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Glossary of Family Law Terms

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W

A

Abuse See domestic violence.
Action A technical legal word that is another way to refer to a lawsuit, or case.
Actuarial Value Actuarial value is a mathematical calculation, often of the financial condition of a retirement plan.
Adoption

Forms

A court action in which an adult assumes legal and all other responsibilities for a child, creating a permanent parent-child relationship.
Advocate Someone who helps and supports another person. An advocate will "take sides" and promote his or her client's view or interests.
Affidavit A written statement that is signed under the penalty of perjury and sworn to before a person who is officially permitted by law to administer an oath. See also, under oath.
Affidavit and Memorandum The sworn statement and argument filed with a motion. See motion practice for more information and forms.
Affidavit of Paternity The Bureau of Vital Statistics has a form, Affidavit of Paternity, VS-16, on which the mother, the father if not married to the mother, and mother’s husband if she is married, can each state who is the child’s biological father. The completed Affidavit of Paternity should be provided to the Bureau of Vital Statistics to list the biological father on the child’s birth certificate. The VS-16 form is not available on the internet but can be picked up at the Bureau of Vital Statistics or your local court.
Affirmative Defense A claim the defendant would make in his or her answer that attacks the plaintiff’s legal right to bring an action, as opposed to attacking the truth of a claim raised in the complaint. The defendant’s goal in raising an affirmative defense is to stop the case from moving ahead because it is legally improper. If you don’t raise an affirmative defense in your answer for the court to consider, you may lose the opportunity to raise it later in the case. See the Answer to Divorce with Children form for examples of some affirmative defenses.
Agreement

Forms

A complete understanding between both sides. You can agree one issue or many. If you reach an agreement with the other side on all issues, you can ask the judge for a hearing to put your agreement on the record.
Alimony
Money paid by a divorced husband or wife to the ex-spouse for personal support. In Alaska, this is generally called spousal support, and is only awarded under certain circumstances.
Allegation A statement that may or may not be true, but which the speaker expects to be able to prove is true.
Alternate Payee A retirement plan participant’s spouse, former spouse, child or other dependent who has a right to receive all, or a portion of the participant’s retirement benefits under a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).
Alternate Service Normally, when you start a case you are required to serve the defendant by process server or certified mail/restricted delivery/return receipt. But, sometimes you can't find the defendant so you can ask the court for permission to serve the defendant in a different way - by publishing notice of the case in a newspaper or posting at a shelter or some other location the defendant is known to go.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is the common name for the different ways of settling a disagreement outside the courtroom. ADR includes mediation, arbitration, mediation-arbitration, early neutral evaluation, and settlement conference.
Amend
Amendment
To change, improve, or correct a document that has already been filed with the court.
Annuity A contract sold by an insurance company designed to provide payments to the holder of the annuity at specified regular time periods, usually after retirement.
Annulment In some states, courts will grant an annulment of a marriage which declares that a marriage was never valid. In Alaska there is no court action called an annulment, but a court may declare a marriage void for specific reasons. For more information, see the Annulment (Voidable Marriage) FAQs.
Answer
(always filed by the defendant)

Forms

The response to the complaint. The answer is the first document filed by a defendant in a court case. It responds to the plaintiff's complaint. The defendant may deny the plaintiff's allegations, may present new facts to defeat them, or may show why the plaintiff's facts are legally invalid. In the answer, the defendant may also make affirmative defenses and counterclaims.
Appeal
Appellate Review

Forms

A losing party may ask a higher court to review a lower court's decision - this is called "taking an appeal." Appeals normally focus on questions of law as applied in the case, not questions of fact.
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.

There are two kinds of arbitration: binding and non-binding.

Binding arbitration - parties agree in advance that they will follow the decision of the arbitrator.

Non-binding arbitration - parties agree in advance that they will be advised by the arbitrator's decision, but do not have to follow it.

Argument Persuasion by laying out the facts, the law, and the reasoning that connects them. Arguments are made in documents filed in the court, or orally at a hearing or trial.
Arrears
Arrearage
Money owed that is unpaid and overdue. Generally, you will hear this term as it relates to past due child support. Your current, or on-going child support obligation does not become an arrearage until after it is overdue. When you have an arrearage, CSSD may garnish much more than your on-going amount to try to pay off the arrearage and sometimes this can get very confusing to figure out what is going on. If you have a CSSD case, they will collect the money for you. However, there are collection procedures that would allow you to get the debtor's PFD, wages etc.
Assets Money, property, and money-related rights that you own.
Attorney A person who is authorized to act formally for another person. The two most common ways you'll hear this word used is for an attorney-at-law and a power-of-attorney. Attorneys-at-Law are lawyers, who are specially licensed and trained. A power-of-attorney is a trusted person you have authorized in a special way to handle selected business and personal affairs for you.
Award To give or grant by formal process.

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Best Interest of the Child

Forms

In deciding custody, the court must consider only those facts that directly affect the well being of the child. See AS 25.24.150.
Bifurcate
Bifurcation
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.

