Legal Glossary

Glossary of Legal Definitions

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.


Abandonment: When a parent leaves a child without enough care, supervision, support, or parental contact for an excessive period of time.

Abstract: A summary of what a court or government agency does.

Abstract Judgment: Summary of the court’s final decision that can be used as a lien if you file it with the county recorder.

Accrual: The total amount of child support payments that you owe or that are late.

Accused: The person that is charged with a crime and has to go to criminal court. (See defendant)

Action: A lawsuit for a divorce, an annulment, a legal separation, or paternity suit in family law.

Active Status: A case that is in court but isn’t “settled” or “decided” has active status. (see disposition pending.)

Ad Litem: Latin meaning “For this lawsuit.”

Administrative Procedure: the way an executive government agency makes and enforces support orders without going to court.

Administrative Evidence: Evidence that can be legally and properly used in court.

Adoption: The way to make the relationship between a parent and child legal when they are not related by blood.

Adultery: Engaging in sexual relations with someone other than one’s spouse. In some states, this may constitute grounds for divorce.

Adverse Witness: A person called to testify for the other side. (see hostile witness)

Affidavit: A written statement of facts that someone swears to under oath. Affidavits usually accompany motions and are used to avoid having to personally appear in court to testify. However, sometimes you might have to appear in court even though you have prepared an affidavit.

Affirm: to make a serious statement.

Affirmation: When an appellate court says that the lower court’s decision was correct.

Alimony: Money the court orders one spouse to pay to the ex-spouse.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): methods of resolving disputes without official court proceedings. These methods include mediation and arbitration.

Amend: to add to or change a claim that has been filed in court.

Annulment: a legal action that says your marriage was never legally valid because of unsound mind, incest, bigamy, being too young to consent, fraud, force, or physical incapacity. (see Nullity of Marriage)

Appeal: When someone that loses at least part of a case asks a higher court (called the appellate court) to review the decision and say if it was right or not. This action is called “to appeal” or “to take an appeal.” The person that appeals is called the “appellant.” The other party is called the “appellee.”

Appellant: The person who brings the appeal.

Appearance: Going to court, or a legal paper that says you will participate in the court process.

Appellate Court: A court that can review how the law was used to decide a case in a lower court.

Appelle: a person that answers an appeal in higher court.

Arbitration: when a person that isn’t involved in the case looks at the evidence =, hears the arguments, and makes a decision. (compare with mediation)

Arrearages: Child support that is overdue or unpaid. A parent that has arrearages is “in arrears.”

Ascertained: Proven to be true.

Assault: When someone tries to or threatens to hurt you. Can include violence but is not battery. (see battery.)

Assignment: Choosing someone to do something. Used in cases- when the court uses a calendar to give (“assign”) cases to judges.

Assignment of Support Rights: when a person that gets public assistance (money from the government) agrees to give the state any child support they get in the future. The person gets money and other benefits from the state. So the state can use part of the child support to pay for the cost of that public assistance.

Attachment: (1) Document attached to court papers to give more information; (2) A way to collect a judgment: by getting a court order that says you can take a piece of property.

Attorney: Someone that is qualified to represent clients in court and to give them legal advice. (See counsel and lawyer.)

Attorney of Record: The lawyer whose name is listed in a case as representing someone in the case.

Audit: When records or accounts are looked at to check that they are right and complete.

Automated Voice Response (AVR) system: phone system that gives information to people over the phone.


Backlog: All the cases that haven’t been settled or decided in the time the law says they should be.

Bailiff: A person that is in charge of security in the court. Bailiffs are picked by sheriffs or marshals.

Bank Levy: Way to enforce a decision against someone that owes money. The money is taken from their checking or savings account at a bank, savings and loan, thrift institution, or credit union.

Bankruptcy: The legal way for a business or person to get help when they can’t pay the money they owe. In bankruptcy court, they can get rid of debts paying part of what they owe. There are special bankruptcy judges at these hearings.

Bar or Bar Association: All of the lawyers qualified to practice law. For Example, a state bar includes all lawyers qualified to practice law in that state.

Battery: Illegal beating or physical violence or control of a person without their permission. (Compare with assault.)

Bench: (1) the desk where a judge sits in court; (2) judges in general or specific judge.

Bench Trial: trial without a jury. The judge decides the case.

Best Interest of the Child (BIC): the standard that courts use to decide who will take care of the child. Some factors courts look at are: the age of the child, the health of the child, the emotional ties between the parents and the child, the ability of the parents to care for the child, and the child’s ties to school, home, and the community.

Bifurcation: To separate the legal issues in a case. For example, sometimes spouses or domestic partners cannot agree on all the issues in a divorce and it is holding up the divorce itself. The parties may want to move ahead with ending the marital status or domestic partnership while other issues remain to be resolved. To do this, a party can ask for a “bifurcation” of marital/partnership status. This means that the court makes a decision on ending your marriage or domestic partnership while other issues remain open and to be decided.

Billing Rate: The rate at which an attorney bills a client for work performed. Many attorneys bill on an hourly basis, charging a certain amount of money per hour. Some attorneys bill per project, regardless of how much or little time it takes to do the work. This is also referred to as “unbundling” fees.

Bind: to make yourself or someone else legally responsible for something.

Bind Over: A judge’s decision before a trial that says there is enough evidence for a trial.

Blocked Account: An account with a financial institution in which money or securities are placed. No person may withdraw funds from a blocked account without the court’s permission.

Brief: A written presentation of a party’s position that explains why the court should rule in their favor. Lawyers most often submit briefs to argue appeals. Lawyers also submit briefs to support points of law made at the trial court level.

Burden of Proof: When one person in the case has the responsibility to give more evidence than the other person.


California Rules of Court: The rules for practices and procedures in California’s state courts.

Caption: What is written at the top of all papers (called “pleadings”) given to the court. It says things like the case name, court, and case number.

C.A.S.A: Stand for Court-Appointed Special Advocates. These are trained court–appointed volunteers

Case: A lawsuit, or complaint filed in court.

Case File: The folder that has the official court papers for a case.

Case Flow Management: How a case is managed from the first paper filed to the final decision.

Case ID: The identification number given to a case by the court.

Case Law: Law made by earlier decisions in similar cases.

Caseload: The number of cases a judge has in a specific time.

Case Number: Identification number that the court clerk’s office gives a case. This number is on all papers filed in the case. Also called “case ID.”

Certified Copy: An official copy of a paper from a case file that is marked as being true, complete, and a real copy of the original paper.

Challenge: Someone’s right to object to or fight something in a legal case.

Chambers: A judge’s office. Also usually where the judge’s clerks work.

Change of Venue: When a civil or criminal case is moved from one court jurisdiction to another. (See venue.)

Child Abuse: Hurting a child physically, sexually or emotionally.

Child Advocate: Someone with special training appointed by the court to help a child in a case.

