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LEGAL TERMS

SEPARATION

A situation in which the partners in a married couple live apart. Spouses are said to be living apart if they no longer reside in the same dwelling, even though... (more...)
A situation in which the partners in a married couple live apart. Spouses are said to be living apart if they no longer reside in the same dwelling, even though they may continue their relationship. A legal separation results when the parties separate and a court rules on the division of property, such as alimony or child support -- but does not grant a divorce.

STIRPES

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

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.

ABANDONMENT (OF A CHILD)

A parent's failure to provide any financial assistance to or communicate with his or her child over a period of time. When this happens, a court may deem the ch... (more...)
A parent's failure to provide any financial assistance to or communicate with his or her child over a period of time. When this happens, a court may deem the child abandoned by that parent and order that person's parental rights terminated. Abandonment also describes situations in which a child is physically abandoned -- for example, left on a doorstep, delivered to a hospital or put in a trash can. Physically abandoned children are usually placed in orphanages and made available for adoption.

FAULT DIVORCE

A tradition that required one spouse to prove that the other spouse was legally at fault, to obtain a divorce. The 'innocent' spouse was then granted the divorc... (more...)
A tradition that required one spouse to prove that the other spouse was legally at fault, to obtain a divorce. The 'innocent' spouse was then granted the divorce from the 'guilty' spouse. Today, 35 states still allow a spouse to allege fault in obtaining a divorce. The traditional fault grounds for divorce are adultery, cruelty, desertion, confinement in prison, physical incapacity and incurable insanity. These grounds are also generally referred to as marital misconduct.

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.

AGE OF MAJORITY

Adulthood in the eyes of the law. After reaching the age of majority, a person is permitted to vote, make a valid will, enter into binding contracts, enlist in ... (more...)
Adulthood in the eyes of the law. After reaching the age of majority, a person is permitted to vote, make a valid will, enter into binding contracts, enlist in the armed forces and purchase alcohol. Also, parents may stop making child support payments when a child reaches the age of majority. In most states the age of majority is 18, but this varies depending on the activity. For example, in some states people are allowed to vote when they reach the age of eighteen, but can't purchase alcohol until they're 21.

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.

INCOMPATIBILITY

A conflict in personalities that makes married life together impossible. In a number of states, incompatibility is the accepted reason for a no-fault divorce. C... (more...)
A conflict in personalities that makes married life together impossible. In a number of states, incompatibility is the accepted reason for a no-fault divorce. Compare irreconcilable differences; irremediable breakdown.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

In re Marriage cases

... Herma Hill Kay and Michael S. Wald for Professors of Family Law Scott Altman, R. Richard Banks, Grace Ganz Blumberg, Janet Bowermaster, Carol S. Bruch, Jan C. Costello, Barbara J. Cox, Jay Folberg, Deborah L. Forman, Joan H. Hollinger, Lisa Ikemoto, Courtney G. Joslin ...

Strauss v. Horton

... Courtney G. Joslin and Michael S. Wald for Professors of Family Law Scott Altmann, R. Richard Banks, Sarah Rigdon Bensinger, Grace Ganz Blumberg, 380 Janet Bowermaster, Carol S. Bruch, Patricia A. Cain, Jan C. Costello, Barbara J. Cox, Jay Folberg, Deborah L. Forman ...

In re CC

... & Inst. Code, § 361) [1] denying her visitation and conjoint therapy with her 12-year-old son, CC Since this appeal was filed, the juvenile court has restored monthly monitored visitation through a family law "exit order" and terminated its jurisdiction. ...