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Caption The heading of a legal document that has the names of the parties, the court, the case number, and title of the case.
Case The general name for the matter filed in court. Also called an action, cause, or lawsuit.
Certificate of Service A written, dated and signed statement telling the judge that you gave or sent a copy to the other side. A copy of every document filed in court must be given to every person involved in the case. The Certificate of Service proves that this happened. Also see service generally.
Certified Mail In Alaska, you must serve a summons by certified mail/restricted delivery/ return receipt or process server. Certified mail is a type of special delivery by the post office. Ask at your local post office for more information.
Chambers A judge's private office.
Child Support

Forms

The financial obligation that both parents have to their child(ren). In Alaska, Civil Rule 90.3 says how child support must be calculated. CSSD is the state agency involved in establishing and collecting child support for many families.
Clerk A court employee responsible for maintaining permanent records of all court proceedings and exhibits, and administering the oath to jurors and witnesses.
Closing Statement The statement made by each party (or their lawyer) at the end of a hearing or trial. Typically, this statement highlights the version of the facts that best supports each side of the case, how these facts were proven during the testimony, how the law applies to the case and why the judge should rule for one side and not the other. The statement itself is not evidence, and you may only refer to what has been accepted as evidence.
Cohabitation Two people living together in an intimate relationship, without being married.
Collaborative Law An alternative way to settle disputes in which both parties hire specially trained attorneys who work to help them respectfully resolve the conflict outside of court. The participants agree to work together to seek a solution that works for both parties. If the dispute can’t be resolved through the collaborative process, or if one of the parties threatens to go to court, then the collaborative law process ends and neither lawyer can continue to work on the case. Learn more about collaborative law in Alaska.
Collect
Collection
To obtain payment of a debt through legal proceedings. See the FAQs on collections for more information.
Common law marriage In some states, a marriage created by a couple holding themselves out to the public as married and living together as if they were married. The State of Alaska does not recognize common law marriage as a legal marriage.
Competent A competent person is mentally able to understand and file a court document and understand court proceedings
Complaint

Divorce Forms
Custody Forms

The first document filed with the court by the plaintiff stating his or her claim(s) against the defendant.
Confession of Judgment A written document by a debtor saying that if they do not pay the debt, they agree to the entry of a judgment against them.
Conservator A person appointed by a judge in a special court proceeding who is legally responsible for the management of another person's financial matters because that person is unable to handle his or her affairs, whether that be because of disease, disability or being under 18. Compare with guardian. See the Office of Public Advocacy's Family Guardian page for more information.
Contempt Disregarding or disobeying a court order. It is a very, very serious thing to be held in contempt of court.
Contested Case A case in which the defendant opposes, resists or disputes what the plaintiff has asked for in the complaint.
Counterclaim

Forms

Defendant's requests for relief made when he or she files an answer to the complaint.
Creditor The person who loaned the money is the creditor; the person who borrowed the money is the debtor.
CSSD
Child Support Services Agency
The state agency primarily responsible for collecting and enforcing child support. CSSD may also establish and review support obligations. For more information visit their web site at www.childsupport.alaska.gov/.
Custody

Forms

The rights and responsibilities between parents for their child(ren). The custody and visitation or parenting plan must describe the legal custody and physical custody that is in the child(ren)'s best interests. When unmarried parents need the court to determine a custody arrangement for their child(ren), the type of case they file is called a "custody case." For married parents, the court decides custody in a divorce or dissolution case.
Custody Investigator A court appointed expert who is educated, experienced and trained in child development and the effects of divorce or separation on children. The custody investigator assesses a family and recommends to the judge a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the children. Check with your local court to learn how this program works in your community. See parenting plans for more information.
Custody and Visitation Plan
or
Parenting Plan

Forms

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 parenting plan usually describes the child(ren)'s schedule and describes which parent will make decisions about various things in the child(ren)'s life. After reviewing the parenting plan, the court will be able to determine the legal custody and physical custody arrangements for the child(ren). There are many resources on the internet to help you make an age appropriate parenting plan.

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Decision A court's judgment, order or decree that settles a dispute and decides an issue.
Decree and Judgment

Forms

The final decision of the court in a family law case. If your case includes an order for money to paid by one side to the other as part of the property division, be sure that your final decree is also says judgment so that you can use collection procedures to get the money if the person does not comply with the order.
Debtor The person who borrowed the money is the debtor; the person who loaned the money is the creditor. A debtor is also someone who owes money because he/she didn't pay as ordered.
Default

