Safe Haven:

A federal program authorized to make grants to states, units of local government, and Indian tribal governments to work with nonprofit entities to provide supervised access (visitation) and monitored exchange of children caught up in domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, or stalking cases.  Also, the name of the program used by the Children’s Rights Council to provide court-ordered services for supervised access (visitation) and monitored transfers in a safe, neutral location to children of parents involved in custody and access disputes.  Refer to Access, Children’s Rights Council, Supervised Access (Visitation), or Monitored Transfer.

Safe House:

A residence in an undisclosed location where victims of abuse and their minor child(ren) may temporarily reside in safety; usually operated by private social service organizations offering shelter, counseling, information referral and other support services.  Refer to Abuse, Assault, Battery, Child Abuse, or Maltreatment.

Same Sex Marriage:

The legally recognized marriage of two women or two men, not recognized by the Federal government or most states used to communicate the secular nature of the same-sex relationship acceptance. The term emphasizes a civil, not religious issue, based on the Constitutional right guaranteed under the First Amendment which makes it a violation of the Free Exercise Clause to require a religious group to recognize any particular type of marriage.  Other expressions include inclusive “civil union", "gender-neutral marriage", and "equal marriage" terminology; and exclusive "gay marriage", "homosexual marriage", "same-gender marriage", "lesbian marriage".  Refer to Civil Union or Cohabitation.

Sanction :

A penalty or other type of enforcement (fine) imposed by a judge to maintain order and fairness in court.  Sanctions may cover a broad base of behavior from failure to make disclosure or cooperate in discovery, a violation of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; to a financial penalty imposed by a court on a plaintiff or attorney for filing frivolous claims.  Refer to Ethics Rules or Contempt of Court.

SCR (State Case Registry):

A database maintained by each state containing IV-D case information on individuals obligated to pay financial child support, and all non IV-D orders established or modified after October 1, 1998.  Data includes the state’s numerical FIPS code, unique identification number, case type (IV-D vs. Non IV-D), and locater information on persons listed in the case.  Information submitted to the SCR is transmitted to the Federal Case Registry, where it is compared to cases submitted to the FCR by other States, as well as the employment data in the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH).  Matches found are returned to the appropriate states for processing and enforcement.  Refer to FCR (Federal Case Registry), FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standard) Code, IV-D ("Four-D") Program, and NDNH (National Directory of New Hires).

SDNH (State Directory of New Hires):

A database maintained by each state containing information regarding newly hired employees which is compared to the employment data from other states, as well as child support data in the Federal Case Registry (FCR).  Matches are returned to the appropriate states for processing within the State Parent Locator Service (SPLS) that is part of each State IV-D agency, or by the State Employment Security Agency (SESA).  Refer to the FCR (Federal Case Registry), NDNH (National Directory of New Hires), or SESA (State Employment Security Agency).

Self Incrimination:

A Constitutional right guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment which allows a person to refuse to answer questions or give other evidence that may subject them to criminal prosecution. However, because most wrongful behavior is not criminal in divorce, the right against self incrimination cannot usually be asserted. Nonetheless, certain acts such as adultery, are still considered crimes in many states, as well are domestic violence and tax evasion. In these and other limited instances, the right against self-incrimination may be asserted, but unlike criminal proceedings, the court may draw a negative inference from a party asserting the right whereas in criminal cases, drawing such inferences is strictly forbidden.


A term meaning to detach or abnormally separate a small portion from the whole.  Most often referred to in legal proceedings circumstances when witnesses are set apart so each does not hear or discuss testimony from other witnesses; or when juries are removed from outside influences during their deliberations.

Separate Property:

Assets not considered part of the marital estate. Usually occurring in community property states, it includes property brought into the marriage and also may include inheritance or gifts received during the marriage.  Generally, assets (real or personal) acquired before the marriage or by gift or inheritance during the marriage may be excluded from the marital estate if neither the property, nor its income, has been used for the common benefit of the both spouses during the marriage. Refer to Property, Property Settlement, Marital Property, Community Property and Equitable Distribution.


Refer to Legal Separation.

