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LEGAL TERMS

EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION

A legal principle, followed by most states, under which assets and earnings acquired during marriage are divided equitably (fairly) at divorce. In theory, equit... (more...)
A legal principle, followed by most states, under which assets and earnings acquired during marriage are divided equitably (fairly) at divorce. In theory, equitable means equal, but in practice it often means that the higher wage earner gets two-thirds to the lower wage earner's one-third. If a spouse obtains a fault divorce, the 'guilty' spouse may receive less than his equitable share upon divorce.

MISUNDERSTANDING

A mistake by both spouses in a marriage that can serve as grounds for an annulment. For example, if one spouse went into the marriage wanting children while the... (more...)
A mistake by both spouses in a marriage that can serve as grounds for an annulment. For example, if one spouse went into the marriage wanting children while the other did not, they have a misunderstanding that will be judged serious enough for a court to terminate the marriage.

CHILD SUPPORT

The entitlement of all children to be supported by their parents until the children reach the age of majority or become emancipated -- usually by marriage, by e... (more...)
The entitlement of all children to be supported by their parents until the children reach the age of majority or become emancipated -- usually by marriage, by entry into the armed forces or by living independently. Many states also impose child support obligations on parents for a year or two beyond this point if the child is a full-time student. If the parents are living separately, they each must still support the children. Typically, the parent who has custody meets his or her support obligation through taking care of the child every day, while the other parent must make payments to the custodial parent on behalf of the child -- usually cash but sometimes other kinds of contributions. When parents divorce, the court almost always orders the non-custodial parent to pay the custodial parent an amount of child support fixed by state law. Sometimes, however, if the parents share physical custody more or less equally, the court will order the higher-income parent to make payments to the lower-income parent.

MISREPRESENTATION

A lie by one spouse before marriage that provides grounds for an annulment. For example, if a spouse failed to mention that he was still married or was incapabl... (more...)
A lie by one spouse before marriage that provides grounds for an annulment. For example, if a spouse failed to mention that he was still married or was incapable of having children, he has misrepresented himself.

ADOPT

(1) To assume the legal relationship of parent to another person's child. See also adoption. (2) To approve or accept something -- for example, a legislative bo... (more...)
(1) To assume the legal relationship of parent to another person's child. See also adoption. (2) To approve or accept something -- for example, a legislative body may adopt a law or an amendment, a government agency may adopt a regulation or a party to a lawsuit may adopt a particular argument.

JOINT CUSTODY

An arrangement by which parents who do not live together share the upbringing of a child. Joint custody can be joint legal custody (in which both parents have a... (more...)
An arrangement by which parents who do not live together share the upbringing of a child. Joint custody can be joint legal custody (in which both parents have a say in decisions affecting the child) joint physical custody (in which the child spends a significant amount of time with both parents) or, very rarely, both.

PETITIONER

A person who initiates a lawsuit. A synonym for plaintiff, used almost universally in some states and in others for certain types of lawsuits, most commonly div... (more...)
A person who initiates a lawsuit. A synonym for plaintiff, used almost universally in some states and in others for certain types of lawsuits, most commonly divorce and other family law cases.

COMMON LAW MARRIAGE

In some states, a type of marriage in which couples can become legally married by living together for a long period of time, representing themselves as a marrie... (more...)
In some states, a type of marriage in which couples can become legally married by living together for a long period of time, representing themselves as a married couple and intending to be married. Contrary to popular belief, the couple must intend to be married and act as though they are for a common law marriage to take effect -- merely living together for a long time won't do it.

MARITAL PROPERTY

Most of the property accumulated by spouses during a marriage, called community property in some states. States differ as to exactly what is included in marital... (more...)
Most of the property accumulated by spouses during a marriage, called community property in some states. States differ as to exactly what is included in marital property; some states include all property and earnings dring the marriage, while others exclude gifts and inheritances.