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LEGAL TERMS

SEPARATE PROPERTY

In community property states, property owned and controlled entirely by one spouse in a marriage. At divorce, separate property is not divided under the state's... (more...)
In community property states, property owned and controlled entirely by one spouse in a marriage. At divorce, separate property is not divided under the state's property division laws, but is kept by the spouse who owns it. Separate property includes all property that a spouse obtained before marriage, through inheritance or as a gift. It also includes any property that is traceable to separate property -- for example, cash from the sale of a vintage car owned by one spouse before marriage-and any property that the spouses agree is separate property. Compare community property and equitable distribution.

MARTIAL MISCONDUCT

See fault divorce.

MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE

A document that provides proof of a marriage, typically issued to the newlyweds a few weeks after they file for the certificate in a county office. Most states ... (more...)
A document that provides proof of a marriage, typically issued to the newlyweds a few weeks after they file for the certificate in a county office. Most states require both spouses, the person who officiated the marriage and one or two witnesses to sign the marriage certificate; often this is done just after the ceremony.

SPLIT CUSTODY

A custody arrangement in the case of multiple children, awarding sole custody of one child to one parent and sole custody of another child to the other parent. ... (more...)
A custody arrangement in the case of multiple children, awarding sole custody of one child to one parent and sole custody of another child to the other parent. This arrangement is generally disfavored by judges because they are reluctant to split up siblings.

ADOPTION

A court procedure by which an adult becomes the legal parent of someone who is not his or her biological child. Adoption creates a parent-child relationship rec... (more...)
A court procedure by which an adult becomes the legal parent of someone who is not his or her biological child. Adoption creates a parent-child relationship recognized for all legal purposes -- including child support obligations, inheritance rights and custody.

CLOSE CORPORATION

A corporation owned and operated by a few individuals, often members of the same family, rather than by public shareholders. State laws permit close corporation... (more...)
A corporation owned and operated by a few individuals, often members of the same family, rather than by public shareholders. State laws permit close corporations to function more informally than regular corporations. For example, shareholders can make decisions without holding meetings of the board of directors, and can fill vacancies on the board without a vote of the shareholders.

UNCONTESTED DIVORCE

A divorce automatically granted by a court when the spouse who is served with a summons and complaint for divorce fails to file a formal response with the court... (more...)
A divorce automatically granted by a court when the spouse who is served with a summons and complaint for divorce fails to file a formal response with the court. Many divorces proceed this way when the spouses have worked everything out and there's no reason for both to go to court -- and pay the court costs.

BRIEF

A document used to submit a legal contention or argument to a court. A brief typically sets out the facts of the case and a party's argument as to why she shoul... (more...)
A document used to submit a legal contention or argument to a court. A brief typically sets out the facts of the case and a party's argument as to why she should prevail. These arguments must be supported by legal authority and precedent, such as statutes, regulations and previous court decisions. Although it is usually possible to submit a brief to a trial court (called a trial brief), briefs are most commonly used as a central part of the appeal process (an appellate brief). But don't be fooled by the name -- briefs are usually anything but brief, as pointed out by writer Franz Kafka, who defined a lawyer as 'a person who writes a 10,000 word decision and calls it a brief.'

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.