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LEGAL TERMS

PATERNITY SUIT

A lawsuit to determine the identity of the father of a child born outside of marriage, and to provide for the support of the child once the identity of the fath... (more...)
A lawsuit to determine the identity of the father of a child born outside of marriage, and to provide for the support of the child once the identity of the father has been determined.

MARRIAGE LICENSE

A document that authorizes a couple to get married, usually available from the county clerk's office in the state where the marriage will take place. Couples pa... (more...)
A document that authorizes a couple to get married, usually available from the county clerk's office in the state where the marriage will take place. Couples pay a small fee for a marriage license, and must often wait a few days before it is issued. In addition, a few states require a short waiting period--usually not more than a day--between the time the license is issued and the time the marriage may take place. And some states still require blood tests for couples before they will issue a marriage license, though most no longer do.

DEFAULT DIVORCE

See uncontested divorce.

ALIMONY

The money paid by one ex-spouse to the other for support under the terms of a court order or settlement agreement following a divorce. Except in marriages of lo... (more...)
The money paid by one ex-spouse to the other for support under the terms of a court order or settlement agreement following a divorce. Except in marriages of long duration (ten years or more) or in the case of an ailing spouse, alimony usually lasts for a set period, with the expectation that the recipient spouse will become self-supporting. Alimony is also called 'spousal support' or 'maintenance.'

TENANCY BY THE ENTIRETY

A special kind of property ownership that's only for married couples. Both spouses have the right to enjoy the entire property, and when one spouse dies, the su... (more...)
A special kind of property ownership that's only for married couples. Both spouses have the right to enjoy the entire property, and when one spouse dies, the surviving spouse gets title to the property (called a right of survivorship). It is similar to joint tenancy, but it is available in only about half the states.

RESTRAINING ORDER

An order from a court directing one person not to do something, such as make contact with another person, enter the family home or remove a child from the state... (more...)
An order from a court directing one person not to do something, such as make contact with another person, enter the family home or remove a child from the state. Restraining orders are typically issued in cases in which spousal abuse or stalking is feared -- or has occurred -- in an attempt to ensure the victim's safety. Restraining orders are also commonly issued to cool down ugly disputes between neighbors.

ADOPTED CHILD

Any person, whether an adult or a minor, who is legally adopted as the child of another in a court proceeding. See adoption.

EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION

A legal principle, followed by most states, under which assets and earnings acquired during marriage are divided equitably (fairly) at divorce. In theory, equit... (more...)
A legal principle, followed by most states, under which assets and earnings acquired during marriage are divided equitably (fairly) at divorce. In theory, equitable means equal, but in practice it often means that the higher wage earner gets two-thirds to the lower wage earner's one-third. If a spouse obtains a fault divorce, the 'guilty' spouse may receive less than his equitable share upon divorce.

DISSOLUTION

A term used instead of divorce in some states.