Child Custody: The rights and responsibilities between parents for their children. A parenting plan must describe the legal custody and physical custody that is in the best interest of the children. This term is also often used to describe who the children live with.

Child Custody Evaluation: An investigation and analysis by an expert of the health, safety, welfare, and best interests of children. It is ordered by a court to help resolve custody and visitation disputes.

Child Custody Mediation: See custody mediation.

Child Maltreatment: Child abuse and/or neglect.

Child Neglect: Not taking good care of a child. Neglect can be physical or emotional.

Child Protective Services (CPS): State agency that responds to reports of child abuse and neglect. If the agency’s investigations show there is abuse or neglect, they open a child protection case. Then, a case worker makes a plan to help the family.

Child Support: A sum of money to be paid by one parent to the other to assist with the support of the couple’s children.

Child Support Enforcement (CSE) Agency: Agency that exists in every state to find parents that don’t have custody (called “noncustodial parents,” or “NCPs”). Or to find the person assumed to be the father of a child (called a “putative father,” or “PF”). Makes, enforces, and changes child support. Collects and gives out child support money. Also known as an “IV-D agency.” (See IV-D.)

Circumstantial Evidence: All evidence that is indirect. Testimony not based on actual personal knowledge or observation of the facts in dispute.

Clerk of Court: A person chosen by the judges to help manage cases, keep court records, deal with financial matters, and give other administrative support.

Codes: The law created by statutes. For example, the California Code of Civil Procedure, California Civil Code.

Cohabitation: The act of living with someone. In some states, cohabitation may be grounds for the termination of support. In addition, some husbands and wives may agree when settling their case that cohabitation for a period of time (such as six months on a substantially continuous basis) will cause support to be terminated.

Commissioner: A person chosen by the court and given the power to hear and make decisions in certain kinds of legal matters.

Common Law: Laws that come from court decisions and not from statutes (“codes”) or constitutions.

Community Obligations: Community obligations are the debts that a husband and wife or registered domestic partners OWE TOGETHER. In most cases that includes anything that you still owe on any debts either of you took on during the time you were living together as husband and wife or as registered domestic partners. (If you bought furniture on credit while you were married or in a registered domestic partnership and living together, the unpaid balance is a part of your community obligations.)

Community Property: Community property is everything that a husband and wife or registered domestic partners OWN TOGETHER. In most cases that includes:
(1) Money or benefits like pensions and stock options that you now have which either of you earned during the time you were living together as husband and wife or as registered domestic partners; and
(2) Anything either of you bought with money earned during that period.

Community Property State: A state where all property (and typically income) acquired during the marriage is presumed to belong equally to both parties.

Complainant: Person that wants to start a court case against another person. In a civil case, the complainant is the plaintiff. In a criminal case, the complainant is the state.

Complaint: In civil cases, a written statement filed by the plaintiff that starts a case. Says what the plaintiff thinks the defendant did and asks the court for help. Also called the “initial pleading” or “petition.” A complaint is also used to start a criminal case.

Compulsory: Required by legal process or by law.

Confidential Record: Information in a court case that is not available to the public. (See public record, sealed record.)

Conform Copies: To get or file an original document

Conservatee: Someone that can’t take care of themselves and has a caretaker (called the “conservator”) that the court picked.

Conservator: Someone picked by the court to either take care of someone that can’t take care of themselves (called a “conservatee”) or take care of the property of the conservatee, or both.

Conservator Of The Estate: A person or business picked by a judge to handle the financial matters of a person when the judge decides that the person (called the “conservatee”) can’t do it.

Conservator Of The Person: A person or business picked by a judge to care for and protect a person when the judge decides that the person (called the “conservatee”) can’t do it.

Conservatorship: A court proceeding where a judge appoints a caretaker for an adult that is unable to care for him or herself.

Consolidation Of Actions: When at least 2 cases that involve the same people are grouped together. (Compare with coordination of cases.)

Constitution: The central law of our country that sets up the creation, character, and organization of its power and how that power is exercised. The rules and principles, descriptions of the government’s power, and the main rights that the people of a country or state have.

Contempt: The act of willfully violating a court order. Nonpayment of support when a spouse has the means to pay such support frequently gives rise to contempt adjudications in divorce cases.

Contested: A kind of case where both sides present evidence.

Continuance: Putting off a court case to a later date. (See adjournment; compare with recess.)

Continued: Postponed, or put off to a later date.

Continuing Exclusive Jurisdiction: Theory that only one support order should be valid between the same people at a time. And when a court hears a child support case, it can add to and change that order. The court of continuing exclusive jurisdiction (CCEJ) has control over a support case until another court takes it away. This is defined in the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). (See Uniform Interstate Family Support Act.)

Contract: (1) An agreement between 2 or more people to do or not to do a particular thing; (2) an agreement between 2 or more people that makes, changes, or ends a legal relationship.

Convey: To give the title to property to someone else. Or to make known or communicate.

Costs: (1) Fees and charges that a party pays to file and present a court case or to enforce a judgment; (2) money won in a civil suit to pay for expenses.

Counsel: One or more lawyers that represent a client. Also, legal advice. (See attorney, lawyer.)

Court: A judge or group of judges whose job is to hear cases and carry out justice. (See bench.)

Court Investigator (Guardianship Of The Person): Someone employed by the court to investigate a guardianship case where the person who wants to be the guardian is a relative of the child. The court investigator writes a report with recommendations to the judge and any other relevant information.

Court Order: A legal decision made by a court that commands or directs that something be done or not done. Can be made by a judge, commissioner, court referee, or magistrate.

Court Reporter: Someone that writes down, word for word, what is said in court. They generally use a stenographic machine, shorthand, or a recording device. You can ask for a copy of this record.

Court Stamp: An raised seal press or stamp that prints or stamps a seal on court papers. It might say the name of the judicial district or the consolidated city and county. You can read the stamp in photocopies.

Court Trial: A trial without a jury. A judge decides the case.

Cross-Examination: The testimony a witness gives when the other side’s lawyer is asking the questions at a trial, hearing, or deposition.

Custodial Parent: The parent that has primary care, custody, and control of the child(ren).

Custody: (1) the care and control of children. See child custody; (2) when the court imprisons a person after they are found guilty of a crime; (3) when someone is under the physical control of the court to make sure they go to court when they’re supposed to.

Custody Mediation: A meeting with a trained, neutral third party who helps the parents try to agree on a parenting plan for their children. Click here for more information on custody mediation.

Custody Order: A court order that says who a child will live with and who should make decisions about health care, education, and other important things.


Decision: A court’s judgment or decree that settles a dispute. (See also decree, judgment.)

Declaration: A sworn, written statement that is used as evidence in court. The statement supports or establishes a fact. The person that makes the declaration certifies or declares under penalty of perjury that the statement is true and correct. The person that makes the declaration is called the “declarant.” The declarant must sign and date the declaration. The declaration must also say where the declaration was signed or that it was made under the laws of the State of California.

