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LEGAL TERMS

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.

ARREARAGES

Overdue alimony or child support payments. In recent years, state laws have made it difficult to impossible to get rid of arrearages; they can't be discharged i... (more...)
Overdue alimony or child support payments. In recent years, state laws have made it difficult to impossible to get rid of arrearages; they can't be discharged in bankruptcy, and courts usually will not retroactively cancel them. A spouse or parent who falls on tough times and is unable to make payments should request a temporary modification of the payments before the arrearages build up.

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.

PROVOCATION

The act of inciting another person to do a particular thing. In a fault divorce, provocation may constitute a defense to the divorce, preventing it from going t... (more...)
The act of inciting another person to do a particular thing. In a fault divorce, provocation may constitute a defense to the divorce, preventing it from going through. For example, if a wife suing for divorce claims that her husband abandoned her, the husband might defend the suit on the grounds that she provoked the abandonment by driving him out of the house.

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.

NEXT FRIEND

A person, usually a relative, who appears in court on behalf of a minor or incompetent plaintiff, but who is not a party to the lawsuit. For example, children a... (more...)
A person, usually a relative, who appears in court on behalf of a minor or incompetent plaintiff, but who is not a party to the lawsuit. For example, children are often represented in court by their parents as 'next friends.'

SHARED CUSTODY

See joint custody.

FOSTER CHILD

A child placed by a government agency or a court in the care of someone other than his or her natural parents. Foster children may be removed from their family ... (more...)
A child placed by a government agency or a court in the care of someone other than his or her natural parents. Foster children may be removed from their family home because of parental abuse or neglect. Occasionally, parents voluntarily place their children in foster care. See foster care.

IRREMEDIABLE OR IRRETRIEVABLE BREAKDOWN

The situation that occurs in a marriage when one spouse refuses to live with the other and will not work toward reconciliation. In a number of states, irremedia... (more...)
The situation that occurs in a marriage when one spouse refuses to live with the other and will not work toward reconciliation. In a number of states, irremediable breakdown is the accepted ground for a no-fault divorce. As a practical matter, courts seldom, if ever, inquire into whether the marriage has actually broken down, and routinely grant a divorce as long as the party seeking the divorce says the marriage has fallen apart. Compare incompatibility; irreconcilable differences.