Separation Agreement:

The legal document that outlines the terms and conditions of a married couple who have agreed to live apart for an unspecified period of time.  The agreement generally covers any monetary payments for spousal maintenance (alimony/spousal support), financial child support, physical residence, custody arrangements, and access (in the instance of minor children), payment of debts, management of separate bank accounts, and potentially the division of property.  Most separation agreements are interim arrangements that serve to offer stability between the time of separation and the eventual divorce judgment.  However, a petition for legal separation or complaint for specific performance of a contract is required before a separation agreement may be enforceable by the court.  In the instance of reconciliation, the separation agreement may be legally voided.  Refer to Agreement, Property Agreement, Limited Divorce, Pendente Lite, or Structured Settlement.

Service of Process:

The act of presenting the defendant (respondent) in a lawsuit with a summons making notification that a complaint is filed or motion is pending of certain pleadings before the court.  As determined by state statute, process may be served personally at the recipient's residence or place of business, or by publication in the local newspaper in the area of last known residence if the defendant cannot be reasonably located.  Refer to Summons.

SESA (State Employment Security Agency):

Agency established in each state that processes unemployment insurance claims, and serves as a repository of employee wage data matched to the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH) along with the unemployment insurance claim data.  Refer to the FCR (Federal Case Registry) or NDNH (National Directory of New Hires).


Refer to Structured Settlement, Separation Agreement; Property Settlement or Agreement.

Severance of Parental Rights:

The process of involuntarily removing the parental rights of a parent who has abandoned a child, has without just cause failed to support a child, has neglected or abused a child, has stood by and allowed others to neglect or abuse a child, or who because of extended incarceration in prison, will be unavailable to properly parent or nurture the child during the “formative years”. If the parental rights of both parents of a child have been severed, the child is available for adoption by another family.  Refer to Termination of Parental Rights.

Sexual Abuse:

The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or any simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such conduct; or rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.  Refer to Child Abuse.

Shared Parenting:

An increasingly popular term and broad concept to describe the arrangement by which both parents have equal or similar rights concerning their child's care, custody, access, and control.  It abandons the language of custody and visitation and instead contemplates the allocation of parenting responsibilities to include all the meanings, rights, obligations and common-law and statutory interpretations embodied in the terms custody and access leaving decisions regarding allocations of the various components to parents and judges.  Refer to Custody or Access.


A form of defamation made as an untruthful oral (spoken) statement about a person that injures the person's reputation or standing in the community. Because slander is a tort (a civil wrong), the injured person can bring a lawsuit against the person who made the false statement. Refer to Defamation or Libel.

Special Advocate:

A volunteer appointed by a court to handle matters pertaining to children in abuse and neglect cases. May also be involved in child custody cases between parents where abuse and neglect are evident.  Refer to CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) or Court Services Officer.

Special Master:

Refer to Master or Magistrate.


A person of the opposite or same sex in a marriage or other legal union, including common law marriage, in any state where it is recognized. In matters of family law, the term “spouse” may also refer to a person who is a former partner of a legally recognized union.

Spousal Support:

Refer to Spousal Maintenance or Alimony.

Sole Custody:

Term referencing a court ordered custody and living arrangement in which one parent is awarded the exclusive right to act in the best interest of the child(ren) and make important decisions as the only legal guardian of the child(en).  The non-custodial parent is often, but not always, awarded access (visitation) rights by court order.  Refer to Custody or Access.

Special Needs Child:

A common term used to describe a child with any series of unusual conditions or clinical diagnoses including serious medical conditions; emotional and behavioral disorders; history of abuse or neglect; medical or genetic risk due to familial mental illness or parental substance abuse; psychiatric trauma, or other physical or emotional disorders which hinder appropriate functional development.  Guidelines for classifying a child as special needs vary by state, and usually require expert evaluation and determination. Refer to Abandonment, Child Abuse, Neglect, Maltreatment.

Split Custody:

Term referencing court ordered custody and living arrangements in which each parent is awarded the exclusive right to act in the best interest of one or more of the child(ren) and make important decisions as the only legal guardian of those child(en), while the other parent has the exclusive right to act on behalf of the other children from the relationship.  The non-custodial parent to the other child(ren) is often, but not always, awarded access (visitation) rights by court order.  Refer to Custody, Sole Custody or Access.