Deem: To consider or have an opinion. For example, to deem it necessary to do something.

Defamation: When 1 person hurts another person’s character, fame, or reputation by making false and malicious statements that are not protected by law.

Default: When a defendant in a civil case does not file an answer or other response with the court or go to court when they are supposed to, after being properly notified. This is called being “in default.”

Default Judgment: A court decision in favor of the plaintiff when the defendant doesn’t answer or go to court when they’re supposed to.

Defendant: In a civil case, the person or organization sued by the plaintiff. In a criminal case, the person accused of the crime.

Delete: To omit, leave out, or remove.

Dependent: In family law, this usually means a child that is financially supported by another person. In juvenile law, this means a minor that is in the custody of the court because he or she was abused, neglected, or molested or is physically dangerous to the public because of a mental or physical disorder.

Deposition: Written or oral testimony given under oath in front of an authorized third person like a court reporter. Depositions take place outside of court. They allow the parties to get a record of a person’s testimony, or to get testimony from a witness that lives far away. They can help the lawyers prepare their court papers called “pleadings.” (See also discovery.)

Determination: A judgment or decision the court makes to end a lawsuit or controversy.

Direct Examination: When a witness testifies and answers questions posed by the party that asked them to testify. (Compare cross-examination.)

Direct Income Withholding: A procedure that orders an employer in another state to withhold support from an employee’s paycheck without having to go through the IV-D agency or court system in that state. With this order, withholding can start right away, unless the obligor doesn’t agree, and no court pleadings are required. (See also income withholding, wage withholding, obligee, obligor.)

Discovery: The gathering of information (facts, documents, or testimony) before a case goes to trial. Discovery is done in many ways, such as through depositions, interrogatories, or requests for admissions. It can also be done through independent investigation or by talking with the other side’s lawyer.

Dismiss With Prejudice: When a court dismisses a case and will not allow any other suit to be filed on the same claim in the future.

Dismiss Without Prejudice: When a court dismisses a case but will allow other suits to be filed on the same claim.

Disposable Income: What’s left of an employee’s income after making legally required deductions, like taxes. Disposable income is used to decide how much of the employee’s pay will be taken for a garnishment, attachment, or earnings assignment.

Disqualification: When a judge decides (usually voluntarily) not to hear a case. In most cases, this decision has to do with an outside interest of the judge’s that may influence his or her ability to decide the case in a fair and impartial way.

Dissolution: A marriage that is ended by a judge’s decision, also known as a “divorce.” (Compare nullity.)

Divorce: A common name for a marriage that is legally ended.

Docket: A record with the complete history of each case a court hears. It contains short chronological summaries of the court proceedings.


Earnings Assignment: A way for an employee to transfer (or “assign”) portions of his or her future paychecks to pay a debt, like child support.

Earnings Withholding Order: Court order delivered (“served”) by a levying officer or registered process server that directs ajudgment debtor’s employer to withhold the earnings of the judgment debtor for the purpose of wage garnishment.

Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT): Electronic movement of funds from 1 bank account to another.

Emancipation: A legal way for children to become adults before they’re 18. Once a child is emancipated, his or her parents don’t have custody or control of him or her anymore. Learn more about emancipation.

En Banc: Court sessions where all the judges of a court participate, instead of the usual number. For example, the U.S. circuit courts of appeals usually use panels of 3 judges, but all the judges in the court may decide certain matters together. When that happens, they are sitting “en banc” (sometimes spelled “in banc”). It comes from French and means “on the bench.”

Endorse: To sign your name on a document to authorize its contents or transfer (as in a check that is endorsed to transfer money).

Endorsed-Filed Copies: Copies of court papers that are stamped in the top right corner to show when they were filed. Compare with certified copy.

Enforce: To take legal steps to make sure someone complies with a judgment.

Enjoin: To order or require; to order that something be stopped.

Equity: A system of law that supplements the statutory and case law and is based on principles of what is “fair and right.”

Establish: A process to prove paternity (fatherhood) and/or to get a court or administrative order for child support.

Estoppel: An act or statement that prevents a person from later making claims to the contrary.

Et Al.: In Latin, this means “and others.” Refers to parties not included in the formal name of a court case.

Et Ux.: In Latin, this means “and wife.”

Evidence: Any proof legally presented at trial through witnesses, records, and/or exhibits.

Execute: (1) To carry out all terms of a contract or court order; (2) to sign (a document); (3) to kill.

Executor: A person named in a will to carry out the will’s instructions and requests. The executor is usually supervised by the probate court. Among other things, the executor takes care of the estate, pays the debts and estate taxes of the person that died, and distributes that person’s money and other property by following the instructions in the will.

Execution Of Judgment: Legal process of enforcing a judgment, usually by seizing and/or selling property of the judgment debtor.

Exempt Assets: Property of a judgment debtor that is legally protected from being taken to pay the judgment.

Exhibit: A document or an object shown and identified in court as evidence in a case. Normally, the court assigns an identifying letter or number in alphabetical or numerical order before exhibits are offered as evidence.

Ex Parte: These Latin words mean “from 1 side only.” An example is a motion that is made without giving notice to the other side. In many courts, even ex parte motions require 24-hour notice to the other side except under unusual circumstances.

Expunge: To strike out or erase.

Extradition: Bringing a person that is in custody in 1 state to the authorities of another state where that person has been accused or convicted of a crime.


Facilitator: See Family Law Facilitator.

Family Court Services: Part of the family court that helps parents with child custody and visitation issues. It provides services like custody mediation or child custody evaluations. To find the Family Court Services department in your court, find your court.

Family Law Court: A court that hears family matters, like divorce (“dissolution”), legal separation of spouses, annulment of marriage or domestic partnerships, child custody and support, and domestic violence petitions.

Family Law Facilitator: A lawyer with experience in family law who works for the superior court in every California county to help parents and children involved in family law cases with child, spousal, and partner support problems. Anyone who does not have their own lawyer can see the family law facilitator for free.

Family Court Orientation: A class that prepares parents for court-ordered mediation. A counselor talks to parents about how their relationship affects their children, and tells them what they need to know about custody and visitation.

Family Violence Indicator (FVI): The Federal Case Registry (FCR) uses this term to identify a person involved in a family violence case or order in another state. “FVI” means the person was involved with child abuse or domestic violence and says not to tell the location of a parent and/or a child that the state believes is at risk of family violence.

Federal Case Registry (FCR) of Child Support: A national database of information on all people with IV-D (called “4 D”) cases and people with non-IV-D orders entered or changed on or after October 1, 1998.

Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS): A computerized national network and database run by the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). FPLS collects address and employer information, and data on child support cases in every state; compares them; and gives this information to the proper authorities in the states involved. This helps state and local child support enforcement agencies locate alleged fathers and parents that do not have custody of their children. The information is used to establish custody and visitation rights, establish and enforce child support payments, investigate parental kidnapping, and process adoption or foster care cases.

