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LEGAL TERMS

STEPPARENT ADOPTION

The formal, legal adoption of a child by a stepparent who is living with a legal parent. Most states have special provisions making stepparent adoptions relativ... (more...)
The formal, legal adoption of a child by a stepparent who is living with a legal parent. Most states have special provisions making stepparent adoptions relatively easy if the child's noncustodial parent gives consent, is dead or missing, or has abandoned the child.

COMPARABLE RECTITUDE

A doctrine that grants the spouse least at fault a divorce when both spouses have shown grounds for divorce. It is a response to an old common-law rule that pre... (more...)
A doctrine that grants the spouse least at fault a divorce when both spouses have shown grounds for divorce. It is a response to an old common-law rule that prevented a divorce when both spouses were at fault.

ZONING

The laws dividing cities into different areas according to use, from single-family residences to industrial plants. Zoning ordinances control the size, location... (more...)
The laws dividing cities into different areas according to use, from single-family residences to industrial plants. Zoning ordinances control the size, location, and use of buildings within these different areas.

NO-FAULT DIVORCE

Any divorce in which the spouse who wants to split up does not have to accuse the other of wrongdoing, but can simply state that the couple no longer gets along... (more...)
Any divorce in which the spouse who wants to split up does not have to accuse the other of wrongdoing, but can simply state that the couple no longer gets along. Until no-fault divorce arrived in the 1970s, the only way a person could get a divorce was to prove that the other spouse was at fault for the marriage not working. No-fault divorces are usually granted for reasons such as incompatibility, irreconcilable differences, or irretrievable or irremediable breakdown of the marriage. Also, some states allow incurable insanity as a basis for a no-fault divorce. Compare fault divorce.

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.

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.'

MISREPRESENTATION

A lie by one spouse before marriage that provides grounds for an annulment. For example, if a spouse failed to mention that he was still married or was incapabl... (more...)
A lie by one spouse before marriage that provides grounds for an annulment. For example, if a spouse failed to mention that he was still married or was incapable of having children, he has misrepresented himself.

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.

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.