Legal Jargon

Absolute Divorce – type of divorce that allows the parties to end a marriage and terminate property rights. Often referred to as a "simple divorce" or "no-fault" divorce. Parties can enter into another marriage after the divorce is final. Either party is entitled to absolute divorce if they have been continuously living separate for one year, and one of the parties has lived in NC for at least six months before the divorce action is filed.

Acceptance of Service – when the Defendant in a case agrees to the proceedings and will not require the papers to be served upon him/her.

Acknowledgment – statement of an acceptance of responsibility.

Affiant - the person who swears to the Notary Public that his/her statement or documents are true.

Affidavit – a document containing information the person swears to be true. Usually sworn to in the presence of a Notary Public.

Alimony – support paid to dependent spouse - designed to enable dependent spouse to maintain the standard of living experienced during the marriage. Can be requested in a divorce action or in action for alimony without divorce, but must be requested prior to the entry of a final order of divorce.

Alternate Dispute Resolution - ways to determine a case without going to court. Examples include mediation, arbitration, and conciliation.

Annulment - a case brought seeking to declare marriage void. This is a legal action and not the type sought for religious reasons. Grounds for annulment must have existed at the time of the marriage and include: bigamy, kinship, underage, impotency, false representation of pregnancy, incompetence, or duress.

Answer – the Defendant s response to a complaint filed by the Plaintiff.

Appeal - when a party to a court case asks a higher court to review a judge s decision from a lower court.

Appellant - the person who appeals the decision of a court.

Appellee - the other party to an appeal who has not requested the review of the court s decision.

Arbitration - a proceeding where parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party and agree to abide by his/her decision. Similar to court case since each party can present evidence, but not as formal, and heard by an arbitrator and not a judge.

Bar - general term referring to a group of attorneys - example: "The Bar of the 26th Judicial District is active in community issues."

Bench - term used to refer to judges or the court - example: "Please approach the bench" refers to approaching the judge.

Biological Father – the natural father of a child.

Child Custody - action requesting the court to determine the legal and physical custody of a child or children. May be between natural parents and other parties such as grandparents.

Child Custody Mediation - a meeting of the parents and a trained mediator to assist the family in making decisions regarding child custody instead of going to court and allowing the judge to determine custody.

Child Support - action for funds to support a minor child or children.

Civil Action Number – a number assigned to each case by the Clerk s Office. This number must be found on all documents filed in a case to help the Clerk s Office keep a record of all papers in the case. Usually begins with the year, then initials identifying the type of case, the case number and the judge s initials in some instances. An example is: 99 – CVD – 00000 (XYZ).

Civil Case – any case that does not involve criminal charges.

Civil Clerk s Office – the office that handles the filing of civil cases.

Civil Court – a court that only hears civil cases – no criminal cases are heard.

Civil Procedure - the rules and process that govern how a civil case is presented in court; includes presentation of evidence, trial conduct, and the process of appealing a decision.

Complaint - the first document filed by the Plaintiff that begins a court case.

Contempt – method of enforcing a judge s order. A person held in "contempt" of the court may be incarcerated.

Counterclaim - a pleading filed by the Plaintiff to respond to charges set forth in defendant s answer.

Court - the branch of the government that can determine interpretation of laws and resolve legal problems. In North Carolina, several courts exist including Small Claims, District, Superior, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court.

Court Costs – the charges associated with a court case, other than attorney s fees. The court may order the losing side to pay the winning side s court costs.

Custody – the possession of an item or child. Legal custody means that the possession has been granted by the courts; physical custody refers to the actual physical location of the item or child.

Decision - the determination of a case by the judge of the court.

Decree - an order entered by the court that sets forth the judge s decision.

Default Judgment - a judgment entered against a party who does not answer the charges filed against him/her or does not appear in court. Not used in Domestic cases.

Defendant – the person being sued or the person the case is against.

Discovery - a process whereby the parties find out the witnesses and evidence to be presented by the other side. Discovery includes Requests for Admissions, depositions, interrogatories, and Requests for Production of Documents.

Divorce from Bed and Board - judicial separation: authorizes the party not at fault to live separate and apart from the other spouse. Not a divorce - parties cannot remarry.

Equitable Distribution - distribution of property acquired during the marriage. This property is referred to as "marital property".

Evidence - the documents, testimony or other information presented by the parties to the court to persuade a judge or jury to rule in their favor.

Ex parte - when one party to a case speaks or meets with a judge without the presence of the other party or party s attorney. This type of communication is highly inappropriate and not allowed except in unusual and emergency circumstances.

Exhibit - a document or other physical object presented to the court as evidence.

Family Court Case Manager - staff member of the Family Court who schedules hearings, trials, and assists with referrals to appropriate community resources.

Final Judgment - the decision by the judge that resolves a legal matter unless appealed.

Grounds – reasons for bringing a case into the judicial system.

Guardian Ad Litem - a person, can be an attorney or a trained volunteer, appointed by the Court to represent the best interests of a child or other person who is considered incapacitated by law due to age, illness, or mental condition.

Hearing - a time scheduled when the judge gives the parties an opportunity to present evidence and testimony in support of their claims.

Indigent - a person who can convince the court that he/she cannot afford to pay any costs for legal representation.

Legal custody - custody awarded by law – in the instances of children, a form of custody that allows access to the child s medical records, school records and other matters.

Legitimation – an action brought to prove paternity of a child.

Marital property - the property spouses acquire during their marriage.

Modification – a petition requesting that the court amend an existing order – often used for child support and child custody/visitation.

Motion – the request made by either side to the court requesting the court to rule or take action on their behalf.

Order – the decision of the judge that is put in writing and filed in the court case. The order often requires action and if not complied with, can result in contempt charges.

Party – a person or company involved in a lawsuit – can be either side of a case.

Plaintiff – the person who begins a case in court.

Postseparation support – temporary alimony designed to provide support for dependent spouse while waiting for full alimony trial. Must be requested prior to the entry of a final order of absolute divorce or it is waived.

Pro Se – Latin phrase that refers to a litigant who represents himself/herself without the benefit of an attorney.

Res Judicata – an issue that has been decided by the court; an adjudicated claim.

Rule or Ruling – the decision made by a judge.

Separate property - property that a spouse owned before a marriage or was acquired in such a way that prevents it from becoming marital property, such as by a will or inheritance.

Service of Process – refers to the manner in which the opposing party receives notice that a case is being filed against him/her. This must be completed in accordance with law in order for the case to be heard and be binding against the opposing party.

Statutes – another term for the laws that govern a state or nation. These laws are written down and promulgated by the legislative branch of the government.

In North Carolina, they are referred to as the General Statutes of North Carolina.

Summons – A document issued by the Clerk of Court to be served on the defendant to notify the defendant that he/she has a civil action filed against him/her and must file an answer within thirty days.

Verification – when a party to a suit swears that the contents of a document are true and correct – usually sworn to in the presence of a notary public.

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