SPLS (State Parent Locator Services):

A unit within the state Child Support Enforcement Agencies the purpose of which is to locate non-custodial parents in order to establish and enforce child support obligations, access, and custody orders or to establish paternity.  Refer to FPLS (Federal Parent Locator Services).

Spousal Maintenance:

Sometimes referred to as alimony or spousal support, represents payments of future income or earnings awarded by the court that one person gives to another to assist with daily living expenses to satisfy any financial obligations determined to came from the marriage prior to divorce.  Spousal maintenance payments are generally taxable to the person who receives the maintenance, and deductible by the person who pays, most usually terminating upon the death of either spouse or the remarriage of the person receiving the financial maintenance.  Refer to Alimony, Lump Sum, Temporary, Permanent or Rehabilitative Spousal Support.


Behavior of a rejected partner following a break-up, but who cannot accept the end of the relationship. Stalking may include incessant calls through the day and night, unwanted letters and email and other conduct aimed at maintaining contact the stalker hopes will effectuate a reconciliation. The stalker’s behavior may be considered annoying and intrusive, and can cause fear and lead to harm to the rejecting partner. Many states have anti-stalking statutes which make stalking a criminal offense.  Refer to Assault.

Stare Decisis:

Latin term meaning “let the decision stand” referring to the doctrine that when a court has once laid down a principle of law applicable to a certain set of facts, subsequent courts will adhere to that principle by upholding previous rulings or recognizing precedents on questions of law, where the facts are substantially the same, in order to ensure certainty, consistency, and stability in the way the law is applied.  Refer to Judgment.

State Court:

Courts established and governed by the states and operating under the constitution of the state law. Family law cases are usually reserved for state trial courts, but federal courts have been increasingly used to decide child abduction cases, that is, whether the child should be returned to the country of habitual residence, but not to decide which party wins custody. Refer to Hague Convention, Habitual Residence, or Federal Court.


A law established by legislature, but commonly applied to various sorts of laws and regulations that ordains, permits, or prohibits without consideration of the source.  Refer to Public Statute, Private Statute, Temporary Statute, Perpetual Statute, Declaratory Statute, Remedial Statute, Affirmative Statute, Negative Statute, Penal Statute, or Classifications of Law.

Stay of Proceedings:

The temporary suspension of a judicial proceeding such as the enforcement of a court order, commonly referred to as a “stay”, and usually granted by a court of appeals.  Refer to Court Order, Judgment or Appeal.

Stay-Away Order:

Meaning an order issued by a court requiring a party to stay away from another person, possibly including terms to stay away from that person’s home or work and to maintain a minimum distance from the person if seen in public.  Refer to Injunction, Court Order, Motion, Motion to Vacate Marital Home, or Restraining Order.


A child born to a spouse and another parent before the current marriage who has not been legally adopted.  Upon adoption, a stepchild is afforded the same legal rights and entitlements as a biological offspring.  Additionally, under the Uniform Probate Code followed in some states, a stepchild is considered to hold the same entitlements as a biological child regarding the inheritance of property.  Refer to Adoption or Inheritance.

Stepparent Adoption:

The formal, legal adoption of a child by a stepparent who is living with a legal parent. Most states have special provisions making stepparent adoptions relatively easy if the child(ren)'s non-custodial parent gives consent to terminate parental rights, is dead or missing, or has abandoned the child(ren).  Refer to Adoption or Termination of Parental Rights.


An agreement, usually written, between parties to a dispute or court action that a certain fact is true or uncontested; or in the manner of agreement to a specific procedure or action to a legal proceeding.

Stipulated Agreement:

A written understanding intended to be entered as a court order upon motion of the parties that specify a comprehensive concurrence and/or opposition to the issues in temporary orders or final judgments.  Refer to Agreement.


            Refer to Motion to Strike.

Structured Settlement:

A series of smaller payments paid over time, in lieu of a single large payment.  The total of payments usually add up to more than the agreed upon lump sum settlement because interest, allowances for cost of living, or other factors have been added to compensate the recipient for the delayed payment.  Refer to Spousal Support.

