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Acknowledgement: The signature of a clerk or attorney certifying that the person filing the document has sworn that the contents are true, and/or that the document is signed by his or her free act and deed.

Action: Also called a case or lawsuit. A civil judicial proceeding where one party sues another for a wrong done, or to protect a right or to prevent a wrong.

Adjournment: Postponement of a court session until another time or place.

Adjudication: A decision or sentence imposed by a judge.

Affirmation: Declaring something to be true under the penalty of perjury by a person who will not take an oath for religious or other reasons.

Affidavit: A written statement made under oath.

Alimony: Money a court requires one spouse to pay the other spouse for support before and/or after the divorce is granted. If you do not ask for alimony at the final hearing, you can never get it in the future.

Allegation: Saying that something is true. The assertion, declaration or statement of a party in a case, made in a pleading.

Annulment: A court order declaring that a marriage is invalid.

Appeal: Asking a higher court to review the decision or sentence of a trial court because the lower court made an error.

Appearance: The official court form filed with the court clerk who tells the court that you are representing yourself in a lawsuit or criminal case or that an attorney is representing you. All court notices and calendars will be mailed to the address listed on the form. When a defendant in a civil case files an appearance, the person is submitting to the court’s jurisdiction.

Appellant: The party appealing a decision or judgment to a higher court.

Appellee: The party against whom an appeal is taken.

Arbitration: Submitting a case or dispute to designated parties for a decision, instead of using a judge.

Arrearages: Money for alimony and/or child support, which is overdue and unpaid.

Assistant Attorney General: An attorney who represents a state agency in civil cases.

Attorney of Record: Attorney whose name appears in the permanent records or files of a case.

Automatic Orders: Court orders that take effect when a divorce or custody case is started.

Abuse: in relation to a child means,
(a) an assault, including a sexual assault, of the child; or
(b) a person (the first person) involving the child in a sexual activity with the first person or another person in which the child is used, directly or indirectly, as a sexual object by the first person or the other person, and where there is an unequal power in the relationship between the child and the first person; or
(c) causing the child to suffer serious psychological harm, including (but not limited to) when that harm is caused by the child being subjected to, or exposed to, family violence; or
(d) serious neglect of the child

Address for service: The address given by a party where documents can be served on them by hand, post or some other form of electronic communication.

Adjudicate: To pass on judicially, to decide, settle, or decree.

Accused: The person against whom an accusation is made; one who is charged with a crime or traffic infraction.

Action: Proceeding in a court by which one party prosecutes another for the enforcement or protection of a right, or the redress or prevention of a civil wrong.

Adjudicate: To pass on judicially, to decide, settle, or decree.

Admissible: Pertinent and proper to be considered in reaching a decision. Refers to the evidence considered in determining the issues to be decided in any judicial proceeding.

Adversary proceeding: One having opposing parties; contested, as distinguished from a hearing in which only one party appears.

Affiant: The person who makes and signs an affidavit.

Affidavit: A written, printed, or videotaped declaration or statement of facts, made voluntarily, and confirmed by the oath or affirmation of the party making it, taken before an officer having authority to administer such oath.

Affirm: To ratify, make firm, confirm, establish, reassert. Alternate procedure to swearing under an oath.

Best Interest of the Child: The standard a judge uses to decide custody and visitation issues.

Breach: The breaking or violating of a law, right, or duty, either by commission or omission.

Brief: A written document prepared by a lawyer or party on each side of a dispute and filed with the court in support of their arguments.

Broken Down Irretrievably: The most common reason for granting a divorce. It means there is no hope of the husband and wife getting back together again. Also known as “no-fault” divorce.

Case: A lawsuit or action in a court.

Continuance: A postponement of further proceedings in a hearing, trial, or other judicial proceeding until a later date.

Contract: A legally enforceable agreement between two or more parties made orally or in writing.

Convict: To find a person guilty of a criminal charge.

Counterclaim: A claim presented by a defendant in opposition to deduction from the claim of the plaintiff whether or not it arises from the matters in question in plaintiff’s action.

Court order: A command or mandatory direction of a judge which is made during a case. Also includes a command of the judge which establishes courtroom or administrative procedures.

Crime: A positive or negative act in violation of penal law; an offense against the state classified either as a felony or misdemeanour.

