Glossary S

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.



An official order to go to court at a stated time. Subpoenas are commonly used to tell witnesses to come to court to testify in a trial. The term subpoena is also used generally to apply to a subpoena duces tecum.

Subpoena Duces Tecum

An official court order to bring documents or records to a stated place at a stated time.

Substituted Service

Service of process on a party by leaving the court papers with someone other than a party to the lawsuit; valid only if certain specified procedures are followed. (See also service of process.)

Summary Judgment

A court decision made on the basis of statements and evidence presented for the court record without a trial. It is used when no factual disputes exist in the case. Summary judgment is granted if, based on the undisputed facts in the record, a party is entitled to judgment in his or her favor as a matter of law.


A notice to a defendant or respondent that an action against him or her was filed in the court issuing the summons and that a judgment will be taken against him or her if the defendant or respondent doesn’t answer the complaint or petition within a certain time.

Superior Court

The trial court in each county of the State of California. This court hears all adoption, family law, juvenile, criminal, civil, small claims, and probate cases.

Supervised Visitation

Visitation between a parent and a child that happens in the presence of another specified adult. The court may order supervised visitation when there has been domestic violence, child abuse, or a threat to take the child out of state. Click here for more information on supervised visitation.

Support Order

A court order for the support of a child, spouse or domestic partner. A support order can include monetary support; health care; payment of debts; or repayment of court costs and attorney fees, interest, and penalties; and other kinds of support. (See also noncustodial parent, obligation, obligor.)

Support Person

In a domestic violence case, the person who says s/he is the victim of domestic violence can choose someone, a support person, to provide moral and emotional support. The support person does not need to have any special training or qualification. The support person may sit with the person to be protected at court hearings if the person to be protected does not have a lawyer, but s/he is not allowed to give legal advice or advocate for the person to be protected. The support person can also go with the protected person to custody mediation or orientation to mediation. For more information on support persons, read Family Code section 6303.

Statute Of Limitations

A law that sets the deadline for parties to file suit to enforce their rights. For example, if a state has a 4-year statute of limitations for breach of a written contract, and “John” breached a contract with “Susan” on January 1, 1996, Susan must file her lawsuit by January 1, 2000. If the deadline passes, the “statute of limitations has run” (or the claim is “time-barred”) and “Susan” may not be allowed to sue. There are very few conditions that allow a statute to be extended or “tolled” (kept from running).

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