Fee: A specific amount of money that’s paid in exchange for a service, such as filing a court paper.

Fee Waiver: Permission not to pay the court’s filing fees. People with very low income can ask the court clerk for a fee waiver form. Click here for more information on fee waivers and court fees.

Fiduciary: A person that acts for another person’s benefit, like a trustee. It can also be an adjective and mean something that is based on a trust or confidence. (See also trustee.)

File: When a person officially gives a paper to a court clerk and that paper becomes part of the record of a case.

File-Stamped: See endorsed-filed copies.

Filing A Form: A court form is “filed” only when the court clerk stamps it “Filed.” You can give your court forms to the clerk by mail or in person.

Filing Fees: Money you pay the court clerk to accept (or “file”) a complaint or petition, which starts a civil case, or other court papers, like motions and answers.

Finding: When a judicial officer or jury says something is a fact.

Fine: The money a person must pay as punishment for doing something illegal or for not doing something they were supposed to do.

Foster Care: A program that gives money to a person, family, or institution to raise someone else’s child. (See also IV-E andIV-E case.)

Fraud: Deceiving someone on purpose in a way that financially hurts others.

Full Faith And Credit: This means a state must honor an order or judgment of another state’s court and tribal courts.


Garnishment: A legal process that allows part of a person’s wages and/or assets to be withheld for payment of a debt. Wage or income garnishment is usually involuntary. (See also direct income withholding, income withholding, wage withholding.)

General Plan Of Conservatorship: A conservator’s formal plan for taking care of the conservatee’s personal and financial needs. This plan must be filed with the court within 90 days after the conservator has been appointed by the court. Both conservators of the person and conservators of the estate must prepare and file general plans.

Genetic Testing: A medical test to determine legal fatherhood (or “paternity”). (See also blood test.)

Guest: A person who does not have the same rights as a tenant, for example, someone who stays in a transient hotel for fewer than seven days.

Good Cause: A good reason. For example, a party must have good cause (better than not having a car or a baby-sitter) for not coming to a court hearing.

Guarantor: A person that promises to be responsible for the debt of another person if that person fails to pay the debt on time.

Guardian: A person who has the legal rights and responsibilities to care for a child whose parents are unavailable to care for him or her. A guardian can be a guardian of the person, taking care of the personal needs of a child like care, custody, schooling and medical decisions and/or a guardian of the estate, managing the child’s finances. The child is referred to as the “ward.” (Compare with conservatorship.)

Guardian Ad Litem: A court-appointed adult that represents a minor child or legally incompetent person. (See also ad litem.)

Guardianship: In California, a court proceeding where a judge appoints someone to care for a person under age 18 or to manage the minor’s estate (property), or both. In some states, conservatorship of an adult is called guardianship, but not in California. (Compare with conservatorship.)

Guidelines: In family law, a standard method for figuring out child support payments based on the income of the parent(s) and other factors according to state law. The Federal Family Support Act of 1988 says states must use guidelines to calculate support for each family unless there is a written court finding saying the guidelines would be inappropriate for that case.


Hearing: A formal court proceeding with the judge and opposing sides present, but no jury.

Hearsay: Statements by a witness that did not see or hear the incident in question but heard about it from someone else. Hearsay usually can’t be used as evidence in court.

Heir(ess): A person that inherits or receives money or property from someone that has died.


IEP: Stands for “individualized education program.” An IEP is designed to meet the exceptional educational needs of public school students that are eligible for special education services.

Inactive Case: A pending case that has been filed, but for some reason can’t be processed by the court.

Income: Any form of periodic payment to a person, regardless of source, including wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, workers’ compensation, disability, pension or retirement program payments, and interest.

Income Withholding: When automatic deductions are made from wages or income to pay a debt like child support. Income withholding is often part of a child support order. It can be voluntary or involuntary. (See also direct income withholding,wage withholding.)

Indemnity: An obligation to provide compensation (usually money) for a loss, injury, or damage.

Indigent: This term usually refers to a person that is poor, needy, and has no one to look to for support.

In Forma Pauperis: This is a Latin phrase meaning permission given by a court to a person to file a case without paying the required court fees because the person can’t afford to pay them.

Infraction: A minor violation of a law, contract, or right that is not a misdemeanor or a felony and can’t be punished by time in prison. (Compare felony, misdemeanor.)

Initiating Jurisdiction: The state or county court, or administrative agency, that sends a request for action to another jurisdiction in interstate child support cases.

Injunction: A court order that says a defendant can’t perform, or must perform, a specific act. (Compare enjoin, restraining order.)

In Limine: Latin for “at the beginning” or “at the threshold,” such as a motion in limine at the beginning of trial to ask that certain evidence be excluded.

In Propria Persona (In Pro Per): When a person represents himself or herself without a lawyer. This comes from the Latin for “in one’s own proper person.” (See also pro per, pro se.)

Installment Payments: Weekly, monthly, or other periodic payments on a debt.

Instructions: The explanation of constitutional rights given by a judge to a defendant.

Intercept: When nonwage payments (like federal income tax refunds, state income tax refunds, unemployment benefits, and disability benefits) made to a parent that owes support are taken and given to the parent who is owed support.

Interpreter: A person that is certified as being able to translate, orally or in writing, spoken or sign language into the common language of the court.

Interrogatories: Written questions sent by 1 side in a lawsuit to an opposing side as part of pretrial discovery in civil cases. The side that receives the interrogatories must answer them in writing under oath. (See also discovery.)

Interstate Cases: In child support, cases where the dependent child and the parent that owes support live in different states, or where 2 or more states are involved in some case activity, like enforcement.

Inventory: (1) A detailed list of property; (2) the number of cases in various stages of the court process.

Issue: (1) The disputed point between parties in a lawsuit; (2) to send out officially, as when a court issues an order.

IV-A(“4-A”) Case: A child support case where a custodial parent and child(ren) get public assistance benefits under the state’s IV-A program, which is funded under title IV-A of the Social Security Act. Applicants for IV-A assistance are automatically referred to their state IV-D agency in order to identify and locate the noncustodial parent, establish paternity and/or a child support order, and/or obtain child support payments. This lets the state get back some or all of its public assistance money from the noncustodial parent. (See also IV-D, public assistance, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).)

IV-D (“4-D”): Refers to title IV-D of the Social Security Act, which says that each state must create a program to find noncustodial parents, establish paternity, establish and enforce child support obligations, and collect and distribute support payments. Any person that gets public assistance (usually TANF) is referred to the state IV-D child support program. States must also accept applications from families that do not get public assistance, if requested, to help collect child support.

