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LEGAL TERMS

SURVIVORS BENEFITS

An amount of money available to the surviving spouse and minor or disabled children of a deceased worker who qualified for Social Security retirement or disabil... (more...)
An amount of money available to the surviving spouse and minor or disabled children of a deceased worker who qualified for Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

BEST INTERESTS (OF THE CHILD)

The test that courts use when deciding who will take care of a child. For instance, an adoption is allowed only when a court declares it to be in the best inter... (more...)
The test that courts use when deciding who will take care of a child. For instance, an adoption is allowed only when a court declares it to be in the best interests of the child. Similarly, when asked to decide on custody issues in a divorce case, the judge will base his or her decision on the child's best interests. And the same test is used when judges decide whether a child should be removed from a parent's home because of neglect or abuse. Factors considered by the court in deciding the best interests of a child include: age and sex of the child mental and physical health of the child mental and physical health of the parents lifestyle and other social factors of the parents emotional ties between the parents and the child ability of the parents to provide the child with food, shelter, clothing and medical care established living pattern for the child concerning school, home, community and religious institution quality of schooling, and the child's preference.

CHILD SUPPORT

The entitlement of all children to be supported by their parents until the children reach the age of majority or become emancipated -- usually by marriage, by e... (more...)
The entitlement of all children to be supported by their parents until the children reach the age of majority or become emancipated -- usually by marriage, by entry into the armed forces or by living independently. Many states also impose child support obligations on parents for a year or two beyond this point if the child is a full-time student. If the parents are living separately, they each must still support the children. Typically, the parent who has custody meets his or her support obligation through taking care of the child every day, while the other parent must make payments to the custodial parent on behalf of the child -- usually cash but sometimes other kinds of contributions. When parents divorce, the court almost always orders the non-custodial parent to pay the custodial parent an amount of child support fixed by state law. Sometimes, however, if the parents share physical custody more or less equally, the court will order the higher-income parent to make payments to the lower-income parent.

PALIMONY

A non-legal term coined by journalists to describe the division of property or alimony-like support given by one member of an unmarried couple to the other afte... (more...)
A non-legal term coined by journalists to describe the division of property or alimony-like support given by one member of an unmarried couple to the other after they break up.

PHYSICAL CUSTODY

The right and obligation of a parent to have his child live with him. Compare legal custody.

CRUELTY

Any act of inflicting unnecessary emotional or physical pain. Cruelty or mental cruelty is the most frequently used fault ground for divorce because as a practi... (more...)
Any act of inflicting unnecessary emotional or physical pain. Cruelty or mental cruelty is the most frequently used fault ground for divorce because as a practical matter, courts will accept minor wrongs or disagreements as sufficient evidence of cruelty to justify the divorce.

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.

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.

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.