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LEGAL TERMS

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.'

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.

ATTORNEY FEES

The payment made to a lawyer for legal services. These fees may take several forms: hourly per job or service -- for example, $350 to draft a will contingency (... (more...)
The payment made to a lawyer for legal services. These fees may take several forms: hourly per job or service -- for example, $350 to draft a will contingency (the lawyer collects a percentage of any money she wins for her client and nothing if there is no recovery), or retainer (usually a down payment as part of an hourly or per job fee agreement). Attorney fees must usually be paid by the client who hires a lawyer, though occasionally a law or contract will require the losing party of a lawsuit to pay the winner's court costs and attorney fees. For example, a contract might contain a provision that says the loser of any lawsuit between the parties to the contract will pay the winner's attorney fees. Many laws designed to protect consumers also provide for attorney fees -- for example, most state laws that require landlords to provide habitable housing also specify that a tenant who sues and wins using that law may collect attorney fees. And in family law cases -- divorce, custody and child support -- judges often have the power to order the more affluent spouse to pay the other spouse's attorney fees, even where there is no clear victor.

CRUELTY

Any act of inflicting unnecessary emotional or physical pain. Cruelty or mental cruelty is the most frequently used fault ground for divorce because as a practi... (more...)
Any act of inflicting unnecessary emotional or physical pain. Cruelty or mental cruelty is the most frequently used fault ground for divorce because as a practical matter, courts will accept minor wrongs or disagreements as sufficient evidence of cruelty to justify the divorce.

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.

STEPPARENT ADOPTION

The formal, legal adoption of a child by a stepparent who is living with a legal parent. Most states have special provisions making stepparent adoptions relativ... (more...)
The formal, legal adoption of a child by a stepparent who is living with a legal parent. Most states have special provisions making stepparent adoptions relatively easy if the child's noncustodial parent gives consent, is dead or missing, or has abandoned the child.

STEPCHILD

A child born to your spouse before your marriage whom you have not legally adopted. If you adopt the child, he or she is legally treated just like a biological ... (more...)
A child born to your spouse before your marriage whom you have not legally adopted. If you adopt the child, he or she is legally treated just like a biological offspring. Under the Uniform Probate Code, followed in some states, a stepchild belongs in the same class as a biological child and will inherit property left 'to my children.' In other states, a stepchild is not treated like a biological child unless he or she can prove that the parental relationship was established when he or she was a minor and that adoption would have occurred but for some legal obstacle.

STIRPES

A term used in wills that refers to descendants of a common ancestor or branch of a family.

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.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

Chowdhury v. Rodriguez

... II. Labor Law § 240 (1) and § 241 (6). Labor Law § 240 (1) and § 241 (6) contain identical language exempting from the statutes "owners of one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work" (compare Labor Law § 240 [1] with § 241 [6]). ...

MATTER OF SPENCER v. Spencer

... Under New York's version of UIFSA, "[a] tribunal of this state may not modify any aspect of a child support order that may not be modified under the law of the issuing state" (Family Ct Act § 580-611 [c]). In Connecticut, a court may issue an order of support for a child who is under ...

Ortega v. Puccia

... The defendants argued that summary judgment was appropriate under the single-family homeowners' exemption of Labor Law §§ 240 and 241. ... Unlike Labor Law §§ 240 and 241, section 200 does not contain any single- and two-family homeowners' exemption. ...