Main Article on Name/Gender Change

Updated April 2021:  Read my article on Name/Gender Change (it has been viewed over 13,00 times) and is regularly updated.

Abuse: The physical or mental maltreatment which results in mental, emotional, sexual or physical injury. Also, a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or actual use of violence.

Action: A lawsuit or proceeding in a court of law.

Affidavit: A written statement of facts made under oath and signed before a notary public.

A.D.R. (Alternative Dispute Resolution): The common name for the different ways of settling a disagreement outside the courtroom. ADR includes mediation, arbitration, early neutral evaluation, and settlement conference.

Agreement: A transcribed or written resolution of the disputed issues when the parties have resolved issues in the case.  (Also a  Stipulation)

Alimony: A payment of support provided by one spouse to the other.

Alimony pendente lite: A temporary court order provides support for one spouse and/or children while the divorce is in progress.

Allegation: Statement contained in a pleading or affidavit setting forth what the pleader intends to prove.

Amend/Amendment: To change, improve, or correct a document that has already been filed with the court.

Annulment: The legal ending of an invalid marriage; according to law, neither party was ever married, but all children born of the annulled marriage remain legitimate.  It is available only under certain limited circumstances.

Answer: The second pleading in a divorce, separation or annulment, which is served in response to the petition for divorce and which admits or denies the petition's allegations and may also make claims against the other party.   (Also a Response)

Appeal: A legal action where the losing party requests that a higher court review the decision.

Appearance: A respondent's formal method of telling the court that he or she submits to the court's jurisdiction.  Appearance also can refer to a party's physical presence in court.

Arbitration: In arbitration, a neutral third party called an arbitrator hears arguments, reviews evidence and makes a decision. This is different from mediation, where the parties, not the mediator, make the decisions.

Arrears: Money owed that is unpaid and overdue. Generally, you will hear this term as it relates to past due child support.

Attorney Ad litem: A lawyer appointed by the court to represent the child(ren) in a divorce or custody case.

Award: To give or grant by formal process.

Best Interest of the Child: In deciding custody, the court must consider only those facts that directly affect the well being of the child or children.

Bifurcate: To separate legal issues for decision. The judge usually issues one final order that decides all of the issues in a case. For example, in a divorce case, the final decree ends the marriage, divides the marital property and debt, and provides for a parenting plan if there are children. Sometimes, however, the judge will find it necessary to separate or "bifurcate" the issues. The court could, for example, divorce the parties (i.e. end the marriage), but bifurcate the property division issues, which are decided later.

Brief: A written summary or statement explaining a particular issue to the judge. In family law cases, this would generally be done as part of a motion or opposition. The "brief" would be your affidavit and memorandum, in which you explained your position and cited any legal authority (such as statutes, rules or case law) that you might have to support your position. You will also file a trial brief shortly before trial.

Case: The general name for the matter filed in court.  Also called an action, cause, or lawsuit.

Case Law: Decisions of federal and state courts about how laws should be applied in specific fact situations. Opinions are reported in various volumes.

Change of venue: A change of the place within the state where a case is to be tried.

Child support: Financial support for a child or children (not taxable to the recipient or deductible to the payer spouse). Arkansas has child support guidelines which must be followed in awarding child support. The guidelines provide a formula for calculating support based on the number of children in the family.

Clerk: A court employee responsible for maintaining permanent records of all court proceedings and exhibits, and administering the oath to jurors and witnesses.

Codicil: (ka-da-sil): a written modification to a person's will, which must be dated, signed and witnessed just as a Will would be. It must make some reference to the Will it amends.

Cohabitation: Two people living together in the same residence as if the parties were married.

Common-law marriage: A common law marriage comes about when a man and woman who are free to marry agree to live together as husband and wife without the formal ceremony. Arkansas does not recognize common law marriages.

Community property: Generally, property acquired during a marriage as a result of the parties' work and effort.  Arkansas is NOT a community property state.

Condonation: The act of forgiving one's spouse who has committed an act of wrongdoing that would constitute a ground for divorce. Condonation generally is proven by living and cohabiting with the spouse after learning that the wrongdoing was committed. It often is used as a defense to a divorce, however, Arkansas has recently decided not to allow condonation as a defense for grounds to divorce

Contempt of court: The willful and intentional failure to comply with a court order, judgment, or decree by a party to the action, which may be punishable in a variety of ways.

Contested case: A case in which the defendant opposes, resists or disputes what the plaintiff has asked for in the complaint.

Court order: A written document issued by a court which becomes effective only when signed by a judge.

Cross-examination: The questioning of a witness by the opposing party during a trial or at a deposition, to test the truth of that testimony or to develop it further.

