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LEGAL TERMS

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.

ARREARAGES

Overdue alimony or child support payments. In recent years, state laws have made it difficult to impossible to get rid of arrearages; they can't be discharged i... (more...)
Overdue alimony or child support payments. In recent years, state laws have made it difficult to impossible to get rid of arrearages; they can't be discharged in bankruptcy, and courts usually will not retroactively cancel them. A spouse or parent who falls on tough times and is unable to make payments should request a temporary modification of the payments before the arrearages build up.

BEST INTERESTS (OF THE CHILD)

The test that courts use when deciding who will take care of a child. For instance, an adoption is allowed only when a court declares it to be in the best inter... (more...)
The test that courts use when deciding who will take care of a child. For instance, an adoption is allowed only when a court declares it to be in the best interests of the child. Similarly, when asked to decide on custody issues in a divorce case, the judge will base his or her decision on the child's best interests. And the same test is used when judges decide whether a child should be removed from a parent's home because of neglect or abuse. Factors considered by the court in deciding the best interests of a child include: age and sex of the child mental and physical health of the child mental and physical health of the parents lifestyle and other social factors of the parents emotional ties between the parents and the child ability of the parents to provide the child with food, shelter, clothing and medical care established living pattern for the child concerning school, home, community and religious institution quality of schooling, and the child's preference.

CONFINEMENT IN PRISON

In most states with fault divorce, grounds for a spouse not in prison to obtain a fault divorce if the other spouse has been imprisoned for a certain number of ... (more...)
In most states with fault divorce, grounds for a spouse not in prison to obtain a fault divorce if the other spouse has been imprisoned for a certain number of years.

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.

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.

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.

PROVOCATION

The act of inciting another person to do a particular thing. In a fault divorce, provocation may constitute a defense to the divorce, preventing it from going t... (more...)
The act of inciting another person to do a particular thing. In a fault divorce, provocation may constitute a defense to the divorce, preventing it from going through. For example, if a wife suing for divorce claims that her husband abandoned her, the husband might defend the suit on the grounds that she provoked the abandonment by driving him out of the house.

ZONING

The laws dividing cities into different areas according to use, from single-family residences to industrial plants. Zoning ordinances control the size, location... (more...)
The laws dividing cities into different areas according to use, from single-family residences to industrial plants. Zoning ordinances control the size, location, and use of buildings within these different areas.

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