COMMON LEGAL TERMS
- The following was compiled by
the Register of Probate - Plymouth County and by the Boston
Bar Association - Our special thanks to all
Affidavit of Indigency:
This is a sworn statement filed by people of
limited means, often to get filing fees waived and to have the state pay for
the costs of having a process server "serve" the court papers on
an opposing party in their case.
paid to someone you are legally married to or who you were legally married
to in the past.
court case starts with a complaint filed by a plaintiff. A defendant
usually has 20 days (after being served with a complaint) to file a
written answer in court admitting or denying each paragraph of the
An Assistant Register assists the Judge in the courtroom and
helps to process court papers in the Register's Office. Often this is the person that you check in with
when you go to the courtroom where your case will be heard by a
Child Support Guidelines:
This is the court established formula that the Judge uses to set a
child support order. It is based primarily on the income of the
parties, the number of children and the ages of children.
In a child guardianship case, a
"citation" is the form that must be "served" on the
parents or other parties to the case to give notice of the case when the
parents or the other parties have not signed their "assent"
(meaning that they agree) to the guardianship.
A court case is started with a complaint.
The type of complaint which is best for you depends on what you want from
the court and will depend on your relationship to the parties in the
case. Unmarried parents often file paternity or Chapter 209C
complaints; married parties often file divorce or separate support
Complaint for Contempt:
A complaint filed by one party against another for failure to comply with
an order of the Court.
A refusal to comply with an order of the Court.
Court officers are in the courthouse to keep the
peace and to provide for the safety of Judges, court staff and the
public. Court officers usually wear uniforms.
Physical Custody, Shared Legal Custody, Sole Custody.
The person against whom a complaint is filed is called the
divorce complaint is filed to legally end a marriage and to deal with
division of marital property, debts, support, and children.
Every court case is given a number. This
is on the upper right corner of most court papers.
(the Department of Revenue) is the state child support agency and is
involved in cases if a party or the child have received public
assistance. DOR is involved in other cases if the child support is
paid through DOR or a person seeking support applies for DOR
Family Service Officer:
The Family Service Officer meets with you to see
what your case is about and to try to help you reach a written agreement
with the other party on the day of your hearing. The Family Service
Officer is not a Judge and usually not a lawyer; he or she can repeat what
you say to the Judge. The Judge also can order that the Family
Service Office do a more detailed investigation of your case.
You will have to fill out this form describing
your financial situation if your case involves issues of support or other
financial matters. Your Financial Statement is one of the most
important documents in your case. Do not wait until the last minute
to fill it out. Be sure to attach copies of your W-2's and 1099 tax
forms from the prior year to the Financial Statement.
The Judge makes an order for an immediate or a suspended (inactive) income
assignment whenever child support is ordered. If the order is
immediate, the employer (or other source of income) is sent a copy of the
order requiring that the child support be taken out of a paycheck (or
other source of income) starting immediately. A suspended order can
be changed to an immediate assignment if a parent gets behind in support
Cases usually start with temporary orders. After a trial or a
written agreement of the parties for final resolution of the case, a
judgment is entered. Usually, a judgment cannot be changed without a
substantial change of circumstances.
Judgment of Divorce Nisi:
The initial divorce judgment. After the judgment nisi enters
following a divorce hearing, the divorce becomes absolute and final in 90 days.
Marking a Motion:
This means scheduling a hearing on a motion. A motion is used to
request temporary orders until the Court enters a final judgment or
further temporary orders. Unless there is a dire emergency, a motion
cannot be marked until the complaint and summons are served.
A complaint for modification is needed to start a Court case to change a
judgment of the Court. (See judgment). Motions to change temporary
orders may be filed while a case is pending, but the Judge often does not
modify (change) the temporary orders until trial unless things have
changed in a major way since the last Court order.
Cases involving parents who have children but who have not been married to
each other. Also called "Chapter 209C" cases.
Physical custody means the person with whom the child lives with.
The person who files the complaint is called the plaintiff.
The complaint and summons have to be served (delivered) on a
defendant. Deputy Sheriffs or constables are process servers who can
serve a complaint, summons, or other court papers.
Whenever you file a motion for temporary orders, you must file a proposed
order telling the Court what you want ordered.
Pro Se party:
If you appear in court without a lawyer, you are a "pro se"
(pronounced "pro say") party - meaning you represent
Return of Service:
A summons and complaint have to be "served." The return of
service is the part of the summons filled in by a Deputy Sheriff or other
person who served the papers describing how service was made.
Separate Support case:
A married person may file this complaint if he or she does not want a
divorce, but wants to live separately from a spouse and needs support or
child custody orders. ( A married person seeking only support may
also file a complaint for support).
Shared Legal Custody:
This means both parents make decisions together on major issues relating
to their child such as education, medical treatment, religion, and other
important issues in the child's life. If a parent has sole legal
custody, he or she can make the important decisions about the child
without getting input from the other parent.
Shared Legal Custody and Physical Custody to
One Parent: This means the child lives
with one parent, but both parents participate in making important decisions about the
Shared Legal Custody and Shared Physical
Custody: This means the child spends
substantial time living with both parents and both parents participate in
decisions about the child.
(Sole Legal and Sole Physical Custody): This means the child lives
with one parent who is solely responsible for making major decisions about
the child and for the child's general upbringing.
Written agreements filed in Court cases.
After a complaint is filed, a summons will be issued so that the defendant
can receive official notice of the case. Copies of the summons and
complaint must be "served" on the defendant in the case.
This is a Court order that sets out when the parent who does not have
physical custody can spend time with the child.