Custody: The legal right and responsibility awarded by a court for the care, possession, and rearing of a child(ren). Distinctions are made between legal custody, which relates to decision making responsibility, and physical custody, which relates to residence or physical access. If they choose to settle the case, parents can make any custodial arrangement that is in the best interest of the child(ren). If the court must decide custody, the judge will have to determine what is in the best interest of the child(ren).

Custody and Visitation Plan: The plan describing how the parents will be involved in their child(ren)'s life, recognizing that children of different ages have different needs and that the plan will also change if one or both of the parents move. A custody and visitation plan usually describes the child(ren)'s schedule and describes which parent will make decisions about various things in the child(ren)'s life.  (Also called a Parenting Plan)

Default: A party's failure to answer a complaint, motion, or petition.

Default judgment: A judgment awarded in favor of the plaintiff when the defendant fails to appear.

Defendant (respondent): The person (husband or wire) who is sued for divorce.

Deposition: The testimony of a witness taken out of court under oath and in writing.

Direct examination: The initial questioning in court of a witness by the lawyer who called him or her to the stand.

Disclosure: To reveal, tell or expose new information.

Discovery: The formal and informal exchange of information between sides in a case to use as they prepare their cases.  In divorce cases Arkansas requires both parties to give full disclosure of financial information to each other.

Dissolution: A mutual agreement to end a marriage, which results in the parties being divorced. Both people must agree on all terms regarding the division of property and debt, as well as the custody and visitation or parenting plan if they have children together.

Divorce: The ending of a marriage by a court order.

Domestic Partnership: Generally, the phrase refers to two people who live together in a committed relationship intending to be emotionally and financially responsible for each other, but are not legally married. Currently, Arkansas DOES NOT recognize Domestic Partnerships.

Domestic Violence: Abuse of family members can take many , including emotional abuse, economic abuse, sexual abuse, using children, threats, intimidation, isolation, and a variety of other behaviors used to maintain fear, intimidation and power. See Abuse.

Due Process: The right to know that something has been filed in court involving you and the opportunity to tell your side of the story.

Emancipation: The freeing of a minor child from the control of parents and allowing the minor to live on his/her own.

Equitable distribution of property: A system of distributing property in connection with a divorce or dissolution proceeding on the basis of a variety of factors without regard to who holds title.

Estate: Refers to all of your property, including real estate, investments, bank accounts, business interests, life insurance, retirement accounts and personal property.

Evidence: Documents, testimony, or other demonstrative material offered to the court to prove or disprove allegations.

Ex Parte: An application for court relief made without the other party being present.  In some states the other party is present but has been given very short notice of the application.

Exhibit: A paper, document, chart, map, or the like used to help prove a case. Sometimes these are attached to and referred in an affidavit, pleading, or brief, but more often these are brought to the hearing or trial.

Expert Witness: A person with special knowledge, training or experience who is allowed to testify at a trial not only about facts (like an ordinary witness) but also about professional conclusions drawn from those facts.

Family Law: The area of law, also known as domestic relations law, which generally refers to divorce, dissolution, custody, visitation, support, and paternity.

Filing: Presenting the Clerk of Court legal papers.

Filing Fee: The court charges a filing fee certain types of cases.

Final Decree/Final Order: The final decision in a case, which is generally issued by the court after the trial or hearing.

Fraud: The use of dishonest means to deprive another of their property.

Garnishment: A legal proceeding whereby money or property due to or belonging to one person but in the possession of another person, is used to pay a debt which the first person owes to the plaintiff in the garnishment proceeding. Examples of money that could be garnished are wages or bank accounts.

Grounds for Divorce: In the eyes of the law (under statute), the reason for granting a divorce. The law sets out specific circumstances under which a divorce will be granted. Before the court will grant a divorce, the person seeking the divorce must prove that those conditions exist.

Guardian: A person appointed by a judge in a special court proceeding who is legally responsible for the care of another person because that person is unable to handle his or her affairs, whether that be because of disease, disability or being under 18.

Guardian Ad litem (GAL): A lawyer or mental health professional appointed by the court to represent the child(ren) in the case.

Hearing: Any proceeding before the court for the purpose of resolving disputed issues through presentation of testimony, offers of proof, and argument.

Hold-harmless: A situation in which one spouse assumes liability for a debt or other obligation and promises to protect the other spouse from any loss or expense in connection with it.

Incompetent: A person lacking the legal capabilities to manage her own affairs or property. Examples of incompetence include chronic illness or mental illness.

Indemnification: The promise to reimburse another person in case of an anticipated loss; the same as hold-harmless.