IV-E (“4-E”): Refers to title IV-E of the Social Security Act, which established a federal-state foster care program that gives financial support to a person, family, or institution that is raising a child or children not their own. (See also foster care.)IV-E (“4-E”) Case: A child support case where the state provides benefits or services under title IV-E of the Social Security Act to a person, family, or institution that is raising child(ren) not their own. As with other public assistance cases, the people that get public assistance are referred to their state IV-D program in order to identify and find the noncustodial parent, establish paternity and/or a child support order, and/or obtain child support payments. This allows the state to get back some or all of its public assistance payments from the noncustodial parent. (See also IV-D.)


Joinder: Generally, a bringing or joining together. For example, plaintiffs joining in a suit, or a joining of actions or defense.

Joint Custody: A court order that gives both parents legal and physical custody of a child.

Joint Legal Custody: A type of court order that allows either or both parents to make important decisions about a child’s health, education, and well being.

Joint Physical Custody: A type of court order in which a child spends about the same amount of time living with both parents.

Judge: An official of the judicial branch of government with authority to decide lawsuits brought before courts. The term “judge” may also refer to all judicial officers, including Supreme Court justices.

Judgment: (1) The official decision of a court that resolves the dispute between the parties to a lawsuit; (2) the official decision or finding of a judge or administrative agency hearing officer about the respective rights and claims of the parties to an action; also known as a “decree” or “order,” and may include “findings of fact and conclusions of law”; (3) the final decision of the judge stating which party has won the case and the terms of the decision. Can be “n.o.v.,” which means a ruling in favor of 1 party even though there had been a verdict for the other party, or “summary,” which means a court’s decision before a trial saying that no facts are disputed in the case and that 1 party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Compare disposition, verdict.)

Judicial: Belonging to or appropriate to the office of a judge; relates to the administration of justice.

Judicial Council: The Judicial Council of California is the constitutionally mandated body responsible for improving the administration of justice in the state. The council is made up of judges, court executives, attorneys, and legislators. It was established to standardize court administration, practice, and procedure by adopting and enforcing court rules.

Judicial Council Forms: The Judicial Council of California has created many forms (called “Judicial Council forms”) to standardize the preparation of court documents. People involved in lawsuits (also called “litigants”) must use Judicial Council forms that are labeled “mandatory” and may use forms that are labeled “optional.”

Judicial District: The state is divided into judicial districts that define the geographical area of each court’s authority.

Judicial Officer: Judges, referees, and commissioners that make court decisions as a judge.

Judicial Positions: The judge, referee, and commissioner positions authorized by the state Legislature for a particular court jurisdiction.

Jurisdiction: (1) The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a case; (2) the geographic area over which the court has authority to decide cases; (3) the territory, subject matter, or persons over which lawful authority may be exercised by a court.

Juvenile: A person younger than the legal age of adulthood, which usually is 18 years but in some cases is 21 years. (See also minor.)

Juvenile Court: That part of the superior court that handles delinquency, status offense, and dependency cases involving minors.



Lawsuit: (1) A legal action started by a plaintiff against a defendant based on a complaint that the defendant failed to perform a legal duty, which caused harm to the plaintiff; (2) a legal dispute brought to a court for resolution. (See alsoaction, case.)

Lawyer: A person qualified to represent clients in a court of law and to advise them on legal matters. (See also attorney,counsel.)

Legal Aid Organizations: Organizations that provide free legal advice, representation, and other legal services in noncriminal cases to low-income people.

Legal Custody: A parent’s right and responsibility to make decisions about a child’s health, education and well being. There are two types of legal custody orders: joint legal custody and sole legal custody.

Legal Parent: A person who is recognized by the law as the parent of a child.

Legal Separation: You and your spouse or domestic partner can end your relationship but still remain legally married or partnered, and get court orders on parenting and money issues, with a judgment of legal separation.

Letters Of Conservatorship: A court paper that states that the conservator is authorized to act on the conservatee’s behalf. Also called “Letters.”

Levy: To obtain money by legal process through seizure and/or sale of property.

Levying Officer: Sheriff or marshal that is given the power by a writ of execution to levy on a judgment debtor’s property.

Libel: False and malicious material that is written or published that is defamatory and hurts a person’s reputation. (Compare slander.)

License Hold: The action taken to prevent someone from renewing their driver’s license until a legal matter is settled.

Lien: A claim on property to prevent the sale or transfer of that property until a debt is paid. The lien may be enforced or collected by levying on the property. (See also levy.)

Limited Conservatorship: A conservatorship for developmentally disabled adults.

Limited-Scope Representation: An arrangement with a lawyer to receive help on some parts of a case for a set fee or limited fees. Also called “unbundled legal services” or “unbundling”.

Lis Pendens: Jurisdiction of a court over property until final decision of a case; from the Latin for “a pending suit.”

Litigants: The parties (sides) involved in a lawsuit.

Litigate: To conduct or engage in a lawsuit.

Litigation: A case, controversy, or lawsuit. The people involved in lawsuits (plaintiffs and defendants) are called “litigants.”

Local Child Support Agency: See child support enforcement (CSE) agency.

Local Forms: Courts create local forms to standardize the preparation of documents in their court. Local forms are different from Judicial Council forms. Local forms can usually only be used in the court that adopted the form. Most Judicial Council forms can be used in every Superior Court in California. Judicial Council forms always have “Judicial Council of California” printed in the bottom left corner of the first page. You can usually get local forms at a court clerk’s office or on a court’s web site. Look for “forms” or “court forms.”

Long-Arm Jurisdiction: Legal provision that lets 1 state claim personal jurisdiction over someone that lives in another state. There must be some meaningful connection between the person and the state or district that is claiming jurisdiction in order for the authority of a court or agency to reach beyond its normal jurisdictional border.


Maim: To cripple or mutilate in any way; to injure a person in a way that deprives him or her of the use of any limb or other part of his or her body; to seriously wound, disfigure, or disable. (See also mayhem.)

Malfeasance: Performance of an act that should not have been done at all. (Compare with misfeasance, nonfeasance.)

Mandatory: Required, ordered.

Manslaughter: The unlawful, but unintended killing of a person. Can be voluntary, like when someone is killed unlawfully under circumstances that don’t include a premeditated intent to kill. Or involuntary, like when someone is killed unintentionally as a result of someone else performing another unlawful act or negligently performing a lawful act. (Compare with murder; see also homicide.)

Marital Settlement Agreement: In a dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or annulment, a stipulated judgment will often include a marital settlement agreement (MSA). A marital settlement agreement is a written contract between you and your spouse that contains detailed legal wording about how the issues in your case will be handled. It is usually used when there are complicated issues of property, debt, support, or custody that need to be set out in the judgment.

Marshal: A peace officer that has the power to arrest, to serve legal papers in civil cases and subpoenas and to act as bailiff in the courtroom.

Mayhem: Unlawfully and violently depriving a person of a part of his or her body or disabling, disfiguring, or making it useless (includes injury to eyes, tongue, nose, ears, etc.).