Forms

If the defendant does not answer the plaintiff's complaint, the plaintiff can finish the case without the defendant's participation by requesting the court to enter a default. Because the defendant didn't answer, the plaintiff is able to get a one-sided judgment.
Defendant Not the person who started the case, who is called the plaintiff. Rather, the person against whom the case has been brought.
Deficiency Something missing or lacking.
Defined Benefit Plan This type of retirement plan is generally considered a "traditional” pension plan. It provides specific benefits (usually a specific dollar amount per month) to a participant at the individual’s projected retirement date. The benefits are usually based upon a formula that considers the participant’s projected years of service and final wage compensation. Defined benefit plans are more often found in governments and large companies than small companies. Examples are PERS Tiers I-III and TRS.
Defined Contribution Plan Retirement savings accounts based on employee and often matching employer contributions directly to individual accounts established and maintained for each plan participant. Examples are a profit sharing plan, thrift plan, 401(k) plan, retirement savings plan, SBS-AP for state government employees, and some stock bonus plans and employee stock ownership plans (ESOP). When the employee participant retires or leaves the company’s employment, the participant usually gets the account balance together with any accrued interest, as well as investment gains or losses.
Diligent Inquiry When you don't know where the opposing party is to serve them, the court requires that you try hard to find him or her. The effort you make to find the opposing party is called diligent inquiry. If you can't find the opposing party, you may file an affidavit of diligent inquiry and ask the court permission to serve by alternate service.
Disclose
Disclosure
To reveal, tell or expose new information.
Discovery

Forms

The formal and informal exchange of information between sides in a case. Usually, you do not file discovery in the court. It is information for the parties to use as they prepare their cases. In divorce cases, Civil Rule 26.1 requires both parties to give full disclosure of financial information to each other.
Dismiss
Dismissal
To dismiss a case without any further consideration or hearing. To dismiss without prejudice means the case can be brought to court again. To dismiss with prejudice means that the case can never be brought to court again.
Disposable Retired Pay This term applies for military retired pay. It is the gross monthly pay entitlement, including renounced pay, less authorized deductions. You can read about military retired pay which includes the list of authorized deductions.
Dissolution

Forms

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.
Divided Custody One parent has primary physical custody of one or more children of the relationship and the other parent has primary custody of one or more other children of the relationship, and the parents do not have shared physical custody of any of their children. See also physical custody. See parenting plans for more information.
Divorce

Forms

The ending of a marriage by a court order. In Alaska, the term "divorce" also refers to the contested proceeding used to divorce, as opposed to the un-contested proceeding used to divorce, called a dissolution.
DNA testing DNA testing which is also called "genetic testing" shows whether someone is the parent of a child. A DNA sample is collected using a swab, similar to a Q-Tip inside the cheek to pick up cells. Samples are collected from the mother, the child and the person who may be the father. The testing is painless and the whole process takes about 15 minutes. Once all the samples have been collected, the result is ready within about 3 weeks.
Documents The papers you file in court.
Domestic partners 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.
Domestic Relations Procedural Order In family law cases, there is usually a local court order that sets out the rules of the case. Different courts have different names for it. It is usually called either a Domestic Relations Procedural Order or a standing order. Whatever it is called, you will receive this order when you file your case, at the same time as you receive your summons. It is very important and you should read it carefully. Most significantly, it usually prohibits either parent from removing any minor child(ren) from Alaska or selling marital property without the opposing party's agreement or the court's approval. Violating this order is as serious as violating any court order. Be sure you understand what it says. To learn more, please read the Domestic Relations Procedural Order (Standing Order) section.
Domestic Violence or Abuse

Forms

Violence or abuse is 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. Abuse of family members can take many forms, 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. In Alaska you can get a Domestic Violence Protective Order if you have a "household" relationship with the opposing party and he/she committed a crime of domestic violence against you, such as assault, burglary, criminal trespass, criminal mischief, terroristic threatening, violating a domestic violence order, or harassment. See AS 18.66.100 to read more about protective orders. For general information, please see www.andvsa.org/.
Domestic Relations See Family Law.
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.

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Early Neutral Evaluation Early neutral evaluation provides parties in a dispute with an early and frank evaluation of the merits of their case by an objective, neutral evaluator. Like mediation, early neutral evaluation is confidential, voluntary, and does not eliminate other dispute resolution options. The evaluator is not a decision-maker.
Enforce To require somebody to do something that is stated in a court order. For example, if a domestic violence protective order states the respondent needs to stay away from the petitioner and the respondent comes to the petitioners house, the police may enforce that order to keep the respondent away.
Estate An estate refers to all of your property, including real estate, investments, bank accounts, business interests, life insurance, retirement accounts and personal property.
Evidence Information provided to the court by the parties during the course of a case to assist in the decision making process. This can include testimony, documents, and physical objects. There are special Rules of Evidence that control how and what information can be provided.
Ex Parte Whenever the judge hears from one side only. Generally, ex parte communications are prohibited because they can be unfair and violate due process. Both parties must have the right to tell the court their side of the story. However, there are some emergency situations when the court might find it appropriate. For example, see ex parte protective order.
Ex Parte Protective Order

Forms

When certain acts of domestic violence have happened, the victim may ask the court for a 20-day order for protection. These requests are generally heard ex parte - without the other side present.
Execution of Judgment The legal process to enforce a judgment, usually by seizing and selling the property of the debtor.
Exhibit

Forms

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. You must designate this person on your witness list. See generally Evidence Rules 701-706.

