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LEGAL TERMS

COMPLAINT

Papers filed with a court clerk by the plaintiff to initiate a lawsuit by setting out facts and legal claims (usually called causes of action). In some states a... (more...)
Papers filed with a court clerk by the plaintiff to initiate a lawsuit by setting out facts and legal claims (usually called causes of action). In some states and in some types of legal actions, such as divorce, complaints are called petitions and the person filing is called the petitioner. To complete the initial stage of a lawsuit, the plaintiff's complaint must be served on the defendant, who then has the opportunity to respond by filing an answer. In practice, few lawyers prepare complaints from scratch. Instead they use -- and sometimes modify -- pre-drafted complaints widely available in form books.

LEGAL CUSTODY

The right and obligation to make decisions about a child's upbringing, including schooling and medical care. Many states typically have both parents share legal... (more...)
The right and obligation to make decisions about a child's upbringing, including schooling and medical care. Many states typically have both parents share legal custody of a child. Compare physical custody.

QUALIFIED MEDICAL CHILD SUPPORT ORDER (QMSCO)

A court order that provides health benefit coverage for the child of the noncustodial parent under that parent's group health plan.

FOSTER CARE

Court-ordered care provided to children who are unable to live in their own homes, usually because their parents have abused or neglected them. Foster parents h... (more...)
Court-ordered care provided to children who are unable to live in their own homes, usually because their parents have abused or neglected them. Foster parents have a legal responsibility to care for their foster children, but do not have all the rights of a biological parent--for example, they may have limited rights to discipline the children, to raise them according to a certain religion or to authorize non-emergency medical procedures for them. The foster parents do not become the child's legal parents unless the biological parents' rights are terminated by a court and the foster parents adopt the child. This is not typically encouraged, as the goal of foster care is to provide temporary support for the children until they can be returned to their parents. See also foster child.

CUSTODIAN

A term used by the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act for the person named to manage property left to a child under the terms of that Act. The custodian will manag... (more...)
A term used by the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act for the person named to manage property left to a child under the terms of that Act. The custodian will manage the property if the gift giver dies before the child has reached the age specified by state law -- usually 21. When the child reaches the specified age, he will receive the property and the custodian will have no further role in its management.

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.

UNCONTESTED DIVORCE

A divorce automatically granted by a court when the spouse who is served with a summons and complaint for divorce fails to file a formal response with the court... (more...)
A divorce automatically granted by a court when the spouse who is served with a summons and complaint for divorce fails to file a formal response with the court. Many divorces proceed this way when the spouses have worked everything out and there's no reason for both to go to court -- and pay the court costs.

DESERTION

The voluntary abandonment of one spouse by the other, without the abandoned spouse's consent. Commonly, desertion occurs when a spouse leaves the marital home f... (more...)
The voluntary abandonment of one spouse by the other, without the abandoned spouse's consent. Commonly, desertion occurs when a spouse leaves the marital home for a specified length of time. Desertion is a grounds for divorce in states with fault divorce.

POT TRUST

A trust for children in which the trustee decides how to spend money on each child, taking money out of the trust to meet each child's specific needs. One impor... (more...)
A trust for children in which the trustee decides how to spend money on each child, taking money out of the trust to meet each child's specific needs. One important advantage of a pot trust over separate trusts is that it allows the trustee to provide for one child's unforeseen need, such as a medical emergency. But a pot trust can also make the trustee's life difficult by requiring choices about disbursing funds to the various children. A pot trust ends when the youngest child reaches a certain age, usually 18 or 21.