Injunction: A court order directing the defendant to do or not to do a particular thing. Failure to obey an injunction constitutes contempt of court, which is punishable by fine or imprisonment. An example is a court order forbidding someone from committing a particular act that is likely to cause injury or property loss to another party (also a restraining order).

Interrogatories: A series of written questions served on the opposing party to discover certain facts regarding the disputed issues in a matrimonial proceeding. The answer to interrogatories must be under oath and served within a prescribed time.

Joint legal custody: Both parents share the responsibility for making the major life decisions affecting the child(ren)'s welfare, such as where the child(ren) go(es) to the doctor, goes to school or how money matters are handled.

Joint property: Property held in the name of more than one person.

Judgment: The official final decision of a court about the rights and claims of each side in a lawsuit. If a divorce includes an order for money to paid by one side to the other as part of the property division, you may want to be sure that your final decree is also a judgment so that you can use collection procedures to get the money if the person does not comply with the order.

Jurisdiction: The authority of the court to rule on issues relating to the parties, their children, or their property.

Legal separation: A court judgment or written agreement directing or authorizing spouses to live separate and apart.  A decree of separation does not dissolve the marriage or allow the parties to remarry, but may resolve all financial claims.

Letter of Attorney: A document authorizing another person to act as one's agent.

Maintenance: Spousal support. See also Alimony.

Marital property: Accumulated income and property acquired by spouses for the benefit of the marriage and may include property acquired when the couple lived together before marriage.

Marital settlement agreement: The parties' settlement is reduced to a written document or orally placed on the record in open court. This agreement also may be called a property settlement agreement or separation agreement.

Mediation: A process by which a neutral third party facilitates negotiations between the parties. The mediator generally has no decision-making authority.

Motion: A written application to the court for some particular relief, such as temporary support, injunction, or attorney's or expert's fees.

Motion to modify: A party's formal written request to the court to change a prior order regarding custody, child support, alimony, or any other order that the court may change by law.

Motion to vacate the premises: Upon a showing of good cause by one party, the court orders the other spouse to leave the marital residence.

No-fault divorce: When divorce is granted without a party having to prove the other party's marital misconduct. "Fault" is marital misconduct that may be considered for some issues in some states. Arkansas is NOT a no-fault divorce state and parties must have grounds (a valid reason according to the state) to request the divorce.

Noncustodial parent: The parent who doesn't have custody of the child(ren) and who is usually ordered to pay child support to the other parent who has custody of the child(ren).

Notice of hearing: A paper that is served on the opposing lawyer or spouse listing the date and place of a
hearing and the motion or motions that will be heard by the court.

Notary Public: A person authorized by the state to administer oaths and affirmations, take affidavits and statutory declarations, witness and authenticate the execution of certain classes of documents, take acknowledgments of deeds and other conveyances.

Oath: A swearing to tell the truth, which would subject the oath-taker to liability for perjury if you knowingly told a lie.

Opinion: The official written statement of a case, the court’s decision and its reasons for reaching the decision it did.

Order: The court's ruling on a motion requiring the parties to do certain things or setting forth their rights and responsibilities. An order is reduced to writing signed by the judge, and tiled with the court.

Order of Protection: A court order which is meant to protect a person from domestic abuse from a family or household member -  (former spouses, parents and children, persons related by blood within the fourth degree of consanguinity, any children residing in the household, persons who presently or in the past have resided or cohabited together, persons who have or have had a child in common, and persons who are presently or in the past have been in a dating relationship together).

Ordinance: The local legislation of a city, town, village, or county written by the local legislative body.

Paternity: Determining who the biological father is of the child(ren).

Party: The person in a divorce action whose rights or interests will be affected by the divorce.

Perjury: The crime of intentionally lying after taking an oath to tell the truth by a notary public, court clerk or other official.

Petition (compliant): The first pleading in an action for divorce, separate maintenance. or annulment, setting forth the allegations on which the requested relief is based.

Petitioner: The party who files the petition for divorce or any other petition. (Also known as the plaintiff).

Physical Custody: The right of a parent to have the child(en) actually live in their home.

Pleading: Is a formal written application to the court for relief from the plaintiff and a written response from the defendant.  Pleadings include petitions, answers, counter claims, replies, and motions.

Power-of-Attorney: A trusted person you have authorized in a special way to handle selected business or personal affairs for you or your child(ren).

Precedent: An example of authority for a later case which is similar or identical.

Privilege: The right of a person to make statements to his or her spouse or lawyer, member of the clergy, psychiatrist, doctor, or certified social worker that are not later admissible in evidence.

Process Server: A specially licensed person who is authorized to serve certain types of legal documents.