Mediation: A process in which a neutral person (or people) helps people who have a dispute to communicate so they can reach an agreement. (Compare arbitration, neutral evaluation.)

Medical Support: Kind of child support where medical or dental insurance coverage is paid by a parent. Depending on the court order, medical support can be that parent’s only financial obligation, or the parent may also have to pay child supportand/or spousal support.

Memorandum Of Costs: see memorandum of credits, accrued interest, and costs after judgment.

Memorandum Of Credits, Accrued Interest, And Costs After Judgment: In small claims court, a form used to get back your costs for collecting your judgment.

Memorandum To Set: A paper filed by 1 or more parties in a court case saying the case is ready for trial. (See also at-issue memorandum.)

Minor: A person under the age of 18 years. (See also juvenile.)

Minutes: The official (permanent) record of a court proceeding, that tells things like what witnesses appeared, what motions were made, and what findings were reached. (See also transcript.)

Minute Order: The courtroom clerk’s written minutes of court proceedings. A minute order is done when a trial judge sits officially, with or without a court reporter, and a clerk keeps minutes of the court session. In this cases, the minute order may be the only record of an oral order made by the judge. Copies of the minute orders are usually kept in the case files and the court clerk’s office. The format of minute orders can vary from court to court. Generally, they include the name of the court, the name of the judge and the court clerk, the case number and names of the parties in the case, the date of the order, the nature of the proceedings, and the court’s ruling. The length of a minute order can be a single page or it can be several pages long.

Misdemeanor: A crime that can be punished by up to 1 year in jail. (See also felony.)

Misfeasance: Improper performance of an act that may have been lawfully done. (Compare malfeasance, nonfeasance.)

Modification: A change or alteration, like modification of a sentence (where the terms of punishment for a defendant are changed) or of a probation order (where a new probation order is issued changing the terms of the original order).

Money Judgment: A specific amount of money awarded by the court to a person as payment for damages (losses or injuries) suffered.

Moot: A point or question related to a legal case that usually has no practical importance or relevance to the case. A moot point is a point that can’t be resolved by the judge, is not disputed by either side, or is resolved out of court.

Motion: An oral or written request that a party makes to the court for a ruling or an order on a particular point. A “motion to reduce bail” asks the court to lower the amount of bail needed to release the defendant from custody and guarantee that he or she will appear in court when required. A “motion to release on own recognizance (OR)” asks the court to let a defendant go without paying bail if the defendant agrees to appear when the court tells him or her to. A “motion to set” asks the judge to set a date for a future trial. A “motion to quash” asks the court to make something void or ineffective, such as to quash a subpoena.

Motion To Quash Service Of Summons: A legal response that a tenant can file in an unlawful detainer lawsuit if the tenant believes that the landlord did not properly serve the summons and complaint.


Negligence: When someone fails to be as careful as the law requires to protect the rights and property of others.

Noncustodial Parent (NCP): The parent that does not have primary care, custody, or control of a child. (See also custodial parent.)

Nonfeasance: Failure to perform an act that you are legally responsible for.(Compare malfeasance, misfeasance.)

Nonservice: When a summons or warrant is issued but not served (delivered).

Notary Public: A person authorized under civil law to administer oaths, to attest (affirm) and certify that certain documents are authentic, and to take depositions.

Notice: A written announcement or warning. For example, a notice to the other side that on a certain date a particular motion will be made in court.

Notice Of Entry Of Judgment: A court form telling the parties about the judge’s decision in a lawsuit.

Nullity: The legal invalidation of a marriage; annulment. (Compare dissolution.)

Nunc Pro Tunc: When a court order is issued on 1 date but is effective retroactively (as of a date that is in the past); from the Latin for “now for then.”


Objection: A formal protest made by a party over testimony or evidence that the other side tries to introduce.

Obligation: Law or duty that requires parties to follow their agreement. An obligation or debt may be created by a judgment or contract, like child support.

Obligee: The person, state agency, or institution owed a debt (usually money) like child support (also called “custodial party” if the money is owed to the person with primary custody of a child).

Obligor: The person that must pay child support or perform some other financial obligation.

Offense: An act that violates (breaks) the law. (See also crime, public offense.)

Office Of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE): The federal agency responsible for administering the nationwide child support program.

Offset: Amount of money taken from a parent’s state or federal income tax refund before he or she receives it, or from an administrative payment like federal retirement benefits, to pay a child support debt.

Opinion: A judge’s written explanation of the decision of the court in appellate cases. Because a case may be heard by 3 or more judges in the appellate court, the opinion in appellate decisions can take several forms. If all the judges completely agree on the result, 1 judge will write the opinion for all. If all the judges do not agree, the formal decision will be based on the majority view, and 1 member of the majority will write the opinion. The judges that do not agree with the majority may write their own dissenting or concurring opinions to state their views. A dissenting opinion disagrees with the majority opinion because of the reasoning and/or the principles of law the majority used to decide the case. A concurring opinion agrees with the decision of the majority opinion, but offers comment or clarification or a completely different reason for reaching the same result. Only the majority opinion can be used as binding precedent in future cases. (See also precedent.)

Oral Argument: The part of a trial when lawyers summarize their position in court and also answer the judge’s questions.

Order: (1) Decision of a judicial officer ; (2) a directive of the court, on a matter relating to the main proceedings, that decides a preliminary point or directs some steps in the proceedings. Generally used to invalidate a prior conviction, for example, an order issued after a hearing where a prior conviction is found invalid because certain legal standards weren’t met during the time of trial and conviction. Or to set a fee, for example, an order telling a defendant to pay back the county for costs for a court-appointed attorney. Or to show cause, for example, an order to appear in court to give reasons why an action can’t, should not have been, or has not been carried out. (See also court order, support order.)

Ordinance: A regulation made by a local government to enforce, control, or limit certain activities.


Panel: (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.

Party: 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.

Paternity: 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.”

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

Payor: Person that makes a payment.

Penalty: 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.”

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

Perjury: 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.)

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

Petitioner: 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.

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

Pleading: 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.

Post: (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.

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

Precedent: 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.

Preliminary: 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.

Prior: A term generally used to refer to a previous conviction.

Privilege: 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.

Probate: 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.”

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

Proceedings: 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.

Process: 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.

Proof: 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.)

Purge: 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.)


Qualified Medical Child Support Order (QMCSO): An order or judgment that provides for medical support for a child of a parent covered by a group health plan or provides for health benefit coverage for the child.

Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO): An order or judgment issued by a court and approved by a pension plan, that divides a pension plan in order to make a fair division of property or to pay for child or spousal support.

Quash: To make void, to vacate, to annul, to set aside. For example, to quash a subpoena means that the court will not enforce the subpoena because it has been voided or set aside.

