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LEGAL TERMS

UNCONTESTED DIVORCE

A divorce automatically granted by a court when the spouse who is served with a summons and complaint for divorce fails to file a formal response with the court... (more...)
A divorce automatically granted by a court when the spouse who is served with a summons and complaint for divorce fails to file a formal response with the court. Many divorces proceed this way when the spouses have worked everything out and there's no reason for both to go to court -- and pay the court costs.

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.

ACCOMPANYING RELATIVE

An immediate family member of someone who immigrates to the United States. In most cases, a person who is eligible to receive some type of visa or green card ca... (more...)
An immediate family member of someone who immigrates to the United States. In most cases, a person who is eligible to receive some type of visa or green card can also obtain green cards or similar visas for accompanying relatives. Accompanying relatives include spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21.

ANNULMENT

A court procedure that dissolves a marriage and treats it as if it never happened. Annulments are rare since the advent of no-fault divorce but may be obtained ... (more...)
A court procedure that dissolves a marriage and treats it as if it never happened. Annulments are rare since the advent of no-fault divorce but may be obtained in most states for one of the following reasons: misrepresentation, concealment (for example, of an addiction or criminal record), misunderstanding and refusal to consummate the marriage.

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.

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.

ADOPTION

A court procedure by which an adult becomes the legal parent of someone who is not his or her biological child. Adoption creates a parent-child relationship rec... (more...)
A court procedure by which an adult becomes the legal parent of someone who is not his or her biological child. Adoption creates a parent-child relationship recognized for all legal purposes -- including child support obligations, inheritance rights and custody.

NEXT OF KIN

The closest relatives, as defined by state law, of a deceased person. Most states recognize the spouse and the nearest blood relatives as next of kin.

SPLIT CUSTODY

A custody arrangement in the case of multiple children, awarding sole custody of one child to one parent and sole custody of another child to the other parent. ... (more...)
A custody arrangement in the case of multiple children, awarding sole custody of one child to one parent and sole custody of another child to the other parent. This arrangement is generally disfavored by judges because they are reluctant to split up siblings.