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LEGAL TERMS

GUARDIAN

An adult who has been given the legal right by a court to control and care for a minor or her property. Someone who looks after a child's property is called a '... (more...)
An adult who has been given the legal right by a court to control and care for a minor or her property. Someone who looks after a child's property is called a 'guardian of the estate.' An adult who has legal authority to make personal decisions for the child, including responsibility for his physical, medical and educational needs, is called a 'guardian of the person.' Sometimes just one person will be named to take care of all these tasks. An individual appointed by a court to look after an incapacitated adult may also be known as a guardian, but is more frequently called a conservator.

HEARING

In the trial court context, a legal proceeding (other than a full-scale trial) held before a judge. During a hearing, evidence and arguments are presented in an... (more...)
In the trial court context, a legal proceeding (other than a full-scale trial) held before a judge. During a hearing, evidence and arguments are presented in an effort to resolve a disputed factual or legal issue. Hearings typically, but by no means always, occur prior to trial when a party asks the judge to decide a specific issue--often on an interim basis--such as whether a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction should be issued, or temporary child custody or child support awarded. In the administrative or agency law context, a hearing is usually a proceeding before an administrative hearing officer or judge representing an agency that has the power to regulate a particular field or oversee a governmental benefit program. For example, the Federal Aviation Board (FAB) has the authority to hold hearings on airline safety, and a state Worker's Compensation Appeals Board has the power to rule on the appeals of people whose applications for benefits have been denied.

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.

IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES

Differences between spouses that are considered sufficiently severe to make married life together more or less impossible. In a number of states, irreconcilable... (more...)
Differences between spouses that are considered sufficiently severe to make married life together more or less impossible. In a number of states, irreconcilable differences is the accepted ground for a no-fault divorce. As a practical matter, courts seldom, if ever, inquire into what the differences actually are, and routinely grant a divorce as long as the party seeking the divorce says the couple has irreconcilable differences. Compare incompatibility; irremediable breakdown.

SICK LEAVE

Time off work for illness. Most employers provide for some paid sick leave, although no law requires them to do so. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, howe... (more...)
Time off work for illness. Most employers provide for some paid sick leave, although no law requires them to do so. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, however, a worker is guaranteed up to 12 weeks per year of unpaid leave for severe or lasting illnesses.

CONSOLIDATED OMNIBUS BUDGET RECONCILIATION ACT (COBRA)

A federal law requiring that employers offer employees -- and their spouses and dependents -- continuing insurance coverage if their work hours are cut or they ... (more...)
A federal law requiring that employers offer employees -- and their spouses and dependents -- continuing insurance coverage if their work hours are cut or they lose their job for any reason other than gross misconduct. Courts are still in the process of determining the meaning of gross misconduct, but it's clearly more serious than poor performance or judgment. COBRA also makes an ex-spouse and children eligible to receive group rate health insurance provided by the other ex-spouse's employer for three years following a divorce.

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.'

JOINT CUSTODY

An arrangement by which parents who do not live together share the upbringing of a child. Joint custody can be joint legal custody (in which both parents have a... (more...)
An arrangement by which parents who do not live together share the upbringing of a child. Joint custody can be joint legal custody (in which both parents have a say in decisions affecting the child) joint physical custody (in which the child spends a significant amount of time with both parents) or, very rarely, both.

ADOPTIVE PARENT

A person who completes all the requirements to legally adopt a child who is not his or her biological child. Generally, any single or married adult who is deter... (more...)
A person who completes all the requirements to legally adopt a child who is not his or her biological child. Generally, any single or married adult who is determined to be a 'fit parent' may adopt a child. Some states have special requirements, such as age or residency criteria. An adoptive parent has all the responsibilities of a biological parent.