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LEGAL TERMS

PETITIONER

A person who initiates a lawsuit. A synonym for plaintiff, used almost universally in some states and in others for certain types of lawsuits, most commonly div... (more...)
A person who initiates a lawsuit. A synonym for plaintiff, used almost universally in some states and in others for certain types of lawsuits, most commonly divorce and other family law cases.

FOSTER CARE

Court-ordered care provided to children who are unable to live in their own homes, usually because their parents have abused or neglected them. Foster parents h... (more...)
Court-ordered care provided to children who are unable to live in their own homes, usually because their parents have abused or neglected them. Foster parents have a legal responsibility to care for their foster children, but do not have all the rights of a biological parent--for example, they may have limited rights to discipline the children, to raise them according to a certain religion or to authorize non-emergency medical procedures for them. The foster parents do not become the child's legal parents unless the biological parents' rights are terminated by a court and the foster parents adopt the child. This is not typically encouraged, as the goal of foster care is to provide temporary support for the children until they can be returned to their parents. See also foster child.

BEST INTERESTS (OF THE CHILD)

The test that courts use when deciding who will take care of a child. For instance, an adoption is allowed only when a court declares it to be in the best inter... (more...)
The test that courts use when deciding who will take care of a child. For instance, an adoption is allowed only when a court declares it to be in the best interests of the child. Similarly, when asked to decide on custody issues in a divorce case, the judge will base his or her decision on the child's best interests. And the same test is used when judges decide whether a child should be removed from a parent's home because of neglect or abuse. Factors considered by the court in deciding the best interests of a child include: age and sex of the child mental and physical health of the child mental and physical health of the parents lifestyle and other social factors of the parents emotional ties between the parents and the child ability of the parents to provide the child with food, shelter, clothing and medical care established living pattern for the child concerning school, home, community and religious institution quality of schooling, and the child's preference.

NEXT OF KIN

The closest relatives, as defined by state law, of a deceased person. Most states recognize the spouse and the nearest blood relatives as next of kin.

CONSUMMATION

The actualization of a marriage. Sexual intercourse is required to 'consummate' a marriage. Failure to do so is grounds for divorce or annulment.

