Family Law Glossary
Damages: The monetary harm caused by the actions of another person.
Debtor: A person who owes money.
Decree: The final decision made on an action for divorce.
Deed: A written, legal instrument that conveys an estate or interest in real property when it is executed and delivered. There are numerous types of deeds.
Default Judgment: An order or judgment made based on only the plaintiff's (petitioner's) complaint, due to no response or presence of the defendant (respondent).
Defendant: The spouse who defends against the lawsuit brought against him or her by the other spouse.
Deferred Annuity: An income stream that begins at some time in the future.
Deferred Compensation Package: This includes all retirement assets (such as a pension, 401K, IRA) and any other saving or postponed income earned during the marriage.
Deposition: The testimony of a witness under oath and reduced to writing. It is also used to question opposing spouse. (See legal process section in your state).
Depreciation: In appraising, a loss in property value from any cause. In regard to improvements, deterioration and obsolescence. In accounting, an allowance made against the loss in value of an asset for a defined purpose and computed using a specified method.
Descent: The rules of inheritance established by law in cases in which there is no will naming the persons to receive the possessions of a person who has died. The rules of descent vary somewhat from state to state and will usually be governed by the law of state in which the deceased party lived. Depending on which relatives survive, the estate may go all, or in part to the surviving spouse, and down the line from a parent to children (or if none survive, to grandchildren), or up to surviving parents, or collaterally to brothers and sisters. If there are no survivors among those relatives, then aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews may inherit, depending on their degree of kinship (closeness of family relationship), state laws of descent and distribution, or whether the deceased person lived in a community property state (in which the wife has a survivorship right to community property
Desertion: One spouse voluntarily leaves the other (without justification or consent from their spouse) for an uninterrupted period of time and with no intentions of returning.
Direct Examination: The capitalization method used to convert an estimate of a single year's income expectancy or any annual average of several years' income expectancies into an indication of value in one step, either by dividing the income estimated by an appropriate rate or by multiplying the income estimate by an appropriate factor.
Direct Payment: Child or spousal support paid directly to the parent who has custody by the parent who does not have custody.
Disbarment: The official seizing of an attorney's license to practice law.
Discounting: The procedure used to convert periodic income and reversions into present value: based on the assumption that benefits received in the future are worth less than the same benefits received now.
Discovery: Procedures used to absorb information that pertains to the credibility of the opposing party's case. The term may also be used for the interview procedure between the attorney and the client at the initial meeting. (See legal process and or the attorney section in your state)
Discretion of the Court: An area of choice available to a judge to make decisions after reviewing reasonable evidence.
Dismiss: The termination of a case without a final disposition of the matter.
Dissolution of Marriage: A legal judgment that severs a marriage relationship and returns each person to single status.
Dissolution: The legal end of a marriage.
Divorce: The termination of a marriage by legal action, requiring a petition or complaint for divorce (or dissolution in some states, including California) by one party. Some states still require at least a minimal showing of fault, but no-fault divorce is now the rule in which "incompatibility" is sufficient to grant a divorce. The substantive issues in divorces are division of property, child custody and support, alimony (spousal support), child visitation and attorney's fees. Only state courts have jurisdiction over divorces, so the petitioning or complaining party can only file in the state in which he/she is and has been a resident for a period of time (as little as six weeks in Nevada). In most states the period from original filing for divorce, serving the petition on the other party and final judgment (or decree) takes several months to allow for a chance to reconcile.
Docket: The calendar schedule of the court.
Docket Number: The number assigned by a court to a civil or criminal case. It is used to identify all court actions and it appears on all documents filed with the court in a specific case.
Domicile: The place where a person has been physically present with the intent to make that place a permanent home. A "residence," on the other hand, is the place where you are living at a particular time. A person can have more than one residence, but only one domicile.
Dower: A wife's common law right to inherit from her husband.