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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.'

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.

GUARDIAN OF THE ESTATE

Someone appointed by a court to care for the property of a minor child that is not supervised by an adult under some other legal method, such as a trust. A guar... (more...)
Someone appointed by a court to care for the property of a minor child that is not supervised by an adult under some other legal method, such as a trust. A guardian of the estate may also be called a 'property guardian' or 'financial guardian.' See also guardian.

PHYSICAL CUSTODY

The right and obligation of a parent to have his child live with him. Compare legal custody.

GIFT TAXES

Federal taxes assessed on any gift, or combination of gifts, from one person to another that exceeds $12,000 in one year. Several kinds of gifts are exempt form... (more...)
Federal taxes assessed on any gift, or combination of gifts, from one person to another that exceeds $12,000 in one year. Several kinds of gifts are exempt form this tax: gifts to tax-exempt charities, gifts to your spouse (limited to $120,000 annually if the recipient isn't a U.S. citizen) and gifts made for tuition or medical bills. In addition to the annual gift tax exclusion, there is a $1 million cumulative tax exemption for gifts. In other words, you can give away a total of $1 million during your lifetime -- over and above the gifts you give using the annual exclusion -- without paying gift taxes.

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.

ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE

An order from a judge that directs a party to come to court and convince the judge why she shouldn't grant an action proposed by the other side or by the judge ... (more...)
An order from a judge that directs a party to come to court and convince the judge why she shouldn't grant an action proposed by the other side or by the judge on her own (sua sponte). For example, in a divorce, at the request of one parent a judge might issue an order directing the other parent to appear in court on a particular date and time to show cause why the first parent should not be given sole physical custody of the children. Although it would seem that the person receiving an order to show cause is at a procedural disadvantage--she, after all, is the one who is told to come up with a convincing reason why the judge shouldn't order something--both sides normally have an equal chance to convince the judge to rule in their favor.

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.

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.