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LEGAL TERMS

FOREIGN DIVORCE

A divorce obtained in a different state or country from the place where one spouse resides at the time of the divorce. As a general rule, foreign divorces are r... (more...)
A divorce obtained in a different state or country from the place where one spouse resides at the time of the divorce. As a general rule, foreign divorces are recognized as valid if the spouse requesting the divorce became a resident of the state or country granting the divorce, and if both parties consented to the jurisdiction of the foreign court. A foreign divorce obtained by one person without the consent of the other is normally not valid, unless the nonconsenting spouse later acts as if the foreign divorce were valid, for example, by remarrying.

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.

MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE

A document that provides proof of a marriage, typically issued to the newlyweds a few weeks after they file for the certificate in a county office. Most states ... (more...)
A document that provides proof of a marriage, typically issued to the newlyweds a few weeks after they file for the certificate in a county office. Most states require both spouses, the person who officiated the marriage and one or two witnesses to sign the marriage certificate; often this is done just after the ceremony.

MISUNDERSTANDING

A mistake by both spouses in a marriage that can serve as grounds for an annulment. For example, if one spouse went into the marriage wanting children while the... (more...)
A mistake by both spouses in a marriage that can serve as grounds for an annulment. For example, if one spouse went into the marriage wanting children while the other did not, they have a misunderstanding that will be judged serious enough for a court to terminate the marriage.

PREMARITAL AGREEMENT

An agreement made by a couple before marriage that controls certain aspects of their relationship, usually the management and ownership of property, and sometim... (more...)
An agreement made by a couple before marriage that controls certain aspects of their relationship, usually the management and ownership of property, and sometimes whether alimony will be paid if the couple later divorces. Courts usually honor premarital agreements unless one person shows that the agreement was likely to promote divorce, was written with the intention of divorcing or was entered into unfairly. A premarital agreement may also be known as a 'prenuptial agreement.'

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.

OPEN ADOPTION

An adoption in which there is some degree of contact between the birthparents and the adoptive parents and sometimes with the child as well. As opposed to most ... (more...)
An adoption in which there is some degree of contact between the birthparents and the adoptive parents and sometimes with the child as well. As opposed to most adoptions in which birth and adoption records are sealed by court order, open adoptions allow the parties to decide how much contact the adoptive family and the birthparents will have.

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.

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.