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LEGAL TERMS

CONFINEMENT IN PRISON

In most states with fault divorce, grounds for a spouse not in prison to obtain a fault divorce if the other spouse has been imprisoned for a certain number of ... (more...)
In most states with fault divorce, grounds for a spouse not in prison to obtain a fault divorce if the other spouse has been imprisoned for a certain number of years.

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.

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.

PREMARITAL AGREEMENT

An agreement made by a couple before marriage that controls certain aspects of their relationship, usually the management and ownership of property, and sometim... (more...)
An agreement made by a couple before marriage that controls certain aspects of their relationship, usually the management and ownership of property, and sometimes whether alimony will be paid if the couple later divorces. Courts usually honor premarital agreements unless one person shows that the agreement was likely to promote divorce, was written with the intention of divorcing or was entered into unfairly. A premarital agreement may also be known as a 'prenuptial agreement.'

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.

FITNESS

The ability of a prospective adoptive parent to provide for the best interests of a child. A court may consider many aspects of the prospective parents' lives i... (more...)
The ability of a prospective adoptive parent to provide for the best interests of a child. A court may consider many aspects of the prospective parents' lives in evaluating their fitness to adopt a child, including financial stability, marital stability, career obligations, other children, physical and mental health and criminal history.

SOLE CUSTODY

An arrangement whereby only one parent has physical and legal custody of a child and the other parent has visitation rights.

CHILD SUPPORT

The entitlement of all children to be supported by their parents until the children reach the age of majority or become emancipated -- usually by marriage, by e... (more...)
The entitlement of all children to be supported by their parents until the children reach the age of majority or become emancipated -- usually by marriage, by entry into the armed forces or by living independently. Many states also impose child support obligations on parents for a year or two beyond this point if the child is a full-time student. If the parents are living separately, they each must still support the children. Typically, the parent who has custody meets his or her support obligation through taking care of the child every day, while the other parent must make payments to the custodial parent on behalf of the child -- usually cash but sometimes other kinds of contributions. When parents divorce, the court almost always orders the non-custodial parent to pay the custodial parent an amount of child support fixed by state law. Sometimes, however, if the parents share physical custody more or less equally, the court will order the higher-income parent to make payments to the lower-income parent.

SHARED CUSTODY

See joint custody.