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LEGAL TERMS

ADOPTION

A court procedure by which an adult becomes the legal parent of someone who is not his or her biological child. Adoption creates a parent-child relationship rec... (more...)
A court procedure by which an adult becomes the legal parent of someone who is not his or her biological child. Adoption creates a parent-child relationship recognized for all legal purposes -- including child support obligations, inheritance rights and custody.

MARRIAGE LICENSE

A document that authorizes a couple to get married, usually available from the county clerk's office in the state where the marriage will take place. Couples pa... (more...)
A document that authorizes a couple to get married, usually available from the county clerk's office in the state where the marriage will take place. Couples pay a small fee for a marriage license, and must often wait a few days before it is issued. In addition, a few states require a short waiting period--usually not more than a day--between the time the license is issued and the time the marriage may take place. And some states still require blood tests for couples before they will issue a marriage license, though most no longer do.

ANNULMENT

A court procedure that dissolves a marriage and treats it as if it never happened. Annulments are rare since the advent of no-fault divorce but may be obtained ... (more...)
A court procedure that dissolves a marriage and treats it as if it never happened. Annulments are rare since the advent of no-fault divorce but may be obtained in most states for one of the following reasons: misrepresentation, concealment (for example, of an addiction or criminal record), misunderstanding and refusal to consummate the marriage.

GUARDIAN OF THE ESTATE

Someone appointed by a court to care for the property of a minor child that is not supervised by an adult under some other legal method, such as a trust. A guar... (more...)
Someone appointed by a court to care for the property of a minor child that is not supervised by an adult under some other legal method, such as a trust. A guardian of the estate may also be called a 'property guardian' or 'financial guardian.' See also guardian.

MEDIAN FAMILY INCOME

An annual income figure for which there are as many families with incomes below that level as there are above that level. The Census Bureau publishes median fam... (more...)
An annual income figure for which there are as many families with incomes below that level as there are above that level. The Census Bureau publishes median family income figures for each state and for different family sizes. A debtor whose current monthly income is higher than the median family income in his or her state must pass the means test in order to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and must commit all disposable income to a five-year repayment plan if filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

ATTORNEY FEES

The payment made to a lawyer for legal services. These fees may take several forms: hourly per job or service -- for example, $350 to draft a will contingency (... (more...)
The payment made to a lawyer for legal services. These fees may take several forms: hourly per job or service -- for example, $350 to draft a will contingency (the lawyer collects a percentage of any money she wins for her client and nothing if there is no recovery), or retainer (usually a down payment as part of an hourly or per job fee agreement). Attorney fees must usually be paid by the client who hires a lawyer, though occasionally a law or contract will require the losing party of a lawsuit to pay the winner's court costs and attorney fees. For example, a contract might contain a provision that says the loser of any lawsuit between the parties to the contract will pay the winner's attorney fees. Many laws designed to protect consumers also provide for attorney fees -- for example, most state laws that require landlords to provide habitable housing also specify that a tenant who sues and wins using that law may collect attorney fees. And in family law cases -- divorce, custody and child support -- judges often have the power to order the more affluent spouse to pay the other spouse's attorney fees, even where there is no clear victor.

CONFIDENTIAL COMMUNICATION

Information exchanged between two people who (1) have a relationship in which private communications are protected by law, and (2) intend that the information b... (more...)
Information exchanged between two people who (1) have a relationship in which private communications are protected by law, and (2) intend that the information be kept in confidence. The law recognizes certain parties whose communications will be considered confidential and protected, including spouses, doctor and patient, attorney and client, and priest and confessor. Communications between these individuals cannot be disclosed in court unless the protected party waives that protection. The intention that the communication be confidential is critical. For example, if an attorney and his client are discussing a matter in the presence of an unnecessary third party -- for example, in an elevator with other people present -- the discussion will not be considered confidential and may be admitted at trial. Also known as privileged communication.

PETITION (IMMIGRATION)

A formal request for a green card or a specific nonimmigrant (temporary) visa. In many cases, the petition must be filed by someone sponsoring the immigrant, su... (more...)
A formal request for a green card or a specific nonimmigrant (temporary) visa. In many cases, the petition must be filed by someone sponsoring the immigrant, such as a family member or employer. After the petition is approved, the immigrant may submit the actual visa or green card application.

BRIEF

A document used to submit a legal contention or argument to a court. A brief typically sets out the facts of the case and a party's argument as to why she shoul... (more...)
A document used to submit a legal contention or argument to a court. A brief typically sets out the facts of the case and a party's argument as to why she should prevail. These arguments must be supported by legal authority and precedent, such as statutes, regulations and previous court decisions. Although it is usually possible to submit a brief to a trial court (called a trial brief), briefs are most commonly used as a central part of the appeal process (an appellate brief). But don't be fooled by the name -- briefs are usually anything but brief, as pointed out by writer Franz Kafka, who defined a lawyer as 'a person who writes a 10,000 word decision and calls it a brief.'