Cross-claim: An expansion of the original action in which a claim is brought by a defendant against a third party not originally sued by the plaintiff in the same action or against a co-defendant or both concerning matters in question in the original action.

Cross-examination: The examination of a witness upon a trial or hearing, or upon taking a deposition, by the party opposed to the one who put him on the witness stand to testify.

Custody: The detainment of a person by virtue of lawful process or authority; actual imprisonment.

Custody case: In juvenile and domestic relations district court or circuit court, the type of proceedings in which the court determines which parent, other adult or agency shall have physical control over a child.

Civil action: A case brought for determination enforcement or protection of a right, or redress; or prevention of a wrong; every action other than a criminal action.

Case Conference: A meeting scheduled by the court to review the case.

Case File: The court file containing papers submitted in a case.

Certify: To testify in writing; to make known or establish as a fact.

Challenge: Rejecting a potential juror.

Charge: Formal accusation of a crime.

Child: Any person under the age of sixteen (16) years of age.

Child Support: Money paid by a parent to help meet the financial needs of a child.

Civil Action: A lawsuit other than a criminal case usually filed in a Judicial District courthouse. Includes family actions (divorces, child support, etc) and small claims cases, although these are both separately designated.

Claim: In civil cases, the statement of relief desired.

Complaint: A legal document that tells the court what you want, and is served with a summons on the defendant to begin the case.

Complex Litigation: A specialized docket designed for complex civil cases, where one judge hears the case from beginning to end. Criteria includes: multiple parties, large amounts of money, lengthy trial or complex legal issues.

Conditional Discharge: A disposition, in criminal cases, where the defendant must satisfy certain court-ordered conditions instead of a prison term.

Contempt of Court: A finding that someone disobeyed a court order. Can also mean disrupting court, for example, by being loud or disrespectful in court.

Continuance: The adjournment or postponement of a court case to another day.

Continuance Date: Date on which the case will next be heard in court.

Contract: A legally enforceable agreement between two or more persons or parties.

Conviction: To be found guilty of committing a crime.

Costs: Expenses in prosecuting or defending a case in court. Usually does not include attorney’s fees.

Count: The different parts of a complaint, which could each be a basis or grounds for the lawsuit.

Counter Claim: A claim by the defendant in a civil action that the defendant is entitled to damages or other relief from the plaintiff.

Court-Appointed Attorney: An attorney who is asked by the court (judge) to either represent a party to the case, or to serve in some other capacity that the case requires.

Court Interpreter: The person who translates court hearings from English to another language. Provided at state expense in all criminal cases and in cases enforcing child support orders, if requested. No interpreter is available for divorce or any other civil case.

Court Trial: Trial by a judge, rather than by a jury.

Cross-Examination: Questioning by a party or the attorney of an adverse party or a witness.

Custody: A court order deciding where a child will live and how decisions about the child will be made. Parents may ask for any custody arrangement that they believe is in the best interest of their child.

Custody Affidavit: A sworn statement containing facts about a child involved in a case, including full name of the child, date of birth, current and past residences and other information as may be required by law.

Consent order: An agreement between the parties that is approved by the court and then becomes a court order.

Contravention: When a court finds a party has not complied with (followed) a court order, that party is in contravention of (or has breached) the order.

Court hearing: The date and time when a case is scheduled to come before the court.

Court order: The actions the parties or a party must do to carry out a decision made by a court. An order may be either interim or final.

Divorce order: An order made by a court that ends a marriage.

Damages: Money a party receives as compensation for a legal wrong.

Declaration: An unsworn statement of facts made by a party to the transaction, or by one who has an interest in the facts recounted.

Default: To fail to respond or answer to the plaintiff’s claims by filing the required court

usually an Appearance or an Answer.

Defendant: In civil cases, the person who is given court papers also called a respondent. In criminal cases, the person who is arrested and charged with a crime.

Deposition: Testimony of a witness taken, under oath, in response to another party’s questions. Testimony given outside the courtroom, usually in a lawyer’s office. A word for word account (transcript) is made of the testimony.

Discovery: A formal request by one party in a lawsuit to disclose information or facts known by other parties or witnesses.

Dismissal: A judge’s decision to end the case.