Sua Sponte:

A Latin term meaning "of its own will", often referring to a court taking an action in a case without being asked to do so by either side.


The act or process by which a person's rights or claims in a lawsuit are ranked below those of others.  Refer to Decision or Judgment.


A commonly rendered form of the Latin term sub poena meaning “under penalty”, referring to the process of ordering a witness to appear at a legal proceeding such as a trial or deposition; disobedience of which may be punishable as a contempt of court.  Refer to Subpoena Ad Testificandum or Subpoena Duces Tecum.

Subpoena Ad Testificandum:

A Latin term meaning “to testify”, referring to a writ issued by court authority to compel the attendance of a witness at a judicial proceeding and give oral testimony, commanding the person to lay aside all pretences and excuses, and appear before a court or magistrate therein named, at a time therein mentioned, to testify for the party named, under a penalty therein mentioned.  Refer to Subpoena or Witness.

Subpoena Duces Tecum:

A Latin term meaning “bring with thee” referring to a writ issued by court authority commanding a witness to produce certain documents, in their possession or control that are relevant to the issues of the case, to a specific party or to bring them to a scheduled deposition or other directed court proceeding.  Refer to Subpoena or Discovery.

Substantive Law:

The statutory public law dealing with rights, duties and liabilities, sometimes referred to as authorizing legislation, which governs the technical aspects of enforcing civil or criminal laws.  Refer to Classifications of Law.

Success Fee:

A questionable set of legal fees added to hourly billings if, in the lawyer's opinion, a bonus is deserved based on performance.  Refer to Ethics Rules.

            Refer to Lawsuit.

Summary Divorce:

A term generally applicable to divorcing couples who usually have no children and minimal property, assets and debts.  Sometimes referred to as a simplified divorce. There may be however, no legal provisions in the some states for a summary (simplified) divorce. Refer to Divorce, Fault Divorce, No-Fault Divorce, or Ground for Divorce.

Summary Judgment:

A procedural rule and final decision by the court made on behalf of the party making the motion. A summary judgment relies on the statements and evidence presented for the record upon completion of the discovery process that allows the court to enter a judgment without trial on the basis that a reasonable jury looking at the same evidence could only decide the case one way. Generally used when only questions of law, and not fact, are at issue and a party to the issue is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.  Refer to Directed Verdict.


A court's official notice to the defendant (respondent) that a complaint or petition has been filed informing the particulars and requiring time sensitive action to respond.  In actions for divorce, the summons may also give notice that during divorce proceedings neither party may: harass the other; change insurance coverage; sell assets while the divorce is pending (with certain noted exceptions); and that both parties are encouraged to pursue mediation.  Refer to Answer or Complaint.

Superior Court:

Superior courts have general trial jurisdiction to hear all civil and criminal cases in contrast with courts of limited jurisdiction (circuit courts), which are restricted to hearing criminal cases involving smaller offenses or civil cases involving less than a certain monetary amount. However, superior court may also be charged with establishing family, probate, small claims and minor offense divisions if no county court system exists.  Refer to Court or Circuit Court.

Supervised Access (Visitation):

Pursuant to stipulation, agreement, or court order, visits of the non-custodial parent with child(ren) under the guidance of a qualified third party at a neutral, safe location (Safe Haven).  Supervised access is usually ordered in the instance a non-custodial parent is accused (or convicted) of child abuse or neglect; may be engaging in substance abuse; suffers a mental illness; re-entering the child(ren)’s life after a long period of absence; or other reason as may be determined by competent authority suggesting continued, parental involvement under controlled circumstances.  Supervised access (visitation) is of particular benefit to parents, children and the court when few, if any, other viable alternatives remain to sustain parent/child contact.


A superfluous and useless statement of matter wholly foreign and impertinent to the cause. When a party alleges a material matter with an unnecessary detail of circumstances, and the essential and non-essential parts of a statement are, in their nature, so connected as to be incapable of separation; or when by an unnecessary allegation the plaintiff shows he has no cause of action, the defendant may object (demur).  Refer to Demurrer.