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LEGAL TERMS

COMMUNITY PROPERTY

A method for defining the ownership of property acquired during marriage, in which all earnings during marriage and all property acquired with those earnings ar... (more...)
A method for defining the ownership of property acquired during marriage, in which all earnings during marriage and all property acquired with those earnings are considered community property and all debts incurred during marriage are community property debts. Community property laws exist in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Compare equitable distribution and separate property.

IN CAMERA

Latin for 'in chambers.' A legal proceeding is 'in camera' when a hearing is held before the judge in her private chambers or when the public is excluded from t... (more...)
Latin for 'in chambers.' A legal proceeding is 'in camera' when a hearing is held before the judge in her private chambers or when the public is excluded from the courtroom. Proceedings are often held in camera to protect victims and witnesses from public exposure, especially if the victim or witness is a child. There is still, however, a record made of the proceeding, typically by a court stenographer. The judge may decide to seal this record if the material is extremely sensitive or likely to prejudice one side or the other.

CUSTODIAN

A term used by the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act for the person named to manage property left to a child under the terms of that Act. The custodian will manag... (more...)
A term used by the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act for the person named to manage property left to a child under the terms of that Act. The custodian will manage the property if the gift giver dies before the child has reached the age specified by state law -- usually 21. When the child reaches the specified age, he will receive the property and the custodian will have no further role in its management.

COMPLAINT

Papers filed with a court clerk by the plaintiff to initiate a lawsuit by setting out facts and legal claims (usually called causes of action). In some states a... (more...)
Papers filed with a court clerk by the plaintiff to initiate a lawsuit by setting out facts and legal claims (usually called causes of action). In some states and in some types of legal actions, such as divorce, complaints are called petitions and the person filing is called the petitioner. To complete the initial stage of a lawsuit, the plaintiff's complaint must be served on the defendant, who then has the opportunity to respond by filing an answer. In practice, few lawyers prepare complaints from scratch. Instead they use -- and sometimes modify -- pre-drafted complaints widely available in form books.

MEDIAN FAMILY INCOME

An annual income figure for which there are as many families with incomes below that level as there are above that level. The Census Bureau publishes median fam... (more...)
An annual income figure for which there are as many families with incomes below that level as there are above that level. The Census Bureau publishes median family income figures for each state and for different family sizes. A debtor whose current monthly income is higher than the median family income in his or her state must pass the means test in order to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and must commit all disposable income to a five-year repayment plan if filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

MARTIAL MISCONDUCT

See fault divorce.

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.

INCOMPATIBILITY

A conflict in personalities that makes married life together impossible. In a number of states, incompatibility is the accepted reason for a no-fault divorce. C... (more...)
A conflict in personalities that makes married life together impossible. In a number of states, incompatibility is the accepted reason for a no-fault divorce. Compare irreconcilable differences; irremediable breakdown.

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.