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LEGAL TERMS

COMPLAINT

Papers filed with a court clerk by the plaintiff to initiate a lawsuit by setting out facts and legal claims (usually called causes of action). In some states a... (more...)
Papers filed with a court clerk by the plaintiff to initiate a lawsuit by setting out facts and legal claims (usually called causes of action). In some states and in some types of legal actions, such as divorce, complaints are called petitions and the person filing is called the petitioner. To complete the initial stage of a lawsuit, the plaintiff's complaint must be served on the defendant, who then has the opportunity to respond by filing an answer. In practice, few lawyers prepare complaints from scratch. Instead they use -- and sometimes modify -- pre-drafted complaints widely available in form books.

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.

INJUNCTION

A court decision that is intended to prevent harm--often irreparable harm--as distinguished from most court decisions, which are designed to provide a remedy fo... (more...)
A court decision that is intended to prevent harm--often irreparable harm--as distinguished from most court decisions, which are designed to provide a remedy for harm that has already occurred. Injunctions are orders that one side refrain from or stop certain actions, such as an order that an abusive spouse stay away from the other spouse or that a logging company not cut down first-growth trees. Injunctions can be temporary, pending a consideration of the issue later at trial (these are called interlocutory decrees or preliminary injunctions). Judges can also issue permanent injunctions at the end of trials, in which a party may be permanently prohibited from engaging in some conduct--for example, infringing a copyright or trademark or making use of illegally obtained trade secrets. Although most injunctions order a party not to do something, occasionally a court will issue a 'mandatory injunction' to order a party to carry out a positive act--for example, return stolen computer code.

JOINT CUSTODY

An arrangement by which parents who do not live together share the upbringing of a child. Joint custody can be joint legal custody (in which both parents have a... (more...)
An arrangement by which parents who do not live together share the upbringing of a child. Joint custody can be joint legal custody (in which both parents have a say in decisions affecting the child) joint physical custody (in which the child spends a significant amount of time with both parents) or, very rarely, both.

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.

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.

CUSTODIAL INTERFERENCE

The taking of a child from his or her parent with the intent to interfere with that parent's physical custody of the child. This is a crime in most states, even... (more...)
The taking of a child from his or her parent with the intent to interfere with that parent's physical custody of the child. This is a crime in most states, even if the taker also has custody rights.

PETITION (IMMIGRATION)

A formal request for a green card or a specific nonimmigrant (temporary) visa. In many cases, the petition must be filed by someone sponsoring the immigrant, su... (more...)
A formal request for a green card or a specific nonimmigrant (temporary) visa. In many cases, the petition must be filed by someone sponsoring the immigrant, such as a family member or employer. After the petition is approved, the immigrant may submit the actual visa or green card application.

IN CAMERA

Latin for 'in chambers.' A legal proceeding is 'in camera' when a hearing is held before the judge in her private chambers or when the public is excluded from t... (more...)
Latin for 'in chambers.' A legal proceeding is 'in camera' when a hearing is held before the judge in her private chambers or when the public is excluded from the courtroom. Proceedings are often held in camera to protect victims and witnesses from public exposure, especially if the victim or witness is a child. There is still, however, a record made of the proceeding, typically by a court stenographer. The judge may decide to seal this record if the material is extremely sensitive or likely to prejudice one side or the other.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

WBGM v. PST

... The juvenile court again found the father to be in contempt and determined his child-support arrearage to be $16,385. ... In that judgment, the Madison Juvenile Court awarded custody of the child to PER, granted JWJ, Jr., visitation rights, and ordered JWJ, Jr., to pay child support. ...

VW v. GW

... been in the mother's physical custody with the exception of a brief period during the child's infancy. Further, the father has, at various times, been judicially obligated to pay child support to the mother for the benefit of the child. ...

Ex parte JE

... The mother was awarded sole legal and physical custody of the minor child; the father was granted visitation rights and was ordered to pay child support in the amount of $766.96 per month. ... [1] The father paid the $1,000 child-support payment and was released from jail. ...