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Family Law The area of law, also known as domestic relations law, which generally refers to divorce, dissolution, custody, visitation, support, and paternity. While families also come to the court for adoption, probate matters and child in need of aid cases, this glossary does not currently provide definitions to the specialized terms in these areas.
File The complete court record of a case.

"To file" a paper is to give it to the court clerk to add to the case record. Before you file something, you make two copies: 1 for you and 1 for the other person. Then you file the original in court. REMEMBER: whenever you file something, you must fill out a certificate of service telling the court when you sent or hand delivered the copy to the other side.

Filing Fees The court is required to charge a filing fee certain types of cases. The fee for a family law case is $150. If you cannot afford the fee, you may request to start your case for free by filing a special form called Request for Exemption from Fees, TF-920. Adobe Acrobat PDF logo
Final Decree
Final Order

Forms

The final decision in a case, which is generally issued by the court after the trial. A final decree is the same thing as a decree. In certain circumstances you may wish to appeal this order, in other circumstances, you may wish to modify this order. Either way, the law has strict rules about how, whether and when an appeal or modification can happen.
Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

Forms

These, together with the decree and judgment, are issued by the judge at the end of your case. The findings of fact are the judge's determination from the evidence presented. The conclusions of law are the legal propositions arrived at by the judge based on the findings of facts. See our Finishing the Case page to understand how these fit into your case, as well as forms for your use.
First-Hand Knowledge Information or knowledge heard and/or seen directly by the person speaking or writing. Generally, all information given to the court to prove a case must be first-hand knowledge. See the Rules of Evidence for more information.
Foreign Order

Forms

A court order issued by a state court in the United States other than Alaska, or a court of another country. For example, a child custody order from California is a foreign order in Alaska.
Form A model document to work from or a legal paper with blanks that you can fill in.
Full Legal Representation When you hire an attorney to represent all of your interests in a court case. This means the attorney will deal with all issues in the case on your behalf. The attorney files all documents in court, represents you at hearings and trials, and corresponds directly with the opposing party or their attorney if represented.

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GAL Guardian Ad Litem - a professional who is appointed to actually represent your child(ren) in the case. This means that he or she becomes a party to the case and may not always agree with the parents about what is in the child(ren)'s best interest. A GAL is different from a custody investigator, who simply does an investigation and makes a recommendation. See parenting plans for more information.
Genetic testing Genetic testing, commonly called "DNA testing," shows whether someone is the parent of a child. A DNA sample is collected using a swab, similar to a Q-Tip inside the cheek to pick up cells. Samples are collected from the mother, the child and the person who may be the father. The testing is painless and the whole process takes about 15 minutes. Once all the samples have been collected, the result is ready within about 3 weeks.
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. Children usually only have guardians when neither of their parents are willing or able to care for them. Compare with conservator. See the Office of Public Advocacy's Family Guardian page for more information.
Guardian Ad Litem See GAL.

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Hand delivery Handing a document to either (1) the attorney who is representing the opposing party or the attorneys staff (2) the opposing party if he/she is self-represented at their place of residence or with a person of suitable age and discretion residing at their home.
Hearing A court proceeding at which parties, and perhaps witnesses, come to the court to speak. A hearing is different from a trial in a number of ways, including that it is typically shorter and sometimes less formal than a trial.
Hearsay Hearsay is a statement that is not made in the courtroom and that is presented to the judge as a true statement. Most hearsay cannot be evidence, but there are many exceptions to this rule. These are all covered in sections 801-804 of the Rules of Evidence. There also is a Commentary that explains to some extent how these rules work.
Hybrid Custody The parents have primary physical custody of some of their children and shared physical custody of other of their children. See also physical custody. See parenting plans for more information.

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ICWA
Indian Child Welfare Act
The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a federal law regulating placement proceedings involving Indian children. If your child is a member of a tribe or eligible for membership in a tribe, your family has the right to protection under the ICWA for certain types of cases. ICWA can raise very complicated legal questions and you are urged to consult an attorney or your tribe. You can read an excerpted and Alaska annotated version in Alaska Rules of Court. DFYS also has a page on ICWA, which has many other links.
Impute To state a value to the income of a parent who is obligated to pay child support when the court determines that a parent is unemployed, underemployed, or earning less than what he/she can earn or previously earned.
Interim Order or Temporary Order

Forms

An interim order, also sometimes called a temporary order, is any order made in a case before the final order or decree 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.

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Joint Custody See shared physical custody.
Joint Legal Custody Both parents share the responsibility for making the major life decisions affecting the child's welfare, such as where the child(ren) go(es) to the doctor, goes to school or how money matters are handled. The alternative to shared legal custody is sole legal custody. There is also physical custody. See parenting plans for more information.
Judge The specially trained and qualified person who runs a courtroom, decides all legal questions, and decides entire case in areas such as family law where there is no jury.
Judgment The official final decision of a court about the rights and claims of each side in a lawsuit. If your 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 power of the court to make a decision. To make a decision, a court must have jurisdiction over both the people in the case and the issues being decided in the case. In family law cases, there are special laws controlling jurisdiction of child custody and child support. See the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, (AS 25.30.300 et seq.) and the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (AS 25.25.101) for more information.