Quasi-Community Property: Quasi-community property is any type of property that was acquired by either one or both spouses or domestic partners when living in another state that, had it been acquired while living in California, it would have been considered community property. In other words, if you or your spouse or partner were living outside of California during your marriage or partnership, and you had any earnings, bought any real estate, or acquired any other type of property that in California would be community property, that property is called quasi-community property. And, in a divorce or legal separation in California, it will be treated as community property.


Rebuttal: Evidence presented at trial by 1 party in order to overcome evidence introduced by another party.

Recess: A short break in a trial ordered by the judge. (See also adjournment; compare continuance.)

Reciprocity: A relationship in which 1 state gives certain privileges to other states or the citizens of other states on the condition that the first state and its citizens receive the same privileges in those other states.

Record: A written account of the proceedings in a case, including all pleadings, evidence, exhibits, and judgment submitted during the case.

Record On Appeal: A copy of the pleadings, evidence, exhibits, orders, and judgment, filed in a case in a trial court and atranscript of the testimony from the case.

Records Retention And Disposal Schedule: A system or plan covering all records kept by a court that states what records may be disposed of and when.

Recuse: To excuse (oneself) or be excused from a criminal or civil proceeding because of conflict of interest. For example, a judge may recuse himself or herself from a case because of personal or professional involvement with 1 or more of the parties.

Remittitur (Of Record): The transfer of the records of a case from a Court of Appeal to the original trial court for further action or other disposition as ordered by the appellate court.

Reporter: A court official that records the proceedings in trials, including the questions asked of, and answers made by, witnesses.

Request For Admission: A method of discovery in which 1 party formally and in writing asks the opposing party to admit the truth of certain facts relevant to a case. (See also discovery.)

Reset: To put on the court calendar again. (See also calendar.)

Residency: The usual, official place of residence. The place where a person makes his or her home.

Respondent: The person against whom an appeal is made; the responding party in a dissolution, nullity, adoption, or probate case. (See also dissolution, nullity.)

Restraining Order: A court order that tells a person to stop doing something for a certain amount of time, usually until a court hearing is held. (See also injunction.)

Reverse: When an appellate court sets aside the decision of a trial court. A reversal is often accompanied by a remand to the lower court for further proceedings.

Review And Adjustment: Process in which current financial information is obtained from both parties in a child support case by a IV-D agency and evaluated to decide if a support order needs to be adjusted.

Revocation: The act of voiding or canceling something, usually probation or a driver’s license.


Sanction: (1) To concur, confirm, or ratify. (2) A penalty or punishment intended to make someone obey the law.

Satisfaction: Payment of a judgment amount by the party.

Sealed Record: A record closed by a court to further inspection by anyone unless a there is a court order to permit it. (Compare with confidential record, public record.)

Seizure Order: Court order (after motion) allowing a levying officer to levy on personal property in a private home.

Separation Date: The date of separation for divorces or registered domestic partnerships is when one spouse (or both) or one partner (or both) decides that the marriage or partnership is over and takes some actions to show this (like moving out of the house).

Separate Property: Separate property is everything that a husband or wife or registered domestic partners OWNS SEPARATELY. In most cases that includes: (1) anything that you owned before you got married or registered as domestic partners; (2) anything you earned or received after your separation; and (3) anything that either of you received, as a gift or by inheritance, at any time.

Service By Publication: When service of process is done by publishing a notice in a newspaper or by posting on a bulletin board of a courthouse or other public facility after a court determines that other means of service are impractical or have been unsuccessful. (See also service of process.)

Service Of Process: The delivery of legal papers to the opposing party. The papers must be delivered by an adult aged 18 or older that is not involved in the case and that swears to the date and method of delivery to the recipient. (See alsopersonal service, substituted service.)

Settlement: An agreement reached among the parties that resolves the case at any time before a judge’s decision in the case. (See also finding, verdict.)

Settlement Agreement: In a dissolution, legal separation, or annulment of marriage or domestic partnership, a stipulated judgment will often include a settlement agreement. A settlement agreement is a written contract between you and your spouse or domestic partner that contains detailed legal wording about how the issues in your case will be handled. It is usually used when there are complicated issues of property, debt, support, or custody that need to be set out in the judgment.

Show Cause: A court order telling a person to appear in court and present any evidence why the orders requested by the other side should not be granted or executed.. A show cause order is usually based on a motion and affidavit asking the judge to make certain decisions.

Sine Die: Without assigning a specific day for further hearing; from the Latin for “without a day.”

Slander: Defamation of a person’s character or reputation through false or malicious oral statements. (Compare libel.)

Sole Legal Custody: A type of court order in which one parent has the legal authority to make the major decisions affecting the child, like health care, education, and religion. If the parents do not agree on a decision about the child, the parent with sole legal custody has the right to make the final decision. “Sole custody” does not give one parent the right to move away with the child without notice to the other parent unless the court order specifically gives that right.

Sole Physical Custody: See Primary Physical Custody.

Sole Proprietorship: An unincorporated business that is owned by one individual

Special Education: Instruction specially designed to meet the unique needs of a child whose disability affects his or her educational performance or ability to learn in a regular classroom.

Spousal Support: Court-ordered support of a spouse or ex-spouse; also called “maintenance” or “alimony.”

State Case Registry (SCR): A database maintained by each state that contains information on individuals in all IV-D cases and all non-IV-D orders established or modified after October 1, 1998. (See also IV-D.)

State Parent Locator Services (SPLS): A unit within each state’s child support enforcement agency that locates noncustodial parents to establish and enforce child support obligations, visitation, and custody orders or to establish paternity.

Statement Of Facts: Any written or oral declaration of facts in a court case.

Status Offense: An act, committed by a child, that is illegal only because of the child’s age (e.g. truancy, underage drinking, etc.).

Statute: A law passed by Congress or a state legislature.

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).

Statutory Damages For Malice: A financial penalty set by law if one of the parties has acted with malice. Malice is conscious, intentional wrongdoing based on ill will, hatred or total disregard for the other’s well-being.

Stay Order: An order issued by a court stopping court proceedings until a further, specified event takes place.

Stipulated Judgment: An agreement between the parties to a case that settles a case. For example, if you and your spouse agree on all the matters about your divorce, you can submit a stipulated judgment to the court. The stipulated judgment must be signed by both you and your spouse, and will list your agreements about the division of property and debts, child and spousal support and child custody and visitation. Once the stipulated judgment is signed by the judge, it becomes the judgment in your case.

Stipulation: An agreement relating to a pending court proceeding between parties or their attorneys.

Strike: To delete or remove, as in to strike (a case) from the court’s calendar.

Sua Sponte: Commonly used to describe when a judge does something without being asked to by either party in a case; from the Latin for “of one’s own will.”

Subpoena: 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.

Summons: 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.

Suppress: To stop or put an end to someone’s activities. To suppress evidence is to withhold it from disclosure or publication.

