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LEGAL TERMS

PHYSICAL INCAPACITY

The inability of a spouse to engage in sexual intercourse with the other spouse. In some states, physical incapacity is a ground for an annulment or fault divor... (more...)
The inability of a spouse to engage in sexual intercourse with the other spouse. In some states, physical incapacity is a ground for an annulment or fault divorce, assuming the incapacity was not disclosed to the other spouse before the marriage.

TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER (TRO)

An order that tells one person to stop harassing or harming another, issued after the aggrieved party appears before a judge. Once the TRO is issued, the court ... (more...)
An order that tells one person to stop harassing or harming another, issued after the aggrieved party appears before a judge. Once the TRO is issued, the court holds a second hearing where the other side can tell his story and the court can decide whether to make the TRO permanent by issuing an injunction. Although a TRO will often not stop an enraged spouse from acting violently, the police are more willing to intervene if the abused spouse has a TRO.

MARRIAGE

The legal union of two people. Once a couple is married, their rights and responsibilities toward one another concerning property and support are defined by the... (more...)
The legal union of two people. Once a couple is married, their rights and responsibilities toward one another concerning property and support are defined by the laws of the state in which they live. A marriage can only be terminated by a court granting a divorce or annulment. Compare common law marriage.

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.

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.

DIVORCE

The legal termination of marriage. All states require a spouse to identify a legal reason for requesting a divorce when that spouse files the divorce papers wit... (more...)
The legal termination of marriage. All states require a spouse to identify a legal reason for requesting a divorce when that spouse files the divorce papers with the court. These reasons are referred to as grounds for a divorce.

PHYSICAL CUSTODY

The right and obligation of a parent to have his child live with him. Compare legal custody.

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.

INJUNCTION

A court decision that is intended to prevent harm--often irreparable harm--as distinguished from most court decisions, which are designed to provide a remedy fo... (more...)
A court decision that is intended to prevent harm--often irreparable harm--as distinguished from most court decisions, which are designed to provide a remedy for harm that has already occurred. Injunctions are orders that one side refrain from or stop certain actions, such as an order that an abusive spouse stay away from the other spouse or that a logging company not cut down first-growth trees. Injunctions can be temporary, pending a consideration of the issue later at trial (these are called interlocutory decrees or preliminary injunctions). Judges can also issue permanent injunctions at the end of trials, in which a party may be permanently prohibited from engaging in some conduct--for example, infringing a copyright or trademark or making use of illegally obtained trade secrets. Although most injunctions order a party not to do something, occasionally a court will issue a 'mandatory injunction' to order a party to carry out a positive act--for example, return stolen computer code.