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Lawyer A person licensed to practice law. You may contact the Alaska Bar Association to find out if a person is licensed in Alaska. Every state has a Bar Association, which can provide a lot of useful information about the lawyers in its state.
Legal Custody The right and obligation to make major life decisions such as where the child goes to school, which doctors he or she sees and how money relating to the child is handled. There are two types of legal custody: joint legal custody and sole legal custody.
Legal Separation When married people decide to separate but remain legally married because they no longer get along, but want to protect significant religious, social, legal or financial interests. A legal separation can determine the parties' rights and responsibilities for property, child custody, child support and spousal support. See AS 25.24.400 - 460.

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Marital Property Marital property is the property and debt that a husband and wife acquire during marriage for the benefit of the marriage and may include property acquired when the couple lived together before marriage. A married person may also have separate property, which is property and debt from before the marriage that is not considered marital property, or an inheritance or gift. Generally, property and debt acquired after the date of separation is not marital, unless a marital resource was used to acquire it. Determining whether a piece of property or a particular debt is marital or separate can be very complicated and requires legal advice. See AS 25.24.160.
Marriage Signifies the act, ceremony, or formal proceeding by which persons take each other for husband and wife.
Master A specially qualified person who is appointed as a judicial officer to take evidence and make a recommendation to the judge.
Mediation
Mediator
Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process in which a neutral third-party facilitator (the mediator) helps people discuss difficult issues and negotiate an agreement. Parties in mediation create their own solutions and the mediator does not have any decision-making power over the outcome. A mediator may or may not be a lawyer.
Mediation-Arbitration (Med-Arb) Mediation-Arbitration is a combination of mediation and arbitration. Parties work to come up with their own agreements, but give a neutral third party the authority to make a decision if mediation is not successful.
Merrill Factors The judge uses a set of factors to reach a fair and equitable property division in a divorce action. You can read the list of factors.
Modification
Modify

Forms

To change an existing court order because of a change in circumstances.
Motion The name of the paper you must file to ask a judge to make a ruling or take some other action. A motion is the first step in the three-step process called motion practice, which is controlled by Civil Rule 77.
Motion Practice

Forms

The three-step process you must use to make written requests to the judge. See Civil Rule 77 for more information.

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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 Appeal The document filed with the supreme court that gives notice of your intention to appeal. This is the first step of the appellate process, and like all things filed in court, must be served on the opposing party.

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Object
Objection
The way that you tell the judge that you think something the other party is doing or saying in the case is improper, unfair, or illegal.
Obligee The person who is receiving child support.
Obligor The person who is paying child support.
On-going Support Obligation The on-going child support obligation is the amount that you are currently required to pay on a monthly basis. If CSSD is garnishing your wages, they might be withholding more than your on-going amount because they are also collecting a part of your arrearages.
On the Record The official record of what goes on in the courtroom. Whenever you are in the courtroom and the judge is present, you should assume that you are on the record and being recorded. If the judge makes a ruling "on the record," it means he or she made the decision orally in the courtroom, which is just as permanent, final and binding as if it were written.
Opening Statement The introductory statement made each party (or their lawyer) at the start of a hearing or trial. Typically, this statement explains the version of the facts best supporting each side of the case, how these facts will be proven, and how the law applies to the case. This statement is not evidence.
Opposition The name of the paper you file in response to the other party's motion. An opposition is the second step in the three-step process called motion practice, which is controlled by Civil Rule 77.
Order A command or direction given by a judge. An order can be in writing or spoken. Violating a court order is very serious and can result in being held in contempt or sanctioned in other ways.

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Parenting Plan
or
Custody and Visitation Plan

