Legal Glossary




If you are in need of legal assistance, it is important to have legal resources and acquaint yourself with legal terminology. This page provides you with some of these resources and a glossary of legal terms. These resources are meant to be used only as a guide and you should seek the advice of an attorney before making any legal decisions.



adjudicate: to hear or try and determine judicially

affidavit: a sworn or affirmed statement made in writing and signed; if sworn, it is notarized

affidavit of service: an affidavit intended to certify the service of a writ, notice, or other document

affirm: an act of declaring something to be true under the penalty of perjury by a person who conscientiously declines to take an oath for religious or other pertinent reasons

alimony: also known as spousal support, an allowance the court orders one party to pay to the other for spousal support while they are separated or after they are divorced

allegation: the assertion, declaration, or statement of a party to an action, made in a pleading, setting out what the party expects to prove

allege: To assert a fact in a pleading.

amend: To change.

annul: to make void, as to dissolve the bonds of marriage

answer: a document submitted by a Respondent in which he/she responds to and/or denies the allegations of the Petitioner

appeal: a proceeding to have a case examined by an appropriate higher court to see if a lower court’s decision was made correctly according to law

appellant: the party who takes an appeal to a higher court

appellee: the party against whom an appeal is taken

arbitration: the submission voluntarily or involuntarily of a disputed matter to selected persons and the substitution of their award or decision for the judgment of a court or its confirmation by the court as a judgment of the court

attorney of record: attorney whose name appears in the permanent records or files of a case

award: A decision of a Judicial Officer or Abitrator





calendar: a schedule of matters to be heard in court

calendar call: the calling of matters requiring parties, or their attorneys, to appear and be heard

caption: in a pleading, deposition or other paper connected with a case in court, it is the heading or introductory clause which shows the names of the parties, name of the court, number of the case on the docket or calendar, etc.

certified copy: Copy of a document signed and certified as a true copy of an original by the Clerk of the Court or other authorized persons (e.g., lawyer)

change of venue: the removal of a suit begun in one county or district to another county or district for trial, though the term may also apply to the removal of a suit from one court to another court of the same county or district

child support guidelines: the mathematical formula used by the court to determine each parent’s proportionate share of financial responsibility for their child(ren)

consolidated action: two or more actions involving a common question of law or fact may be consolidated by the court; the actions then are merged, becoming one action with one title, and they result in one verdict and one judgment

contempt of court: an act or omission tending to obstruct or interfere with the orderly administration of justice or to impair the dignity of the court or respect for its authority

consolidate: A joining of two or more actions

contested action: an action which involves disputed issue(s) of fact or law

continuance: a temporary postponement of the proceedings of a case until a specified future time

contract: a legally enforceable agreement between two or more persons or parties (oral or written)

counterclaim:  A claim brought by a Respondent against the Petitioner

custody: The rights and obligations of each parent to provide care for and to make decisions concerning the child/children.



default: a “default” in an action of law occurs when a defendant fails to plead or otherwise defend within the time allowed, or fails to appear at the trial

de novo: From the beginning, a new trial.

deponent: One who testifies under oath to the truth of facts at a deposition.

deposition: sworn testimony of a witness before a court reporter

discovery (or disclosure): a proceeding whereby one party to an action may be informed as to facts known by other parties or witnesses

dismissal: termination of a proceeding for a procedurally prescribed reason

dismissal with prejudice: Action dismissed on the merits which prevents renewal of the same claim or cause of action.

dismissal without prejudice: Action dismissed, not on the merits, which may be re-instituted.

dispose: the act of terminating a judicial proceeding

disposition: the result of a judicial proceeding by withdrawal, settlement, order, judgment or sentence

dissolution of marriage: the effect of a judgment of dissolution of marriage is to restore the parties to the state of unmarried persons

docket: The record kept by the Clerk of Court which summarizes a case

domicile: that place where a person has a true and permanent home – a person may have several residences, but only one domicile



enjoin: to require a person, by writ of injunction from a court of equity, to perform or to abstain or desist from some act

equitable distribution: the power to distribute equitably upon divorce all property legally and beneficially acquired during marriage by husband and wife or either of them, whether legal title lies in their joint or individual names

evidence: a form of proof or probative matter legally presented at the trial of an issue by the acts of the parties and through witnesses, records, documents, concrete objects, etc.

exceptions: a document filed to “appeal” the recommendation or decision of a Magistrate; exceptions are heard by a Judge of the same court rather than an appellate tribunal

exhibit: a paper, document or other article produced and exhibited to a court during a trial or hearing and, on being accepted, is marked for identification or admitted in evidence

ex parte: a proceeding, order, motion, application, request, submission etc., made by or granted for the benefit of one party only; done for, in behalf of, or on application of one party only



finding: the court’s or jury’s decision on issues of fact

full faith and credit: A requirement of the U.S. Constitution that the records and judicial proceedings of one state shall have the same effect in courts of other states with the same jurisdiction.



garnish: to attach a portion of the wages or other property of a debtor to secure repayment of a debt or other monetary obligation

garnishee: A person who owes a debt to a judgment debtor, or a person other than the judgment debtor who has property in his/her possession or custody in which a judgment debtor has an interest

guardian ad litem: person appointed by a court to represent a minor or incompetent for purpose of some litigation



hearsay: a type of testimony given by a witness who relates not what he/she knows personally, but what others have told the witness, or what the witness has heard said by others; may be admissible or inadmissible in court depending upon rules of evidence



in camera: in the judge’s chamber out of the presence of the jury and the public

income deduction order: also known as Earnings Withholding Order and Income Withholding Order, directs an employer of the payor of a support obligation to withhold funds from the payor’s wages for payment to a payee in connection with the support obligation

injunction: a court order for a party to stop doing or to start doing a specific act

inter alia: Among other things.