EXEMPT PROPERTY

The items of property you are allowed to keep if a creditor wins a lawsuit against you or if you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Most states let you keep clothin... (more...)
The items of property you are allowed to keep if a creditor wins a lawsuit against you or if you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Most states let you keep clothing, household furnishings, an inexpensive car (or an expensive car on which you still owe a bundle), Social Security payments you haven't spent and other basic items. A few states let you keep your house. Following are brief descriptions of specific types of exempt property.animal exemption Allows you to keep animals such as household pets, livestock or poultry. The animal exemption varies among states. If your state simply allows you to exempt 'animals,' you may keep livestock, poultry or pets. Some states exempt only domestic animals, which are usually considered to be livestock and poultry, but not pets.appliance exemption Allows you to keep some of your household equipment operated by electricity, gas or propane. Examples include refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and air conditioners.arms & accouterments exemption Allows you to keep some weapons (such as pistols, rifles or swords) and accouterments, which are the furnishings of a soldier's outfit, such as a belt or pack, but not clothes. A soldier's clothing is his or her uniform.building materials exemption Allows you to keep a certain amount of items needed to build or improve structures, such as lumber, brick, stone, iron, paint and varnish. This exemption is not available in all states.burial exemption Allows you to keep a cemetery plot, crypt, monument or the cash to purchase a burial plot. Some states allow you to claim the burial exemption only if you do not use your state's homestead exemption. States may also limit the amount exempted. This exemption is available in most states.crops exemption Allows you to keep products of the soil or earth that are grown and raised annually and gathered in a single season. For example, oranges (on the tree or harvested) are crops; but an orange tree isn't.farm tools exemption Allows you to keep the tools you use if your primary occupation is farming. Some states limit farm tools of the trade to items which can be held in the hand: hoes, axes, pitchforks, shovels, scythes and the like. In other states, farm tools also include plows, harnesses, mowers, reapers and other larger tools.furnishings exemption Allows you to keep a certain amount of furniture, fixtures in your home (such as a heating unit, furnace or built-in lighting) and other items with which a home is furnished (carpets and drapes, for example).health aids exemption Allows you to keep items needed to maintain your health, such as wheelchairs, crutches, prostheses or hearing aids. States either exempt all heath aids or limit the dollar amount of the total exemption.heirloom exemption Allows you to keep certain items passed from generation to generation which have special monetary or sentimental value.homestead exemption Protects a specified value or specified number of acres in a homestead. The amount you can protect with the exemption varies, depending on the state where you live. A few states have unlimited homestead exemptions, meaning a house worth even many millions of dollars can't be taken by judgment creditors or in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. At the other extreme, a small number of states have no homestead exemption at all.household goods exemption Allows you to keep a certain number of items of a permanent nature (as opposed to items consumed, like food or cosmetics) used in or about the house. It includes linens, dinnerware, utensils, pots and pans and small electronic equipment like radios and toasters. The amount you may keep varies from state to state.implement exemption Protects a certain amount of the instruments, tools or utensils you use to accomplish your job. Some states use this term instead of tools of the trade.in lieu of homestead (or burial) exemption An exemption available in some states only if you don't claim the homestead exemption or burial exemption. The amount of the exemption varies from state to state. It can be the approximate equivalent of the homestead or burial exemption or some amount fixed by state law. It's the same as the wild card exemption.jewelry exemption Protects certain items created for personal adornment; usually includes watches. Expensive jewelry is usually not included, although many states exempt wedding and engagement rings. Most states limit the total jewelry exemption amount, ranging from $250 to $1,000. Another term for jewelry is 'articles of adornment.'motor vehicle exemption Protects a self-propelled vehicle suitable for use on a street or road, such as a car, truck, motorcycle, van or moped, up to a certain value. For example, if your state's motor vehicle exemption is $2,500 (that's about average), your car is worth $10,000 and you still owe $8,000 to your lender, your car is exempt. You have equity of $2,000 ($10,000 - $8,000) and a $2,500 exemption to put toward it. (This assumes you can afford to keep making your car payments. If you can't, your lender will repossess your car and sell it at an auction.) On the other hand, if your vehicle is worth a lot and you don't owe anything on it, you probably won't be able to keep it, because the exemption won't cover the full amount of your equity.musical instrument exemption Allows you to keep certain instruments having the capacity, in and of themselves, when properly operated, to produce a musical sound. Pianos, guitars, drums, drum machines, synthesizers and harmonicas are musical instruments. Spoons (knocked on knees or into each other) and metal garbage can lids (when banged together like cymbals) aren't.property of business partnership exemption Protects business partnership property. Virtually all states allow this exemption if the property has the following characteristics: Each partner has a right to possess the property for partnership purposes, but has no right to possess it for any other purpose without consent of the partners. At a partner's death, his share of the partnership property passes to the surviving partners. The property isn't subject to state non-partnership property laws such as dower, curtesy, spouse's share or intestate succession.tools of the trade exemption Protects items of property needed to perform a line of work. For a mechanic, plumber or carpenter, tools of trade are the implements used to repair, build and install. For a doctor, tools of trade are the items found in the doctor's office and bag. For a clergy person, tools of trade often consist of no more than books. Traditionally, the exemption was limited to items that could be held in the hand. But most states now embrace a broader definition and a debtor may be able to fit many items under a tools of trade exemption. A motor vehicle is rarely considered a tool of the trade, unless it is a necessary part of the job--as it would be for a traveling sales representative--not merely used for commuting.wild card exemption Protects any property you choose, though it's not available in all states. Some states that include this exemption limit it to personal property; while others include real estate as well. Some states offer it only in lieu of homestead (or burial) exemption. In nearly all states that offer it, you can apply the exemption to nonexempt property, such as expensive jewelry or clothes, or use it to increase the amount for an already partially exempt item. For example, if Fergie's state has no specific motor vehicle exemption but does have a wild card exemption, Fergie can use the wild card exemption to put toward her car. If the state has a specific motor vehicle exemption, but the amount is limited, Fergie can use the wild card exemption to increase the exempt amount.

ZONING

The laws dividing cities into different areas according to use, from single-family residences to industrial plants. Zoning ordinances control the size, location... (more...)
The laws dividing cities into different areas according to use, from single-family residences to industrial plants. Zoning ordinances control the size, location, and use of buildings within these different areas.

POT TRUST

A trust for children in which the trustee decides how to spend money on each child, taking money out of the trust to meet each child's specific needs. One impor... (more...)
A trust for children in which the trustee decides how to spend money on each child, taking money out of the trust to meet each child's specific needs. One important advantage of a pot trust over separate trusts is that it allows the trustee to provide for one child's unforeseen need, such as a medical emergency. But a pot trust can also make the trustee's life difficult by requiring choices about disbursing funds to the various children. A pot trust ends when the youngest child reaches a certain age, usually 18 or 21.

INTERLOCUTORY DECREE

A court judgment that is not final until the judge decides other matters in the case or until enough time has passed to see if the interim decision is working. ... (more...)
A court judgment that is not final until the judge decides other matters in the case or until enough time has passed to see if the interim decision is working. In the past, interlocutory decrees were most often used in divorces. The terms of the divorce were set out in an interlocutory decree, which would become final only after a waiting period. The purpose of the waiting period was to allow the couple time to reconcile. They rarely did, however, so most states no longer use interlocutory decrees of divorce.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

Janusz v. Gilliam

... In their Agreement, which was incorporated, but not merged, into the judgment of divorce, the parties agreed that Mr. Gilliam would maintain in effect his survivor's annuity [1] with the federal Civil Service Retirement System, for the benefit of Ms. Janusz. ...

Aleem v. Aleem

... CATHELL, J. Farah Aleem filed suit for a limited divorce from her husband, Irfan Aleem in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. The husband thereafter filed an Answer and Counterclaim. He raised no jurisdictional objections. ...

Attorney Grievance v. Elmendorf

... On the afternoon of July 28, 2003, Ms. McCarthy and the Respondent exchanged a series of electronic mail messages in which Ms. McCarthy sought information about grounds for divorce. ... Mr. Almand was now representing Ms. Dodson in connection with her divorce. ...