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LEGAL TERMS

SEPARATE PROPERTY

In community property states, property owned and controlled entirely by one spouse in a marriage. At divorce, separate property is not divided under the state's... (more...)
In community property states, property owned and controlled entirely by one spouse in a marriage. At divorce, separate property is not divided under the state's property division laws, but is kept by the spouse who owns it. Separate property includes all property that a spouse obtained before marriage, through inheritance or as a gift. It also includes any property that is traceable to separate property -- for example, cash from the sale of a vintage car owned by one spouse before marriage-and any property that the spouses agree is separate property. Compare community property and equitable distribution.

RESPONDENT

A term used instead of defendant or appellee in some states -- especially for divorce and other family law cases -- to identify the party who is sued and must r... (more...)
A term used instead of defendant or appellee in some states -- especially for divorce and other family law cases -- to identify the party who is sued and must respond to the petitioner's complaint.

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.

AMICUS CURIAE

Latin for 'friend of the court.' This term describes a person or organization that is not a party to a lawsuit as plaintiff or defendant but that has a strong i... (more...)
Latin for 'friend of the court.' This term describes a person or organization that is not a party to a lawsuit as plaintiff or defendant but that has a strong interest in the case and wants to get its two cents in. For example, the ACLU often submits materials to support a person who claims a violation of civil rights even though that person is represented by a lawyer.

FOSTER CARE

Court-ordered care provided to children who are unable to live in their own homes, usually because their parents have abused or neglected them. Foster parents h... (more...)
Court-ordered care provided to children who are unable to live in their own homes, usually because their parents have abused or neglected them. Foster parents have a legal responsibility to care for their foster children, but do not have all the rights of a biological parent--for example, they may have limited rights to discipline the children, to raise them according to a certain religion or to authorize non-emergency medical procedures for them. The foster parents do not become the child's legal parents unless the biological parents' rights are terminated by a court and the foster parents adopt the child. This is not typically encouraged, as the goal of foster care is to provide temporary support for the children until they can be returned to their parents. See also foster child.

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.

GUARDIAN AD LITEM

A person, not necessarily a lawyer, who is appointed by a court to represent and protect the interests of a child or an incapacitated adult during a lawsuit. Fo... (more...)
A person, not necessarily a lawyer, who is appointed by a court to represent and protect the interests of a child or an incapacitated adult during a lawsuit. For example, a guardian ad litem (GAL) may be appointed to represent the interests of a child whose parents are locked in a contentious battle for custody, or to protect a child's interests in a lawsuit where there are allegations of child abuse. The GAL may conduct interviews and investigations, make reports to the court and participate in court hearings or mediation sessions. Sometimes called court-appointed special advocates (CASAs).

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.'

MARITAL TERMINATION AGREEMENT

See divorce agreement.