Dismissal Without Prejudice: A judge’s decision to end the case which permits the complainant or prosecutor to renew the case later. In contrast, dismissal “with prejudice” prevents the complainant or prosecutor to bring or maintain the same claim or action again.

Dispose: Ending a legal case or a judicial proceeding.

Disposition: The manner in which a case is settled or resolved.

Dissolution: The legal end of a marriage, also called a divorce.

Evidence: Testimony, documents or objects presented at a trial to prove a fact.

Enforcement order: An order made by a court to make a party or person comply with (follow) an order.

Failure to Appear: In a civil case, failing to file an Appearance form. In a criminal case, failing to come to court for a scheduled hearing.

Financial Affidavit: A sworn statement of income, expenses, property (called assets) and debts (called liabilities).

Finding: The court’s or jury’s decision on issues of fact.

Family violence: Means violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family (the family member), or causes the family member to be fearful. A child is exposed to family violence if the child sees or hears family violence or is otherwise exposed to family violence.

The procedure of lodging a document at a family law registry for placing on the court file.

Final order: An order made by a court to bring a case to a close.

Form: A particular document that must be completed and filed at court. Different forms are used for different family law matters.

Guardian: A person who has the power and duty to take care of another person and/or to manage the property and rights of another person who is considered incapable of taking care of his or her personal affairs.

Hearsay: Testimony given by a witness who tells second or third hand information.

Income Withholding Order: A court order to deduct child support or alimony payments from someone’s wages. All child support court orders must include an income withholding order unless both parents ask the judge not to.

Indigent: Someone without enough money to either support himself or herself or his or her family. Someone who cannot afford to pay certain fees required by the court.

Infraction: A case where the fine may be paid by mail and usually the person does not have to appear or come to court. For example, a speeding ticket.

Injunction: A court order to stop doing or to start doing a specific act.

Interim order: An order made by a court until another order or a final order is made.

Interpreter: The person who correctly translates court hearings from a second language to English. An interpreter is provided at no cost to the person who needs the interpreter in all cases where the person’s life, freedom, children or housing are at risk of being taken away. Interpreters are also provided for criminal and child support cases.

Interrogatory: Formal, written questions used to get information from another party in a lawsuit.

Indemnify: To shift responsibility for a loss from the person held legally responsible to another party.

Judge: A person who hears and decides cases for the courts. Appointed by the governor for a term of eight years and confirmed by the General Assembly.

Judgment: A court decision. Also called a decree or an order.

Judgment File: A permanent court record of the court’s final disposition of the case.

Jurisdiction: Power and authority of a court to hear and make a judgment in a case.

Legal Aid or Legal Services: Free legal representatives in civil cases for income eligible persons.

Custody: Relationship with a child created by court order which gives a person legal responsibility for the physical possession of a minor and the duty to protect, care for and discipline the child.

Legal Separation: A court order describing the conditions under which two married people will live separately.

Litigant: A party to a case.

Magistrate: A person who is not a judge but who is authorized to hear and decide certain types of cases. For example, family support magistrates hear cases involving child support.

Mediation: A dispute resolution process in which an impartial third party assists the parties to voluntarily reach a mutually acceptable settlement.

Minor: A person under age 18, the age of legal majority.

No Contact Order: A court order that prohibits contact by a defendant with a victim; can be ordered by a judge, a bail commissioner, a probation officer or a parole officer.

No Fault Divorce: The most common kind of divorce, where no one needs to prove that the husband or the wife is at fault, or caused the marriage to end. Described as “broken down irretrievably”.

Notarize: To formally complete a document by acknowledgement or oath.

Notary: A public officer whose function it is to administer oaths; to attest and certify, certain classes of documents; to take acknowledgments, and certify the same.

Oath: To swear/affirm to the truth of a statement/document.

Order: A written direction of a court or judge to do or refrain from doing certain acts.

Orders of Temporary Custody: Also called an OTC. Court order placing a child or youth in the short-term legal custody of an individual or agency authorized to care for juveniles.

Objection: A protest or exception made by a party against an action by the opposing party.

Parties: The people or legal entities that are named as plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) on legal papers.

Party: A person or legal entity that is named as a plaintiff or defendant on legal papers.

Pendente lite order: A court order made before final orders are granted.

Perjury: Making false statements under oath.