Surrogate Parent: A person that substitutes for the legal parent to advocate for a child’s special educational rights and needs; can be selected by the child’s parent or appointed by the local educational agency (LEA).

Suspend: To postpone, stay, or withhold certain conditions of a judicial sentence for a temporary period of time.


Temporary Assistance To Needy Families (TANF): Time-limited public assistance payments made to poor families, based on title IV-A of the Social Security Act. TANF replaced Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC, also called “welfare”) in 1996.

Temporary Judge: An attorney that volunteers his or her time to hear and decide cases. Also called a “pro tem judge.”

Temporary Restraining Order: A court order, sometimes called a “TRO,” that says a person must not do certain things that are likely to cause harm that can’t be fixed. Unlike an injunction, it can be granted immediately, without notice to the opposing party and without a hearing. It is intended to last only until a hearing can be held. TROs are often used in domestic violence cases to protect a person from violence or the threat of violence.

Terminal: A machine connected to a computer system that lets the user enter, see, or print information.

Testify: To give evidence under oath as a witness in a court proceeding.

Testimony: Evidence presented orally by witnesses during trials, before grand juries, or during administrative proceedings.

Third-Party Action: Generally, an action taken by anyone that is not a party to an underlying contract, agreement, or other transaction.

Till Tap Levy: A judgment enforcement procedure in which the levying officer makes a trip to a business and picks up the money in the cash register or cash box. Many counties now combine this procedure with a keeper.

Time-share: the plan for how the parents share time with their children. Also called visitation or parenting plan.

Time Waiver: When you give up the right to have a certain phase of the legal process take place within the normally specified amount of time.

Title: The ownership or evidence of ownership of land or other property.

Toll: See statute of limitations.

Transcript: A written, word-for-word record of what was said at a trial or some other formal conversation like a hearing ordeposition.

Transfer: A judge’s order to transfer a case from 1 court to another before a hearing or trial is held in the matter.

Transition: the moving of a child from one place where they are taken care of (like home, school or day care) to another.

Trial: A court process in which the issues of fact and law are heard and decided according to legal procedures so a judicial officer or jury can make a decision in the case. Can be either (1) a bench trial—a trial that is heard and decided by a judge, or (2) a jury trial—a trial that is heard and decided by a jury.

Trial Court: The first court to consider a case, generally the superior court. (Compare appellate court.)

Trust Fund: Money, stocks, bonds, or securities held under the control of someone for the use and benefit of another.

Trust Items: The specific things held in trust.

Trustee: (1) The person that has custody of or control over funds or items for the benefit of another; (2) in a bankruptcy case, a person appointed to represent the interests of the bankruptcy estate and the unsecured creditors. The trustee’s responsibilities may include selling the property of the estate, making distributions to creditors, and bringing actions against creditors or the debtor to recover property of the bankruptcy estate.


Unbundled Legal Services (Or Unbundling): An arrangement with a lawyer to receive help on some parts of a case for a set fee or limited fees. Also called “limited-scope representation.”

Unclaimed Funds: Support payment that can’t be disbursed because the identity of the payor, or the address of the payee, is unknown.

Undertaking: A promise given during a legal proceeding by a party or his or her attorney, usually as a condition of getting some concession from the court or the other party.

Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA): Uniform state laws that provide mechanisms for establishing and enforcing child support obligations in interstate cases (when a noncustodial parent lives in a different state than his or her child and the custodial parent).

Unreimbursed Public Assistance: Money paid in public assistance to support a child (like, TANF or AFDC) that a noncustodial parent that was ordered to pay child support has not yet paid back.

Uphold: When an appellate court agrees with the lower court decision and allows it to stand. (See also affirmation.)

Urine Test: A medical test of a urine sample to see if it contains evidence of alcohol or some other drug.


Vacate The Default Judgment: Getting a default judgment removed or erased. (See also default judgment.)

Venue: The particular court in which an action may be brought.

Verification: An oral or written statement, usually made under oath, saying that something is true.

Violation: A breach of a right, duty, or law.

Visitation: A plan for how the parents will share time with their children. Also called time-share.


Wage Assignment: A legal procedure that requires the employer of a judgment debtor to withhold a portion of the judgment debtor’s wages to satisfy a judgment. Also used to order an employer to transfer (or assign) parts of future wage payments to pay a debt, like child support.

Wage Attachment: An involuntary transfer of a portion of an employee’s wage payment to repay a debt. (See also income withholding, wage withholding.)

Wage Garnishment: A legal procedure that requires the employer of a judgment debtor to withhold a portion of the judgment debtor’s wages to satisfy a judgment. Also used to order an employer to transfer (or assign) parts of future wage payments to pay a debt, like child support.

Wage Withholding: A legal procedure that allows deductions to be made from wages or income on a regular schedule. The deductions are used to pay a debt, like child support. Wage withholding often is incorporated into a child support order. It can be voluntary or involuntary. Also known as “income withholding.” (See also direct income withholding, earnings assignment, income withholding.)

Waiver: To give up a legal right voluntarily, intentionally, and with full knowledge of the consequences.

Waiver Of Rights Form: A form signed by a defendant and the judge recording which, if any, legal rights are waived (or given up) by the defendant.

Ward Of The Court: A minor that is under the care and control of the juvenile court and not his or her parent(s).

Warrant: A written order issued and signed by a judge or judicial officer directing a peace officer to take specific action. Can be: (1) an arrest warrant—orders a peace officer to arrest and bring to the court the person accused of a crime to begin legal action; (2) a bench warrant—a judge’s order to arrest and bring a person to court because the person has failed to appear in court when they were supposed to; (3) a recall warrant—an order to remove from Department of Justice and state police computers information about canceled warrants to avoid mistaken arrests; or (4) a search warrant—an order based on a finding of probable cause directing law enforcement officers to conduct a search of specific premises for specific persons or things and to bring them to the court.

Will: A legal paper that lists a person’s wishes about what will happen to his or her personal property after death.

Without Prejudice: A term used when rights or privileges are not waived or lost. A dismissal of a lawsuit without prejudice means a new suit can be brought on the same cause of action if it is within the statute of limitations.

Witness: A person called by either side in a lawsuit to give testimony before the judge or jury.

Writ: A written court order saying that certain action must be taken. Can be a writ of: (1) attachment—an order to attach specified property; (2) certiorari—an order by an appellate court granting or denying a review of judgment; (3) execution—an order to enforce a court judgment; (4) habeas corpus—an order to release someone that has been unlawfully imprisoned; (5) mandamus (or mandate)—an order to perform any act designated by law to be part of a person’s duty or status; or (6) prohibition—the opposite of a writ of mandate that orders that further proceedings or other official acts be stopped (usually issued from a higher to a lower court).

Writ Of Execution: An order issued by a court requiring the performance of a specified act, or giving authority to have it done. It is used to allow the levying officer the power to take the judgment debtor’s property.