Proof of Service: The document proving that the other party was formally served. Generally, you only need a proof of service at the beginning of the case to prove the defendant received the complaint and summons according to the rules. If you serve the other party by certified mail, restricted delivery, return receipt the "green card" you get back signed by the defendant will be your proof of service. If you use a process server, the affidavit he or she gives you telling you when the defendant was served will be your proof of service.

Property: Anything that is owned or can be owned, such as land, automobiles, money, stocks, etc. Sometimes you will be asked to describe real property, which means buildings or land. All other property is personal property. In divorce and dissolution cases, people often mean property AND debt when they refer to property.

Pro Se: A litigant who is not represented by a lawyer.  (Also Pro Per)

Reconciliation: Married people getting back together.

Relief: Whatever a party to a divorce proceeding asks the court to do: dissolve the marriage, award support, enforce a prior court order or decree, divide property, enjoin certain behavior, dismiss the complaint of the other party, and so on.

Remand: To send back; return of a case by an appellate court to the trial court for further proceedings.

Reply: The pleading filed in answer to the allegations of a counterclaim.

Report of referee with notice: The written document prepared by a referee or court-appointed officer after a hearing and submitted to the parties (husband and wife) and the judge; it is not Jaw and not final or an order of the court, but it is recommended to become an order of the court.

Respondent (defendant): The one who defends the divorce proceeding brought by another.

Request for production of documents: A series of written requests served on the other party seeking the production of documents, such as financial records. Responses must be provided within a fixed time.

Rules of evidence: The rules that govern the presentation and admissibility of oral and documentary evidence at court hearings or depositions.

Separate property: Property that is not "marital property" but belongs only to one spouse.

Separation agreement: An oral or written agreement to live apart, entered into by a married couple.

Service: Providing a copy of the papers being filed to the other side.

Served: The defendant has been "served" when he or she personally receives a Summons to appear in court and a copy of the plaintiff's Complaint.

Set off: A debt or financial obligation of one spouse that is deducted from the debt or financial obligation of the other spouse.

Settlement: The agreed resolution of disputed issues.

Service: Delivering a copy of a legal document to the person on the other side of your case. There are strict rules about how to serve different kinds of documents.

Show cause: Written application to the court for some type of relief, which is made on such notice to the other party as the court direct.

Sole Legal Custody: One parent is given the legal authority to make the major life decisions affecting the child(ren)'s welfare, such as where the child(ren) goes to the doctor, goes to school or how money matters are handled. If the parents do not agree on a decision about the child(ren), the parent with sole legal custody has the right to make the final decision.

Stipulation: An agreement between the parties or their counsel.

Subpoena: A document served on a party or witness requiring appearance in court. Failure to comply with the subpoena could result in punishment by the court.  A subpoena duces tecum is a subpoena requesting documents.

Summons: A written notification that legal action has commenced, requiring a response within a specified time period.

Temporary motion: Applications to the court for interim relief pending the final decree of divorce, separation, or annulment. Typical temporary motions include motions for temporary maintenance, child support, attorney's fees, costs, expert fees, custody, visitation, enforcement, or modification of prior temporary orders, or requests for exclusive possession.

Temporary order: Any order made in a case before the final order is made. In family cases, these are short-term decisions by the judge about issues such as child support, child custody, visitation, possession of the family home, attorney fees, spousal support or payment of debts. The final order may be entirely different.

Temporary restraining order (TRO): An order of the court prohibiting a party from doing something - for example, threatening, harassing, or beating the other spouse or the children, selling personal property, withdrawing money from accounts denying access to a motor vehicle.

Testimony: Statements under oath by a witness in court or during a deposition.

Transcript: A typewritten record of testimony taken by a court reporter during a deposition or court.

Trial: A formal court hearing to decide disputed issues raised by the pleadings.

Uncontested divorce: A divorce proceeding in which the parties have reached an agreement on all issues.

Venue: the county where the case is heard. The proper or most convenient location for trial of a case.

Verdict: the decision of a jury after a trial, which must be accepted by the trial judge to be final. A judgment by a judge without a jury is not called a verdict.

Visitation: The right of a parent and child to contact and visit one another when the child is residing or visiting with the other parent. The law presumes that it is in the best interests of the child(ren) to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents so that both parents can maintain a good relationship with the child(ren).

Voluntary separation: The living apart for 12 months of a married couple who agrees to separate.

Ward: A person (usually a minor) who has a guardian appointed by the court to care for and take responsibility for that person.

Witness: A person called by a party to speak in court, under oath about what he or she knows or has observed that is relevant to a case.

Writ: A formal written order issued by a court.   Warrants and subpoenas are common types of writs but there are others.

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