Family Law Glossary

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An amount of money that periodically accumulates for a specific purpose (as payment of taxes or interest)


Lawful pursuit for justice or decision under the law, typically leading to proceeding within the jurisdiction’s court system. An entity accuses another for an unlawful action, to protect an entity’s rights from violation.


Legal process pursuant to state statutes in which a child’s legal rights and duties toward his natural parents are terminated and similar rights and duties toward his adoptive parents are substituted.


A written or printed declaration or statement of facts made before an officer with authority to administer the oath, which is made voluntarily and confirmed by the oath or affirmation of the party making it.

Alias Summons

The term for the second summons that has to be served because the original summons was defective or was improperly served.


The allowance made to one spouse for support, either during a matrimonial suit or at its termination, when the spouse proves him or herself entitled to a separate maintenance, and the fact of a marriage is established. It is either temporary or permanent. Also called spousal support or maintenance.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Methods of resolving legal disputes without going to trial, in a less adversarial manner, such as through arbitration or mediation.


A legal procedure which declares that a marriage is completely erased, that the marriage never technically existed and was never valid. Grounds for annulment in Michigan include fraud (misrepresentation), bigamy, incapacity (physical or mental), and kindship.


The complaint to a superior court of an injustice done or error committed by an inferior one, whose judgment or decision the court above is called upon to correct or reverse. The removal of a cause from a court of inferior to one of superior jurisdiction, for the purpose of obtaining a review and retrial.


The party who takes an appeal from one court or jurisdiction to another.


Compulsory arbitration takes place when the consent of one of the parties is enforced by statutory provisions. Voluntary arbitration is that which takes place by mutual and free consent of the parties. In a wide sense, this term may embrace the whole method of thus settling controversies, and thus include all the various steps. But in more strict use, the decision is separately spoken of, and called an “award,” and the “arbitration” denotes only the submission and hearing.


When a debtor and creditor make an agreement about repayment or a debt.


The state of being behind in the fulfillment of obligations or of being overdue in payment.

Child Support

Financial compensation by one parent to the parent needing monies for raising and sheltering a child. A court of law usually determines the payments, based on the income level of the other parent. Stiff fines and jail time can be imposed for a parent failing to meet this commitment regularly and on time.

Child Support Guidelines

Guidelines established by statute or rule in each jurisdiction that set forth the manner in which child support must be calculated, generally based on the income of the parents and the needs of the children.


A secret arrangement between two or more persons, whose interests are apparently conflicting, to make use of the forms and proceedings of law in order to defraud a third person; or to obtain that which justice would not give them, by deceiving a court or its officers. In divorce proceedings, collusion is an agreement between husband and wife that one of them shall commit, or appear to have committed, or be represented in court as having committed, acts constituting a cause of divorce, for the purpose of enabling the other to obtain a divorce.

Common Law Marriage

A marriage not solemnized in the ordinary or “official” manner, but created by an agreement to marry, followed by cohabitation; a consummated agreement to marry, between a man and a woman, followed by cohabitation. There are no common law marriages in Michigan family law.


One who applies to the courts for legal redress; one who exhibits a bill of complaint. “Plaintiff” is often used in equity proceedings as well as at law.


The conditional remission or forgiveness, by one of the married parties, of a matrimonial offense committed by the other, and which would constitute a cause of divorce; the condition being that the offense shall not be repeated. The term is also sometimes applied to forgiveness of a past wrong, fault, injury, or breach of duty in other relations.


A willful disregard of the authority of a court of justice or disobedience of its lawful orders.

Contempt of Court

An act committed by a person in willful contravention of the court’s authority, or tending to impede or frustrate the administration of justice. Or by one who, being under the court’s authority as a party to a proceeding therein, willfully disobeys its lawful orders or fails to comply with an undertaking which he has given.

Corroborating Circumstances

Corroborating circumstances are used in reference to a confession that serves to strengthen or confirm it.

Corroborative Witness

A witness whose testimony corroborates, strengthens, or confirms by additional testimony another witness’ testimony. The testimony of a witness is said to be corroborated when it’s shown to correspond with the statement of some other witness, or to comport with some facts otherwise known or established.


