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Legal Terms Glossary

Abandonment: A reason for divorce. Abandonment occurs when one party has left the other for a continuous period of one year or more, without the party’s consent, and without justification (good cause).

Alternative Dispute Resolution: (ADR) refers to a variety of processes that help parties resolve disputes without a trial. Typical ADR processes include mediation, arbitration, neutral evaluation, and collaborative law. These processes are generally confidential, less formal, and less stressful than traditional court proceedings.

Attachment: Seizure of a debtor’s property by order of the court . The court takes the property of someone who owes money to another to whom a debt is owed.

Child in Common: The child(ren) that the plaintiff and the defendant have together.

Child Support: Money paid by one parent to another for a child’s expenses after separation and/or divorce.

Contested Divorce: A divorce action which is opposed.

Criminal Complaint: Formal charge against a person under the Code of Criminal Justice of New Jersey.

Default Judgment: A divorce judgment that is obtained against the Defendant when the Defendant fails to respond to either: (a) the Summons and Verified Complaint; or (b) the Summons With Notice, for the divorce within the time allowed by law.

Domestic Violence: The occurrence of one or more of the following criminal offenses upon a person protected under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991: homicide, assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, criminal mischief, burglary, criminal trespass, harassment, and stalking.

Emancipation: The release of a child from the responsibility and control of a parent or guardian. Under New York law, child support must be paid until the age 21. If a child marries, enters the military or becomes self-supporting, before turning 21, the court may consider the child emancipated, and child support may be terminated.

Equitable Distribution: The way marital property must be divided by law in a divorce action in New York State. Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean 50% of one asset to one party and 50% to the other. Distribution is based on various factors presented to the court.

Interrogatory: A written question or a set of questions given to the other party in a lawsuit as part of discovery.

Judgment of Divorce: A document signed by the court granting the divorce.

Mediation: A neutral person called a “mediator” helps the parties try to reach a mutually-acceptable resolution of the dispute. The mediator does not decide the case, but helps the parties communicate so they can try to settle the dispute themselves. Mediation may be inappropriate if a party has a signficant advantage in power or control over the other.

Order of Protection: An order issued by a court which directs one person to stop certain conduct, such as harassment, against another person. The order may also direct the person to be excluded from the residence and to stay away from the other person, his or her home, school, place of employment and his or her children.

Pro Se: (Self-Represented) Appearing on one’s own behalf without an attorney.

Separation Agreement: A written agreement on support for the child(ren), spousal maintenance payments, division of marital property, responsibility for debts (bills), residence of child(ren), child care and related issues. This agreement must be formally signed and acknowledged and covers the period before divorce but after the separation.

Settlement Agreement: A formal, voluntary, written agreement on all of the issues surrounding divorce. It must be formally signed and acknowledged.

Statute of Limitations: The time limit in which to bring an action.

Subpoena: A legal order requiring a person’s attendance at a particular time and place to testify as a witness or to provide certain documents that are requested. Failure to comply can be contempt of court. (Also known as judicial subpoena)

Victim Advocate: Also known as domestic violence program liaison, a victim advocate is trained to work with victims as part of a project, program, or shelter.

Writ: (Also Writ of Habeas Corpus) A legal paper signed by a judge directing that a person (generally a child in divorce cases) be brought before the court.

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