Glossary P

Glossary of Legal Definitions

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The following list of legal definitions taken from the California Court's website may be useful in your California Family Law case. For further definitions in other areas of law not covered here, please visit the California Court's website.



Generally, the process of conducting judicial business before a court or other judicial officer. A “proceeding” refers to any 1 of the separate steps in that process, like, a motion, a hearing.


A course of proceedings in a lawsuit. “Process” also can mean a legal paper that requires a defendant to answer a complaint or to accept a default judgment.

Process Server

A person that serves court papers on a party to a lawsuit. (See also personal service, service of process,substituted service.)

Pro Hac Vice

The status of a lawyer that gets special permission to try 1 case in California because he or she is licensed to practice law in another state.

Promissory Note

A written document that says that a person promises to pay money to another.

Pronouncement Of Judgment

When the judge formally issues a judgment in a case.


Evidence that tends to establish the existence or truth of a fact at issue in a case.

Proof Of Service

The form filed with the court that proves that court papers were formally served on (delivered to) a party in a court action on a certain date. (See also service of process.)

Pro Per

An short form of “in propria persona.” Refers to persons that present their own cases in court without lawyers; from the Latin for “in one’s own proper person.” (See also pro se.)

Pro Se

Refers to persons that present their own cases in court without lawyers; from the Latin for “on one’s own behalf.”

Pro Tem Judge

A lawyer that volunteers his or her time to hear and decide cases. Also called a “temporary judge.”

Pro Tempore

A referee or commissioner that temporarily replaces a judge; same as pro tem judge; from the Latin for “for the time being” or “temporarily.”

Public Assistance

Benefits, like money or food stamps, to help people or families in need. Information on people that apply for certain kinds of public assistance (like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, TANF) is automatically sent to the state IV-D agency to identify and locate the noncustodial parent, establish paternity, and/or obtain child support payments. This lets the state get back some or part of the money it pays to people as public assistance. (See also IV-D.)

Public Record

A court record available for inspection by the general public. (Compare confidential record, sealed record.)


To remove inactive case records from court files.

Putative Father

The person said to be the father of a child but who has not yet been medically or legally declared to be the legal father. (See also genetic testing, legal parent, paternity.)


One of the litigants in a court case. At the trial level, the parties are typically called the “plaintiff” or “petitioner” and the “defendant” or “respondent.” On appeal, parties are called the “appellant” and “appellee.”

Passport Denial Program

The names of obligors that owe $5,000 or more in child support are sent to the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement for tax refund offset and to the U.S. Department of State to indicate that a passport can’t be issued for that person.


Legal determination of fatherhood. Paternity must be determined before a court can order child support ormedical support. Also called parentage or parental relationship.

Paternity Suit

A lawsuit to decide who the father of a child is if the parents were not married when the child was born. Also called “establishment of parental relationship.”


Person or organization in whose name child support or other money is paid.


Person that makes a payment.


Punishment for breaking a law.

Penalty Assessment

An amount of money added to a fine.

Pendente Lite

Describes orders made during the actual progress of the lawsuit prior to final disposition; from the Latin for “during the suit.”


The status of a case that is not yet resolved by the court. (See also active status.)


A false statement made on purpose while under oath in a court proceeding.

Permanency Planning

A court action that gives a dependent child a permanent place to live, like an adoption or a guardianship.

Permanency Planning Hearing

A hearing to give a dependent child a permanent place to live. The hearing generally happens up to 18 months after the child is taken away from the parents.

Personal Jurisdiction

The power of a court over the person of a defendant. In contrast to the jurisdiction of a court over a defendant’s property.

Personal Service

Refers to when court forms are personally served (delivered). The person who serves the forms must tell the other person that these are legal papers, then leave the papers near the person (at their feet is fine). The person they serve does not have to accept the papers or say or sign anything.

Petit Jury (Or Trial Jury)

A group of citizens that listen to the evidence presented by both sides at trial and figure out the facts in dispute. Criminal juries are made up of 12 people; civil juries are made up of at least 6 people. (See also jury and grand jury.)


A formal written request given to the court asking for a specific judicial action. (Compare motion.)


A person that presents a petition to the court.

Physical Custody

Where the children live, who takes care of them, and how much time they spend with each parent. There are two types of physical custody arrangements: primary or sole physical custody and joint or shared physical custody.