Custody generally refers to child custody; as in which parent maintains legal authority and physical care of a child. Also, the detainer of a man’s person by virtue of lawful process or authority; actual imprisonment. In a sentence that the defendant “be in custody until,” etc., this term imports actual Imprisonment.


The omission or failure to fulfill a duty, observe a promise, discharge an obligation, or perform an agreement. When a defendant in an action at law omits to plead within the time allowed for that purpose, or fails to appear for the trial, he is said to make default, and the judgment entered in the former case is technically called a judgement by default.


This term describes the person that a parent or guardian need to support as obliged by the law.


Much of the evidence presented at a trial is in the form of testimony from witnesses who are brought in by one of the parties. There is a risk to putting a witness on the stand to testify during a trial without knowing in advance what the person is going to say. Depositions help reduce this risk by giving the attorneys for the litigants the opportunity to question the witness well before the trial begins.

Disposable Income

The money a person has available to spend after paying taxes, mortgage, car payment, pension contributions, bills, etc.

Judgement by Default

When the plaintiff wins the case and the defendant doesn’t file acknowledgement of service, make an appearance, or enter a defense. The case can be dismissed and a default judgment is given’ i.e. default order.


The person defending or denying; the party against whom relief or recovery is sought in a lawsuit. This term is applied to the defense, or individual summoned to answer a charge or complaint, in any species of action, civil or criminal.


In a general sense, the ascertainment of that which was previously unknown; the disclosure or coming to light of what was previously hidden; the acquisition of notice or knowledge of given acts or facts; as, in regard to the “discovery” of fraud affecting the running of a statute of limitations, or the granting of a new trial for newly “discovered” evidence.


The act of rendering a legal proceeding null, abrogating or revoking it; unloosing its constraining force; as when an injunction is dissolved by the court. (Note: There are no “dissolutions” in Michigan family law.)


The legal separation of husband and wife, effected, for cause, by the judgment of a court, that either totally dissolves the marriage relation, or suspends its effects so far as concerns the cohabitation of the parties.

Equitable Distribution

The distribution of marital assets by a court in a divorce action in accordance with statutory guidelines that are designed to produce a fair but not necessarily equal division of the property.

Ex Parte

A judicial proceeding, order, injunction, etc that is said to be ex parte when it is taken or granted at the instance and for the benefit of one party only.


A family comprises a father, mother and children. In a wider sense, a family can also be defined as a collective body of people who live in one house and under one head or management.


A remedial device used by a creditor or the government to attachment the debtor’s wages to satisfy a judgment. A parent may have their wages garnished if they fail to make timely child support payments.

Grounds for Divorce

Reasons, or grounds, for divorce can vary and may include things like incompatibility, abuse, alcoholism, or mental illness. In America, there are 17 states where the opportunity to state grounds for a divorce generally does not exist. These states are called “true” no-fault states. When grounds for divorce are offered, these cases are commonly referred to as a “fault divorce.” In Michigan, divorce cases where no grounds are offered are referred to as no-fault.


One who has or is legally entitled or appointed to care for and manage the person or property of another.


A legal arrangement under which one person (a guardian) has the legal right and duty to care for another (the ward) as well as his or her property. A guardianship is established because of the ward’s inability to legally act on his or her own behalf.

Immediate Family

The term used to describe an individual’s parents, wife, husband, children, brothers and sisters.

Imputed Income

Income calculated from the supposed value of intangible or non-cash sources.


  • A set or series of written questions for the purpose of being asked to a party in equity, a garnishee, or a witness whose testimony is taken on deposition;
  • A series of formal written questions used in the judicial examination of a party or a witness.

In taking evidence on depositions, the interrogatories are usually prepared and settled by counsel and transcribed in advance of the examination. Interrogatories are either direct or cross, the former being those which are put on behalf of the party calling a witness; the latter are those which are interposed by the adverse party.

In joint custody both parents are custodial parents and neither parent is a non-custodial parent, or, in other words, the child has two custodial parents. Joint custody has two main forms: joint physical and joint legal.


The determination or sentence of the law pronounced by a competent judge or court and the ensuing legal document stating the reasons for a judicial decision.

The term that applies to a court sanctioned agreement for a husband and wife that details their obligations while living apart.