Petition: A formal written request to a court, which starts a special proceeding. In juvenile court, the legal document which specifies the complaint against the juvenile and/or family; it includes the name, age and address of the minor and his/her guardian, as well as the statutory grounds and facts upon which the request for the court intervention is based.

Petitioner: Another word for plaintiff, the person starting the lawsuit.

Plaintiff: The person who sues or starts a civil case, also called the petitioner or the complainant.

Plea: An accused person’s answer to a criminal charge. For example: not guilty; guilty; no contest.

Pre-trial: In a civil case, a conference with a judge or trial referee to discuss discovery and settlement. In a criminal case, a conference with the prosecutor, defense attorney and judge to discuss the case status and what will happen next.

Pre-trial Hearing: Conference with attorneys to determine scope of possible trial with view toward resolving issues through agreement.

Prosecute: To carry on a case or judicial proceeding. To proceed against a person criminally.

Prosecutor: Also called the state’s attorney. Represents the state in a criminal case against a defendant.

Protective Order: A criminal court order issued by a judge to protect a family or household member.

Parenting plan: A written agreement between the parties setting out parenting arrangements for children. It is not approved by or filed with a court.

Partial payment: Payment of a sum less than the whole amount originally due.

Petition: A formal request to a court to take a certain action on a matter.

Plaintiff: A person who brings an action; the party who complains or sues in a personal action and is so named on the record.

Plea: Statement made by the defendant either as to his guilt or innocence to the charge made against him.

Pleadings: The formal allegations by the parties of their respective claims and defenses, for the judgment of the court.

Power of Attorney: Authorization given by one person allowing another to take action on their behalf.

Preponderance: Greater weight of evidence, or evidence which is more credible and convincing to the mind.

Registrar: A court lawyer who has been delegated power to perform certain tasks; for example, grant divorces, sign consent orders and decide the next step in a case.

Respondent: A person named as a party to a case. A respondent may or may not respond to the orders sought by the applicant.

Record: The pleadings, the exhibits and the transcript made by the court reporter of all proceedings in a trial.

Revocation Hearing: A hearing held before a judge to determine whether or not a person has violated the conditions of probation. If there is a finding that a violation has occurred, the judge may impose all or part of the original sentence.

Rule to Show Cause: Summons compelling a person to appear in court on a specific date to answer to a request that certain orders be modified or vacated.

Remand: Sending a case back to the same court out of which it came for purpose of having some action taken on it there.

Restitution: The act of making good or giving equivalent for any loss, damage or injury.

Seal: A court order closing a case file from public review, usually in cases of youthful offenders and acquittal. Prevents the public from obtaining information on the cases.

Satisfaction: The discharge of an obligation by paying a party what is due to him or what is awarded to him, by the judgment of a court or otherwise.

Sentencing: When a criminal defendant is brought before a judge after conviction for ordering the terms of the punishment.

Service: The legal method for giving a copy of the court papers being filed to other parties in a case.

Short Calendar: A list of cases in which hearing by the judge or magistrate is requested or required.

Statute: A law enacted by a legislative body.

Stay: Temporarily stopping a judicial proceeding.

Stipulation: Also called a “stip.” A written agreement by the parties or their attorneys.

Subpoena: A command to appear in court to testify as a witness.

Subpoena Duces Tecum: A legal paper requiring someone to produce documents or records for a trial.

Summons: A legal paper that is used to start a civil case and get jurisdiction over a party.

Testimony: Statements made by a witness or party under oath.

Time Served: A sentence of incarceration equal to the amount of time a defendant has already spent in state custody waiting for disposition of the case.

Tort: A civil injury or wrong to someone else, or their property.

Transcript: The official written record of everything that was said at a court proceeding, a hearing, or a deposition.

Vacate: To cancel or rescind a court order.

Victim Services Advocate
A person who assesses a victim’s needs and helps the victim understand the court case, how to exercise their rights and how to access other resources.

Visitation: A court order deciding the amount of time a non-custodial parent may spend with his or her child, also called parenting time or access.

Violation: An offense for which the only sentence authorized is a fine.

Witness: A person, who testifies to what they saw, heard, observed or did.

Writ: Legal paper filed to start various types of civil lawsuits.

This fact sheet provides general information only, and is not provided as legal advice. If you have a legal issue, you should contact your local lawyer before making a decision about what to do or applying to the Court.

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