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LEGAL TERMS

COMMUNITY PROPERTY

A method for defining the ownership of property acquired during marriage, in which all earnings during marriage and all property acquired with those earnings ar... (more...)
A method for defining the ownership of property acquired during marriage, in which all earnings during marriage and all property acquired with those earnings are considered community property and all debts incurred during marriage are community property debts. Community property laws exist in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Compare equitable distribution and separate property.

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.

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.'

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.

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.

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.

CONFIDENTIAL COMMUNICATION

Information exchanged between two people who (1) have a relationship in which private communications are protected by law, and (2) intend that the information b... (more...)
Information exchanged between two people who (1) have a relationship in which private communications are protected by law, and (2) intend that the information be kept in confidence. The law recognizes certain parties whose communications will be considered confidential and protected, including spouses, doctor and patient, attorney and client, and priest and confessor. Communications between these individuals cannot be disclosed in court unless the protected party waives that protection. The intention that the communication be confidential is critical. For example, if an attorney and his client are discussing a matter in the presence of an unnecessary third party -- for example, in an elevator with other people present -- the discussion will not be considered confidential and may be admitted at trial. Also known as privileged communication.

TENANCY BY THE ENTIRETY

A special kind of property ownership that's only for married couples. Both spouses have the right to enjoy the entire property, and when one spouse dies, the su... (more...)
A special kind of property ownership that's only for married couples. Both spouses have the right to enjoy the entire property, and when one spouse dies, the surviving spouse gets title to the property (called a right of survivorship). It is similar to joint tenancy, but it is available in only about half the states.

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.