Limited Divorce

A divorce from “bed and board,” or a judicial separation of husband and wife that does not dissolve the legal marriage tie. See Legal Separation.

Marital Property

Also known as “community property” is property acquired by husband and wife, or either, during marriage, when not acquired as the separate property of either.


The act of a third person who interferes between two contending parties with a view to reconcile them or persuade them to adjust or settle their dispute.


An application to a court by the parties or their counsel to obtain some rule or order, which becomes necessary either in the progress of a case, or summarily and wholly unconnected with plenary proceedings.

Non-Custodial Parent

A parent who does not have physical custody of the child(ren).

Non-Marital Property

Property owned by either spouse prior to marriage or which was acquired by them individually, such as by gift or inheritance, during the marriage.


The term that describes the obligation or duty that is enforced by a court of law; it can be a debt and the legal responsibility to carry out what the law asks


A mandate; precept; a command or direction authoritatively given; a rule or regulation.  Every direction of a court or judge made or entered in writing, and not included in a judgment, is denominated an “order.” An application for an order is a motion.


The fact of being a father; the relationship of a father.


A written address embodying an application from the person(s) proffering it, to the power, body, or person to whom it is presented, for the exercise of their authority in the redress of some wrong, or the grant of some favor, privilege, or license. In practice, this is usually an application made to a court ex parte, or where there are no parties present.


A person or party who brings an action; the party who complains or sues in a personal action and is so named on the record.


Plenary causes are those in whose proceedings the order and solemnity of the law is required to be exactly observed, so that if there is the least departure from that order, or disregard of that solemnity, the whole proceedings are annulled.

Prenuptial Agreement

A legally binding agreement between a couple that states how assets would be divided if the marriage fails to last.


The activities and hearings of a legal body or administrative agency.

Pro Se

Latin for proper person. Used to refer to a client defending himself.


Qualified Domestic Relations Order (Qdro)

Pronounced “kwah-dro,” an order issued by the court to divide retirement benefits.


The renewal of amicable relations between two persons who had been at enmity or variance; usually implying forgiveness of injuries on one or both sides. It is sometimes used in family law as a term synonymous or analogous to “condonation.”


The party who appeals against the judgment of au inferior court is termed the “ap-pellant;” and he who contends against the appeal, the “respondent.” The word also de- notes the person upou whom an ordinary petition in the court of chancery (or a libel in admiralty) is served, and who is, as it were, a defendant thereto. The terms “re- spondent” and “co-respondent” are used in like manner iu proceedings in the divorce court.

Separate Maintenance

A term for the money that is paid by a married person to support a spouse they are separated from.

Split Custody

A form of custody in which some or one of the parties’ children is/are in the custody of one parent and the remaining child(ren) is/are in the custody of the other parent.

Spousal Support (also known as alimony)

The allowance made to one spouse for support, either during a matrimonial suit or at its termination, when the spouse proves him or herself entitled to a separate maintenance, and the fact of a marriage is established. It is either temporary or permanent.


The process by which the attendance of a witness is required is called a “subpoena.” It is a writ or order directed to a person, and requiring attendance at a particular time and place to testify as a witness. It may also require that person to bring any books, documents, or other filings under his control, which that person is bound by law to produce in evidence.


An engagement or undertaking in writing, to do a certain act; as to try a cause at a certain time. The name “stipulation” is familiarly given to any agreement made by the attorneys engaged on opposite sides of a cause, (especially if in writing) regulating any matter incidental to the proceedings or trial, which falls within their jurisdiction.

Use and Possession

The phrase “use and possession” refer to the right of a parent having custody of a minor child of the marriage to remain in the family home for a certain period of time from the date of the divorce.

Essentials of the order for use and possession were discussed in the following case. An award of exclusive use and possession of the marital home must serve a special purpose. For example, providing a benefit for a minor child. An award of exclusive use and possession should specify the period of time for possession. It should include an express provision for termination of exclusive use and possession when the minor child attains the age of eighteen. The order will terminate when the party in residence remarries.


An official visit for inspection of the home of a neglected child; or access to a child granted especially to a parent who does not have custody or supervised rights.

Writ of Summons

A writ directing a person to appear in court to answer a complaint.