interrogatories: written questions propounded by one party and served on an adversary, who must provide written answers thereto under oath

intestate: a person who dies without a will



judgment: A determination of the rights of the parties in an action or special proceeding. A judgment shall refer to and state the result of a decision, or recite the circumstances on which it is based

jurisdiction: the geographical, subject matter and monetary limitations of a court
Personal jurisdiction- Directed to a specific person to impose a personal liability on him
Subject matter jurisdiction- topic of consideration, thing in dispute, right claimed by one party against another





Magistrate: a judicial officer vested with the authority to hear, make recommendations concerning or decide the outcome of certain specific issues; Also known as a General Magistrate.

maintenance: the furnishing by one person to another the means of living, or food, clothing, shelter, etc., particularly where the legal relations of the parties is such that one is bound to support the other, as between parent and child or between spouses

mandatory disclosure: the financial and other documents which are required to be exchanged by the parties in many family law proceedings

marital dissolution agreement: An agreement which the parties put in writing and sign before a notary Public containing provisions for support, division of property and matters affecting children. Also called a Property Settlement Agreement, Marital Settlement Agreement.

marital property: Any property, real or personal, acquired after the date of marriage up through the date of filing for divorce (usually), excluding property derived by gift or inheritance (or that which is traceable to either form).

mediation: a process which includes a neutral third party (the mediator), whose role is to assist the parties in attempting to achieve an amicable resolution to their issues so as to avoid or conclude litigation

moot: (adj.) unsettled, undecided, not necessary to be decided

motion: an oral or written request to the court made by a party for a ruling or order

movant: the party who initiates the motion



nunc pro tunc: (now for then) presently considered as if occurring at an earlier date; effective retroactively



oath: a swearing to the truth of a statement which, if made by one who knows it to be false, may subject one to a prosecution for perjury or other legal proceedings

opening statement: the first address of counsel prior to offering of evidence

order: an oral or written direction of a court or judge



party: Person having a direct interest in a legal matter, transaction or proceeding (ex. Petitioner and/or Respondent).

perjury: the act of lying or stating falsely under oath

petition: the initial pleading in an action formally setting forth the facts and reasons on which the demand for relief is based

petitioner:  one who commences a formal written application, requesting some action or relief, addressed to a court for determination. Also known as a plaintiff in a civil action

pleadings: complaint or petition, answer, and reply

power of attorney: instrument authorizing one to act legally for another either generally or in a specified matter

precedent: previously adjudged action or decision on same or similar point, serving as a rule or example for present guidance

pro se: for oneself; in one’s own behalf; in person; a pro se party is one who, without representation, acts as his/her own attorney

purge: To atone for an offense, to submit to a court’s mandate (i.e., to purge oneself of contempt of court)



recuse: To disqualify oneself as a judge

redact: to edit, revise

relief: Legal remedy

remand: to send a case back from an appellate court to the lower court from which it came, for further proceedings

reply: a Petitioner’s response to a Respondent’s answer when the answer contains a counterclaim

request for documents: Request by one party in divorce action to examine and/or copy documents in possession of other party; can include, among other things, diaries, photographs, credit card and bank statements, original checks, etc.

res judicata: a thing judicially acted upon or decided

respondent: One who formally answers the allegations stated in a petition which has been filed with the court. Also known as a defendant in a civil action



sanction: a penalty or punishment provided as a means of enforcing obedience to a law, rule or code; also, an authorization

seal: to close a case file from public scrutiny – in instances of youthful offenders and acquittal, sealing orders are issued by the court to prevent the public from obtaining information on the cases

service: the exhibition or delivery of a writ, notice, etc., officially notifying a person of some action or proceeding in which that person is concerned

show cause: an order, decree, execution, etc., to appear as directed, and present to the court such reasons and considerations as one has to offer why it should not be confirmed, take effect, be executed, or as the case may be

spousal support: also known as alimony, an allowance the court orders one party to pay to the other for spousal support while they are separated or after they are divorced

statute of limitations: a statute that declares that no actions of a specified kind be commenced after a specified period of time after the cause of action arose

stay: a stopping or suspension of procedure or execution by judicial or executive order

stipulation: an agreement by attorneys on opposite sides of a case as to any matter pertaining to the proceedings or trial – most stipulations must be in writing

stipulation of settlement: A formal agreement between litigants and/or their attorneys resolving their dispute.

sua sponte: The Court, upon its own motion, initiation or will; without a prior request

subpoena: Legal process which commands a witness to appear and testify.

subpoena duces tecum: a subpoena requiring a person to produce specified documents or records

summary judgment: a determination in an action on the grounds that there is no genuine issue of fact

summons: A form used to commence a civil action and acquire jurisdiction over a party



testimony: an oral declaration made by a witness or party under oath

transcript: the official record of proceedings in a trial or hearing

transfer: the removal of a cause from the jurisdiction of one court or judge to another by lawful authority

trial: the formal examination of a legal controversy in court so as to determine the issue





vacate: to set aside a previous action


venue: 1. Geographical place where some legal matter occurs or may be determined. 2. The geographical area within which a court has jurisdiction. It relates only to a place or territory within which either party may require a case to be tried. A defect in venue may be waived by the parties.


verification: confirmation of the correctness, truth or authenticity of pleading, account or other paper by an affidavit or oath



waiver: an intentional and voluntary relinquishment of some known right


witness: one who testifies to what he/she has seen, heard, or otherwise observed


writ: an order issuing from a court of justice and requiring the performance of a specified act, or giving authority and commission to have it done