Forms

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 parenting plan usually describes the child(ren)'s schedule and describes which parent will make decisions about various things in the child(ren)'s life. As a result of the parenting plan, the court will be able to determine the legal custody and physical custody arrangements for the child(ren). There are many resources on the internet to help you make an age appropriate parenting plan. You may also find the Alaska Court System's Parenting Agreement useful as you develop the plan that is best for your child(ren).
Participant The participant is the spouse who has the retirement plan. The participant’s retirement plan is being divided with a QDRO. The spouse that is to receive benefits under the QDRO is the Alternate Payee.
Party
Parties
The technical legal word for the people who are part of the case and have a right to ask the court to rule one way or another. In family law cases, the parties are usually the people whose names are on the case as either plaintiff or defendant, however other people, such as GALs, may later join the case as parties.
Paternity If there is a paternity issue in a family law case that generally means there is some question concerning who the biological father is. Usually people need to disestablish paternity of one man and establish paternity of another man. For instance, the law presumes that the husband is the father. Therefore, if a child is born to a married woman, her husband is legally the father - even if it was absolutely impossible, i.e. the husband was incarcerated and they hadn't seen each other for 10 years. In these situations, the husband is usually disestablished as part of the divorce case, and the biological father is established. Questions of paternity come up in many other situations. If this is an issue in your case, you are urged to consult a lawyer or call the Family Law Helpline.
Pension A series of periodic payments, usually for life, payable monthly or at other specified intervals. The term is frequently used to describe the part of a retirement allowance financed by employer contributions.
PERS The Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) is the defined benefit plan that is for state government employees first hired on or before June 30, 2006 and a hybrid defined contribution plan that has some defined benefit components for employees first hired on or after July 1, 2006.
Personal Representative This is the person named in a will to ensure that a will’s provisions are carried out after your death. If there is no will or no personal representative named, the probate court will appoint someone to take on the job of winding up the estate. The personal representative may also be called the "executor."
Petitioner The person who starts a case that uses petitions rather than complaints to start the case. In family cases, the terms petitioner and respondent are used in domestic violence cases and dissolutions. This person is the petitioner for as long as the case is open.
Physical Custody The right of a parent to have the child(en)actually live in their home. There are two types of physical custody arrangements: primary physical custody and shared physical custody.
Plaintiff The person who starts a case. The other person is called the defendant.
Plan Administrator The person or persons who administer a retirement plan. Sometimes the Plan Administrator is the employer, sometimes it is a third party. If the name of the administrator is not in the plan document, the employer is considered to be the Plan Administrator. You need to contact the Plan Administrator to understand what they require in the QDRO.
Pleadings

Forms

The formal documents that start a case. The complaint is filed by the plaintiff, and the Answer is filed by the defendant.
Post-Judgment After the judgment or final order in a case has been issued.
Power-of-Attorney
POA
A power-of-attorney is a trusted person you have authorized in a special way to handle selected business or personal affairs for you. The Office of Public Advocacy provides a power-of-attorney form for the care of minor children, Adobe Acrobat PDF logo, and Alaska Legal Service Corporation provides a power-of-attorney form & instructions for adults (Word document).
Pre-hearing Brief

Form

A written summary or statement explaining your position or a particular issue to the judge. The pre-hearing brief states the facts, evidence, and legal arguments that you plan to present at a hearing and typically includes citations to legal authority (such as statutes, case law or rules) to support your position. In family law cases, a pre-hearing brief is not required unless the court orders it. However, you may choose to file a pre-hearing brief that summarizes your position before a hearing.
Prejudice A legal term which means to injure or damage someone's rights by some legal action. (For example, the term can be used like this: The plaintiff is not prejudiced by the court's decision to allow the defendant to testify by telephone.) It can also mean a final and binding decision that stops further prosecution of the same cause of action. For example, a judge can dismiss a case with prejudice. This means you can't bring a new lawsuit based on the same subject again. When a judge dismisses a case without prejudice, it usually means that the court didn't issue a decision on the merits which leaves the parties free to litigate the matter in a later case. In that situation, none of the rights or privileges of the person involved are lost or waived. In other words, the person can bring the case again.
Primary Physical Custody The technical term for when the child(ren) live with one parent more than 70% of the year, which comes out to 256 or more overnights and the other parent less than 30% of the year, which is fewer than 110 overnights. If the child(ren) live with each parent more than 110 overnights, the technical term is shared custody. Please remember these are technical terms that should be applied only after the parents have decided on what the best overall schedule, or parenting plan, is for of their child(ren). See also physical custody.
Probate Probate is the legal process where the court gives someone authority to control, manage and distribute your estate after you die. The person who is given control is called the "personal representative" and this person is usually named in your will. After the court determines that your will is valid, the personal representative is responsible for taking control of your assets, managing the assets during probate, notifying and paying any creditors, filing income and estate tax returns, and distributing your property as directed by the will or a court order.
Process Server A specially licensed person who is authorized to serve certain types of legal documents. While fees vary, it generally costs up to $65 plus mileage and time. Process servers can serve legal documents just about anywhere, not just at someone's home. So long as they have a good physical description, a process server may hang-out at the airport or even a bar waiting for someone to show-up. Your local court or Trooper station can provide you with an up-to-date list of currently licensed process servers in Alaska. Also see our Tips for Locating People information sheet.
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 or Pro Per A Latin term that mean representing yourself in court. If you are pro se (or pro per), you are your own lawyer.
Protective Order A court order which is meant to protect a person from another person. There are three types of protective orders that you can request depending on your relationship with the opposing party and the type of crime he/she committed against you: 1) domestic violence; 2) stalking; or 3) sexual assault.

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Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity An annuity that pays out at one level for the rest of the annuity holder’s life and then another level, between 50% and 100% of the original level, for the rest of the ex-spouse's life.
QDRO
Qualified Domestic Relations Order
Qualified Domestic Relations Order, which is an order that provides instructions to the retirement plan administrator about how to pay you your share of the benefits out of the plan.