A person that brings an action; the party that complains or sues in a civil case.


Written statement filed with the court that describes a party’s legal or factual claims about the case and what the party wants from the court.

Points And Authorities

Also called “P’s and A’s.” “Points and authorities” refers to the written legal argument given to support or oppose a motion. It includes references to past cases, statutes (codes), and other statements of law that emphasize either the legality of the motion requested or the legal basis for the court to deny the motion.


(1) A prefix meaning “after,” as in “post-trial” matters; (2) to “post” something is to bring it to the public’s attention, as in “to post a notice of sale.”

Power Of Attorney

When a person (the “principal”) authorizes someone else (the “agent” or “attorney in fact”) to take care of business for the principal. A power of attorney authorizes the agent to do whatever is necessary to manage the principal’s assets. A “limited” or “special” power of attorney can be made more restrictive, by setting time limits for the agent to serve, limiting the agent to certain actions, or authorizing the agent to manage only particular assets. There are “general” powers of attorney, “limited” or “special” powers of attorney, and “durable” powers of attorney. A general or limited power of attorney ends when the principal becomes incapacitated. A durable power of attorney stays in effect if the principal becomes incapacitated.


A prefix meaning “in front of” or “before,” as in “pretrial” hearing.


A court decision in an earlier case with facts and legal issues similar to a dispute currently before a court. Judges will generally “follow precedent,” meaning that they use the principles established in earlier cases to decide new cases dealing with similar facts and legal issues. A judge will overlook precedent if a party can show that the earlier case was decided incorrectly or that it differed in some significant way from the current case.


Introductory, preparatory, preceding, or leading up to the main matter of business. For example, a preliminary injunction comes before a permanent injunction.

Preliminary Examination/Hearing

A proceeding before a judicial officer in which evidence is presented so that the court can determine whether there is probable (sufficient) cause to hold the accused for trial on a felony charge.

Presiding Judge/Justice

In a court with more than 1 judicial officer, the judge/justice that acts as administrator of the court’s business.

Pretrial Conference

A meeting of the judge and lawyers to plan a trial, discuss which matters should be presented to the jury, review proposed evidence and witnesses, and set a trial schedule. Typically, the judge and the lawyers also discuss the possibility of settling the case.

Pretrial Services

Services provided by a local agency to investigate a criminal defendant’s background so a judge can decide whether or not to release the defendant from custody before trial.

Prima Facie

Not requiring further support to establish existence, credibility, or validity; from the Latin for “from first view.” A prima facie case is sufficient on its face because it is supported by the necessary minimum evidence and free from obvious defects. Prima facie evidence is sufficient to support a certain conclusion unless contradictory evidence is presented.

Primary Physical Custody

A type of court order in which a child lives with one parent more than the other parent.


A term generally used to refer to a previous conviction.


An advantage not enjoyed by all; a special exemption from prosecution or other lawsuits. (See also immunity.)

Probable Cause

A reasonable basis for assuming that a charge or fact is well founded.


The judicial process to determine if a will of a dead person (called the “decedent”) is genuine or not; lawful distribution of a decedent’s estate.

Probate Court

The department of each county’s superior court that deals with probate conservatorships, guardianships, and the estates of people that have died.

Pro Bono

Legal work done for free; from the Latin meaning “for the good.”


The rules for conducting a lawsuit. There are rules of civil procedure, criminal procedure, evidence, bankruptcy, and appellate procedure.


(1) In appellate cases, a group of judges (usually 3) that decide the case; (2) in the jury selection process, the group of potential jurors; (3) the list of attorneys that are available AND qualified to be appointed by the court to represent criminal defendants that can’t afford their own lawyers.

Parentage (Parental Relationship)

A legal determination of who the parents of a child are.

Parenting Classes

Classes that help parents focus on the needs of their children and give parents information to provide a nurturing non-threatening home environment. Sometimes the court may order one or both parents to go to parenting classes so they can learn to communicate better about their children’s needs.

Parenting Plan

A detailed custody and visitation agreement that says when the child will be with each parent and how decisions are made. The parenting plan may be developed by the parents, through mediation, with the help of lawyers, or by a judge after a trial or hearing.

Partner Support

In family law, court-ordered support of a registered domestic partner or ex-partner.

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