s own behalf”, used to designate a party to a lawsuit acting without the assistance of an attorney.  Many judges discourage pro se litigants on the belief that legal inexperience and lack of training in the law will delay or confuse the proceedings.  However, there is a general right of self-representation excluding reasons of mental or emotional compentency.   Refer to In Propria Persona.

Protective Order:

            Refer to Restraining Order or Protective Custody.

Protective Custody:

A lawful arrangement whereby a person is removed from a residence and safeguarded in a government facility, foster home or other authorized location to protect them from a dangerous person or situation.  In the instance of family law, most generally used in cases of abuse or neglect requiring the emergency removal of child(ren) from the home due to a dangerous condition or safety may otherwise be seriously threatened if allowed to remain with the parent(s) or custodian(s).  An order of protective custody may also be issued in the instance of exercised domestic violence, or the threat of deadly force against a witness.  Refer to Restraining Order.

Pro Tem:

An abbreviated form of the Latin term pro tempore, meaning "temporary or provisional" used to describe a judge who is not a regular judge of the court, particularly in family and domestic relations courts involving divorce.  

PRWORA (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996):

Also referred to as “Welfare Reform”, PRWORA legislation expands federal government involvement in family law and international child support by establishing various requirements for employers, public licensing agencies, financial institutions, as well as state and Federal child support enforcement agencies, to assist in the location of non-custodial parents and the establishment, enforcement, and collection of child support; and authorized formation of the New Hire Reporting program and the state and Federal Case Registries.  The welfare law also contains authorization for $10 million a year in access (visitation) grants to the states for the purpose of keeping children connected to non-custodial parents by making mediation, parent education, counseling, neutral drop-off/pick-up centers, and other alternative custody arrangements available. Refer to NDNH (National Directory of New Hires) or Federal Case Registry.

PSOC (Project Save Our Children):

A multi-agency task force lead by DHHS and comprised of the FBI, U.S. Marshal's Service, United States Attorney's Office (USAO), state and local law enforcement, regionally-located investigators, and child support enforcement agencies.  The mission of PSOC is to increase child support collections by identifying, analyzing, investigating, prosecuting, and evaluating the outcomes of the most flagrant criminal non-support cases. The long-term goal is to create a nationwide, comprehensive and coordinated health and human services and criminal justice response to unresolved interstate and intrastate child support enforcement cases.

Psychological Evaluation:

The application of principles, methods, and procedures of understanding, predicting, and influencing behavior, such as the principles pertaining to learning, perception, motivation, emotions, and interpersonal relationships; and the methods and procedures of interviewing, counseling, psychotherapy, and behavior modification; and of constructing, administering, and interpreting tests of mental abilities, aptitudes, interests, attitudes, personality characteristics, emotions, and motivations.  In the context of family law, psychological evaluations are performed for the purpose of providing recommendations (expert testimony) to the court in making rulings or other determinations involving the custody of children, parental disputes, and other similar matters.  Refer to Psychological Testing or Expert Witness.

Psychological Parent:

A person whom a child considers to be the parent, even though that individual may not be biologically related to the child; sometimes called a "de facto" parent.  Although most experts believe that a child has a least two (2) psychological parents, it is sometimes used as a clinical argument to award sole custody on the basis of averting risk the child may develop an attachment disorder.  Refer to Attachment Disorder Theory.

Psychological Testing:

Psychological tests are formalized evaluative measures designed to assess the cognitive and emotional functioning of children and adults.  Also referred to as inventories, measurements, questionnaires, and scales, psychological tests may be administered in written, visual, verbal, or computer generated response formats.  Most are objective and quantifiable; however, certain projective tests may involve some level of subjective interpretation. While there are many different kinds of psychological tests, most may be categorized as Personality Tests or Neuropsychological Tests.  In matters of child custody and other issues involving family law, psychometric methods most commonly conducted by psychologists are of the type that test personality.  Tests such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2), or the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory III (MMPI-III) are used to screen individuals for specific psychopathologies or emotional problems.  Other types of personality tests are the Rorschach and the Holtzman ink blot tests, or the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) which directs the subject to tell a story about a series of pictures.  These types of psychological tests are called projective personality assessments, and purport to provide insight into the subject’s thought processes and personality traits although some experts question their effectiveness.

PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder):

A debilitating condition that affects adults and children who have been exposed to a major traumatic event. PTSD is characterized by upsetting memories or thoughts of the ordeal, "blunting" of emotions, increased arousal, and sometimes severe personality changes.

Public Assistance:

A common term used to describe various benefits granted from state or Federal programs to aid eligible recipients. Applicants for certain types of public assistance (e.g., Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF) are automatically referred to the requesting participant’s state IV-D agency to identify and locate the non-custodial parent, establish parentage (paternity), and/or obtain financial child support payments. This allows the state to recoup or defray some of its public assistance expenditures with funds from the non-custodial parent. Refer to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or IV-D.

Public Records:

A generic term referring to any collection of books, papers, maps, photographs, electronic storage media, computer files, digitally stored material or any other information regardless of form, which is made or received by an employee of an agency; and access to which may be made available to the public at-large.

Public Statute:

Legislative acts concerning trade in general, any specific trade, or all persons generally which the court will take notice without pleading. Refer to Statute, Private Statute, Temporary Statute, Perpetual Statute, Declaratory Statute, Remedial Statute, Affirmative Statute, Negative Statute, Penal Statute, or Classifications of Law.

Putative Father:

A person alleged to be the father of a child, or who claims to be the father of a child, but with insufficient evidence at the time to conclusively support the claim.