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Relief The help given by a court to a person who brings a lawsuit. The "relief asked for" might be the return of property taken by another person, the enforcement of an order, etc.
Reply The name of the paper you file in reply to the other side's opposition. The reply is the third and final step in the three-step process called motion practice, which is controlled by Civil Rule 77.
Respondent The person who responds to the petitioner. If you did not file the petition to start a court case, and you are named in the case, you are the respondent. In family matters, the terms petitioner and respondent are used in domestic violence cases and dissolutions. This person is the respondent for as long as the case is open.
Rule Generally refers to the Alaska Rules of Court, which are issued by the Alaska Supreme Court to regulate the practice and procedure in various courts. The Civil Rules govern most family law cases, however there are also special rules for CINA, Probate and Adoption cases.

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Sanctions A penalty by the court to encourage a party to follow the law. Sanctions are usually designed to fit the circumstances and can be in the form of a money fine or perhaps being forbidden from calling certain witnesses.
SBS-AP
(Alaska Supplemental Annuity Plan)
SBS-AP is a defined contribution plan governed by section 401(a) of the Internal Revenue Code. A portion of the employee’s wages and a matching employer contribution are made pre-tax to this plan instead of contributions to Social Security. These contributions plus any change in value (interest, gains and losses), are payable to you or your beneficiary at a future date.
Scheduling Order The order issued by your trial court judge telling you the date of the trial and the setting the deadlines for the case. This is a very important document and you must read it very carefully, if you miss a deadline, you may be sanctioned.
Separate Property Separate property is property and debt that is not considered marital property. It may be from before the marriage, or an inheritance or gift. Just because a party acquired property before marriage does not necessarily mean that it won’t be considered marital property. A spouse's premarital separate property can become marital when a married couple demonstrates an intent, through their words or actions during marriage, to treat one spouse's separate property as marital property. Figuring out whether a piece of property or a particular debt is separate or marital can be very complicated and requires legal advice. See marital property.
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. For instance, the summons and complaint must be served by process server or certified mail/restricted delivery/return receipt, and all other documents in your case must be served by first class mail or hand delivered. You must tell the judge in writing how and when you gave a copy to the other side. This is called a certificate of service (or a proof of service for the summons and complaint). If there is no certificate of service, the judge will not read your documents until you serve the other side. If the other side is represented by a lawyer, you must send or give the copies to the lawyer. If you are having trouble locating the other person, you might find our Tips on Locating People helpful. For more information about how to serve someone, visit the service section.
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

(formerly known as Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940, 50 U.S.C. App. §501 et seq.)

If your spouse is in the military and on active duty, he or she is covered by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Public Law 108-189. Adobe Acrobat PDF logo

In a divorce or custody case, this act means that an active duty soldier, who is not available to defend his or her case, cannot generally be defaulted. This act was passed by Congress to provide protection for individuals entering or called to active duty in the military service. It is intended to postpone or suspend certain civil obligations to enable service members to devote full attention to duty. There are numerous protections and if this act might apply in your case, you are urged to contact your legal assistance office to learn more.

Settlement

Forms

An agreement of all terms reached through negotiation by parties involved in a legal dispute. If you think you have settled your case, you may file a motion to request a hearing to put your settlement on the record.
Settlement Conference A settlement conference is a meeting with a judge before trial to explore ways to settle your issues. The meeting includes you, the other party, and your lawyers (if you have them). The judge may or may not be the same judge you will have if you go to trial. The judge's role is to try help you reach an agreement, not to be a decision-maker.
Shared Physical Custody The technical term for when the child(ren) live(s) with each parent at least 30% of the year. In other words, if the child(ren) live(s) with each parent for at least 110 overnights, the technical term is shared custody. Please remember these are technical terms that should be applied only after the parents have decided on what the best overall schedule, or parenting plan, is for their child(ren). The alternative to shared physical custody is primary physical custody. See parenting plans for more information.
Sexual Assault

Forms

These are crimes that qualify for a Sexual Assault Protective Order. You may be able to get a protective order if someone commits a crime involving a sexual act against you without your consent, or does a sexual act with a minor. The list of crimes that qualify are found at AS 11.41.410 - .450. If you are a victim of sexual assault, incest or child sexual abuse, please contact STARs 24 hour CrisisLine for information and support: (907) 276-7273 or (800) 478-8999.
Sole Legal Custody One parent is given the legal authority to make the major life decisions affecting the child'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. The alternative to sole legal custody is joint legal custody.
Spouse Your husband or wife.
Spousal Support Money paid by a divorced husband or wife to the ex-spouse for personal support. In Alaska, this is generally called spousal support, and is only awarded under certain circumstances. Other states may call it alimony.
Stalking

