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LEGAL TERMS

NEXT OF KIN

The closest relatives, as defined by state law, of a deceased person. Most states recognize the spouse and the nearest blood relatives as next of kin.

FAULT DIVORCE

A tradition that required one spouse to prove that the other spouse was legally at fault, to obtain a divorce. The 'innocent' spouse was then granted the divorc... (more...)
A tradition that required one spouse to prove that the other spouse was legally at fault, to obtain a divorce. The 'innocent' spouse was then granted the divorce from the 'guilty' spouse. Today, 35 states still allow a spouse to allege fault in obtaining a divorce. The traditional fault grounds for divorce are adultery, cruelty, desertion, confinement in prison, physical incapacity and incurable insanity. These grounds are also generally referred to as marital misconduct.

ALIMONY

The money paid by one ex-spouse to the other for support under the terms of a court order or settlement agreement following a divorce. Except in marriages of lo... (more...)
The money paid by one ex-spouse to the other for support under the terms of a court order or settlement agreement following a divorce. Except in marriages of long duration (ten years or more) or in the case of an ailing spouse, alimony usually lasts for a set period, with the expectation that the recipient spouse will become self-supporting. Alimony is also called 'spousal support' or 'maintenance.'

ADULTERY

Consensual sexual relations by a married person with someone other than his or her spouse. In many states, adultery is technically a crime, though people are ra... (more...)
Consensual sexual relations by a married person with someone other than his or her spouse. In many states, adultery is technically a crime, though people are rarely prosecuted for it. In states that have retained fault grounds for divorce, adultery is always sufficient grounds for a divorce. In addition, some states alter the distribution of property between divorcing spouses in cases of adultery, giving less to the 'cheating' spouse.

GUARDIAN AD LITEM

A person, not necessarily a lawyer, who is appointed by a court to represent and protect the interests of a child or an incapacitated adult during a lawsuit. Fo... (more...)
A person, not necessarily a lawyer, who is appointed by a court to represent and protect the interests of a child or an incapacitated adult during a lawsuit. For example, a guardian ad litem (GAL) may be appointed to represent the interests of a child whose parents are locked in a contentious battle for custody, or to protect a child's interests in a lawsuit where there are allegations of child abuse. The GAL may conduct interviews and investigations, make reports to the court and participate in court hearings or mediation sessions. Sometimes called court-appointed special advocates (CASAs).

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.

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.

HOME STUDY

An investigation of prospective adoptive parents to make sure they are fit to raise a child, required by all states. Common areas of inquiry include financial s... (more...)
An investigation of prospective adoptive parents to make sure they are fit to raise a child, required by all states. Common areas of inquiry include financial stability, marital stability, lifestyles and other social factors, physical and mental health and criminal history.

IRREMEDIABLE OR IRRETRIEVABLE BREAKDOWN

The situation that occurs in a marriage when one spouse refuses to live with the other and will not work toward reconciliation. In a number of states, irremedia... (more...)
The situation that occurs in a marriage when one spouse refuses to live with the other and will not work toward reconciliation. In a number of states, irremediable breakdown is the accepted ground for a no-fault divorce. As a practical matter, courts seldom, if ever, inquire into whether the marriage has actually broken down, and routinely grant a divorce as long as the party seeking the divorce says the marriage has fallen apart. Compare incompatibility; irreconcilable differences.