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LEGAL TERMS

DEFAULT DIVORCE

See uncontested divorce.

MARRIAGE

The legal union of two people. Once a couple is married, their rights and responsibilities toward one another concerning property and support are defined by the... (more...)
The legal union of two people. Once a couple is married, their rights and responsibilities toward one another concerning property and support are defined by the laws of the state in which they live. A marriage can only be terminated by a court granting a divorce or annulment. Compare common law marriage.

CASE

A term that most often refers to a lawsuit -- for example, 'I filed my small claims case.' 'Case' also refers to a written decision by a judge -- or for an appe... (more...)
A term that most often refers to a lawsuit -- for example, 'I filed my small claims case.' 'Case' also refers to a written decision by a judge -- or for an appellate case, a panel of judges. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing abortion is commonly referred to as the Roe v. Wade case. Finally, the term also describes the evidence a party submits in support of her position -- for example, 'I have made my case' or ''My case-in-chief' has been completed.'

CUSTODY (OF A CHILD)

The legal authority to make decisions affecting a child's interests (legal custody) and the responsibility of taking care of the child (physical custody). When ... (more...)
The legal authority to make decisions affecting a child's interests (legal custody) and the responsibility of taking care of the child (physical custody). When parents separate or divorce, one of the hardest decisions they have to make is which parent will have custody. The most common arrangement is for one parent to have custody (both physical and legal) while the other parent has a right of visitation. But it is not uncommon for the parents to share legal custody, even though one parent has physical custody. The most uncommon arrangement is for the parents to share both legal and physical custody.

CHILD

(1) A son or daughter of any age, sometimes including biological offspring, unborn children, adopted children, stepchildren, foster children and children born o... (more...)
(1) A son or daughter of any age, sometimes including biological offspring, unborn children, adopted children, stepchildren, foster children and children born outside of marriage. (2) A person under an age specified by law, often 14 or 16. For example, state law may require a person to be over the age of 14 to make a valid will, or may define the crime of statutory rape as sex with a person under the age of 16. In this sense, a child can be distinguished from a minor, who is a person under the age of 18 in most states. A person below the specified legal age who is married is often considered an adult rather than a child. See also emancipation.

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.

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.

GUARDIANSHIP

A legal relationship created by a court between a guardian and his ward--either a minor child or an incapacitated adult. The guardian has a legal right and duty... (more...)
A legal relationship created by a court between a guardian and his ward--either a minor child or an incapacitated adult. The guardian has a legal right and duty to care for the ward. This may involve making personal decisions on his or her behalf, managing property or both. Guardianships of incapacitated adults are more typically called conservatorships .

ACKNOWLEDGED FATHER

The biological father of a child born to an unmarried couple who has been established as the father either by his admission or by an agreement between him and t... (more...)
The biological father of a child born to an unmarried couple who has been established as the father either by his admission or by an agreement between him and the child's mother. An acknowledged father must pay child support.