Forms

A crime in which a person knowingly and repeatedly contacts you or a family member without your consent, and that places you in fear of your own death or physical injury or the death or physical injury of a family member. You may be able to get either a Stalking Protective Order or a Domestic Violence Protective Order based on stalking, depending on the relationship you have with the opposing party.
Standing Order In family law cases, there is usually a local court order that sets out the rules of the case. Different courts have different names for it. Usually it is called the standing order, although it may be called the Domestic Relations Procedural Order. Whatever it is called, you will receive this order when you file your case, at the same time as you receive your summons. It is very important and you should read it carefully. Most significantly, it usually prohibits either parent from removing any minor child(ren) from Alaska or selling marital property without the opposing party's agreement or the court's approval. Violating this order is as serious as violating any court order. Be sure you understand what it says. To learn more, please read the Domestic Relations Procedural Order (Standing Order) section.
Statements Your statements can only be evidence and considered by the court if made under oath.
Statutes or Laws

Forms

The laws written and passed by the legislature. The court's job is to interpret the law and decide how it applies to your case. You can read the statutes online, at your local court, law library or legislative information office.
Stay of Execution The stopping, by court order, of an execution of judgment. A stay is usually temporary.
Stipulation A point or condition agreed upon by the parties.
Subpoena

Forms

A court order requiring an individual to come and talk under oath in court. Subpoenas can also require a person to bring to court specific documents or other items that you think you need to prove your case.
Summons A legal notice that informs an individual that someone has brought a lawsuit against him or her. It includes the reasons for the suit, who the judge is and how long you have to answer the complaint. You can only get this from your local court.
Survivor Benefit The payment made to a beneficiary (usually the ex-spouse or alternate payee) from a retirement plan after the plan participant dies.

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Temporary Order or Interim Order

Forms

An interim order, also sometimes called a temporary order, is any order made in a case before the final order is made. These are generally short-term decisions by the judge about child support, child custody, visitation, possession of the family home, attorney fees, spousal support or the payment of debts until a final court order can be issued.
Testimony What a person says in the courtroom under oath, after being sworn-in.
Trial Formal court proceeding at which evidence is heard and the case is decided.
Trial Brief

Form

A written summary or statement explaining your position or a particular issue to the judge. The trial brief states the facts, evidence, and legal arguments that you plan to present at trial and typically includes citations to legal authority (such as statutes, case law or rules) to support your position.
In family law cases, a trial brief is required to be filed before the trial, usually by the deadline set out in a scheduling order.
TRS
(Teachers' Retirement System)
On July 1, 1955, the Alaska Legislature established the Teachers' Retirement System (TRS) to attract qualified teachers into public service employment. The TRS is a defined benefit plan where both the employee and employer make contributions to the retirement plan. For more information read the Teachers' Retirement System Information Handbook.

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Undbundled Legal Services Some attorneys are willing to provide limited legal services to clients. This is called "unbundled services" or discrete task representation. Basically instead of hiring an attorney for full representation, the client would hire the attorney to perform a specific service that they both agree upon. See the unbundled legal services section for more information.
Uncontested When the parties agree about all issues in a case, they may file Uncontested Complaints for Divorce or Custody. This means they file the paperwork together, both signing the complaint and any agreements that go with it.
Under Advisement When the judge does not make a decision right away after hearing the evidence. If the judge wants some time to think about the issues he or she takes them "under advisement." He or she will issue a decision in the future, either in writing or orally during a hearing scheduled with the parties.
Under Oath All people must swear or affirm to tell the truth if they want their statement or testimony to considered as evidence. All written statements must be submitted as affidavits to be considered by the court as evidence.

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Venue The local court where your case should be filed. Jurisdiction is controlled by strict rules, but venue is often left to the discretion of the judge. See Civil Rule 12(H)(1), AS 22.15.080 for more information.
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). The schedule for visitation will be set out in the parenting or custody and visitation plan. See parenting plans for more information.
Void or Voidable Marriage In Alaska there is no court action called an annulment, but a court may declare a marriage void for specific reasons. For more information, see the Annulment (Voidable Marriage) FAQs.

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Will
(also known as a "Last Will and Testament")
A will is a written document that directs the probate court who you want to be the personal representative who will take authority over your estate, how you want your property to be distributed after you die, and who will be the guardian for minor children.
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 the case.
Witness List

Forms

The list of people you intend to call during your trial or hearing. The judge will tell you when the witness list is due. If you do not file your witness list, the court may sanction you by not allowing you to call your witnesses. There is a simple witness list form ( SHC-1050 ( Word | PDF) and SHC-1051 (Word | PDF)) - and remember you must designate who will be called as an expert witness.
Writ of Assistance A writ of assistance is a written court order instructing a law enforcement official, such as a police officer, to perform a certain task that will help one of the parties get what was ordered in a separate court order.  This can be helping to get personal property, possession of a home or return of children.
Writ of Execution A formal, written command by the court to a sheriff or other official to enforce or execute a judgment in a specific way, such as sweeping a bank account or taking a portion of someone's PFD.

Rev. 18 February 2014
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