Words You Might Need to Know
law uses words that have special meanings.
Here is a list of some common legal words and their meanings.
- Adjudication- The judgment reached in
a judicial procedure.
- Affidavit- A written statement by someone
who swears it is true. It can be used in court as evidence.
- Alimony- An allowance for support made
under court order to be paid from one marriage partner
to the other after a divorce or legal separation.
- Allegation- A claim made by a party in
a court procedure that must be proved or supported with
evidence during a trial.
- Appeal- To make a request to a higher
court for the re-hearing or review of a case.
- Applicant- A person who applies for a
petition. For example: divorce, custody, protection order,
etc. An applicant is the same as a plaintiff, petitioner
- Attorney- lawyer.
- Battery- Hurting someone in any way.
Battery is always against the law.
- Change of venue- The removal of a suit
begun in one county or district to another county or
district for trial. Change of venue is sometimes applied
to the removal of a suit from one court to another court
of the same county or district.
- (Civil) Protection Order (CPO)- Legal
document to protect against an abuser. Requires the abuser
to stay away from the person being abused. Sometimes
called a temporary protection or restraining order.
- Cohabitation- Living together as spouses
but not married.
- Complainant- The person who begins the
case. Same as plaintiff or petitioner.
- Community property- Property owned jointly
by a husband and wife.
- Contempt of court- Failure to obey a
- Continuance or continued- A delay of
a court hearing to another day. “The case will be continued”.
- Counterclaim- A claim filed by a defendant
against the plaintiff in a civil action.
- Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)- see
- Custody- Regarding children, the care
and keeping of children as decided in a court procedure.
There are two kinds, physical and legal: a person having
full custody has both. The person with physical custody
has the right to have the child live with him/her; the person
with legal custody has the right to make decisions for
the child welfare. And shared (or joint) custody gives each
parent the right the have physical custody part of the time
and decision-making authority.
- Custody evaluator- Also called a Guardian
Ad Litem (GAL), Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).
A person, paid professional or volunteer, assigned to
evaluate and interview family members during a custody dispute
to make recommendations to the court in the best interest
of the child.
- Default- Failure to come to court for
a hearing. An abuser who fails to appear will lose the
default” and the judge will issue the CPO.
- Defendant- The person against whom a
charge is brought. The abuser is the defendant in a CPO
hearing. A defendant is the same as the respondent.
- Deposition- Testimony taken under oath
and outside the courtroom.
- Dissolution of marriage- Divorce.
- District Attorney- see prosecutor.
- Evidence- Anything shown in court to
support a case. Can include testimony by you or a witness,
documents, photographs, items of clothing, weapons, and
police or medical records.
- Evidentiary hearing- A court process
to present evidence to prove or disprove a particular
- Exhibit- Papers, documents, or other
material objects received by the court and offered as
evidence during a trial or hearing.
- Ex Parte- In Latin, this means “from
one side”. A temporary protective order issued by
a judge who hears only from the victim in an ex parte order.
- Failure to protect- The neglect of a
custodian to meet legal obligation to care for a minor
in his/her custody. Such neglect can result in loss of custody.
This often arises when a victim of domestic violence
does not remove a child or children from the home and/or
exposure to the abuser’s violence.
- Full faith and credit- The responsibility
of the court of one state to enforce the valid order
of another state. In order to deserve such enforcement, the
order must have been issued by a court that has both kinds
of jurisdiction, after the respondent received notice to
the proceeding, and had a chance to be present.
- Guardian Ad Litem- see custody evaluator.
- Hearing- A meeting held at the courthouse
during which the judge listens to evidence from both
sides and makes a legally binding decision.
- Home state convenience- A doctrine whereby
cases are heard in the state where the parties were living
for at least the six month period before an action is
filed, on the theory that most relevant evidence is located
there. Although another state may grant emergency temporary
relief the home state court will usually be the one with
jurisdiction to make the final determinations.
- Indigent- Having no money. Someone too
poor to afford a lawyer or court fees.
- Injunction- A court order requiring someone
not to do something. An injunction can order an abuser
to say away from his victim.
- In Forma Pauperis- A status where an
applicant has court fees waived owing to inability to
- Jurisdiction- The authority of legal
power to hear and decide cases; the territorial range
of authority. To be in the correct court, a party must bring
a case where the court has authority to hear the case,
jurisdiction is determined both by geographic location and
the subject matter of the case.
- Litigant- Any person or group engaged
in a lawsuit.
- Litigation- A legal contest in court.
- Magistrate- Another word for judge.
- Mediation- A process by which the parties
instead of litigating in court, work with a neutral third
person to work out their differences by agreement. Because
of the imbalance of power between victim and abuser,
domestic violence cases are not good candidates for mediation.
- Non-custodial parent- The party to whom
the court does not award custody of children and who
is usually required to pay support to the custodial parent
on behalf of the children.
- Notary or Notary Public- Someone who
has the authority to show that you signed a statement
or document. A notary may be found at the courthouse and
- Order to show cause- An order from a
court to a party charged with failing to obey an earlier
order of the court. The show cause order requires the
accused party to come to court and explain why he/she should
not be held in contempt for failing to obey the earlier order.
- Overrule- To deny a motion or objection
raised to the court.
- Party or Parties- A person or people
involved in a legal action.
- Petition- An application or request to
the court. The petition asks the court to issue a protection
- Petitioner- The person who begins the
case. Same as applicant, plaintiff or complainant.
- Perjury- The act of a witness providing
false or misleading testimony while under oath in criminal
- Plaintiff- The person who begins the
case. Same as complainant or petitioner.
- Presumption- A legal conclusion that
a certain outcome is appropriate based on the evidence,
unless the opposing party can show reason why such outcome
is not appropriate.
- Probable cause- The degree of proof needed
to arrest and bring prosecution against a person suspected
of committing a crime. The evidence must be such that
a reasonable person would believe that this specific crime
was committed and that it is probable that the person being
accused committed it.
- Pro Bono- Professional services provided
without being paid for them. Sometimes, lawyers will
represent someone in court pro bono.
- Pro se- Acting as one’s own lawyer.
In Latin means “for oneself”.
- Process server- The person who personally
delivers legal documents ordering someone to appear in
- Prosecutor- A government lawyer who argues
on behalf of the government in a criminal case. Same
as district attorney.
- Rebuttal- The introduction of evidence
to discredit statements of witnesses.
- Respondent- Same as defendant. The person
who must respond to the charges by the complainant or
- Restraining Order- Another term for protection
- Service- Delivering court documents to
one of the parties. The abuser must be “served” with
the document telling him/her why he/she must come to court
and when he/she must appear.
- Settlement- An agreement by which parties
determine what rights each has and what obligations each
owes the other.
- Statutes- Laws passed or enacted by the
- Subpoena- A legal document ordering a
witness to appear in court.
- Sustain- To accept any motion or objection.
- Testimony- The statement of a witness
- Vacate order- This orders an abuser to
leave the home. Can be issued by a judge as part of a