20 Legal Terms You Should Know

  1. Party -- An individual who is a participant in a legal action and whose names appears on the documents filed with the court. A party is sometimes referred to as a litigant.
  2. Action -- A court proceeding one party brings against another party. The term is used interchangeably with legal action, case, cause, suit or lawsuit.
  3. Domestic Case -- A legal action that involves a family law or related matter.
  4. Civil Case -- A legal action between the two individuals as opposed to a criminal action which is a legal action between the state and an individual.
  5. Filing -- The process of taking the pleadings to the courthouse and having them processed by the clerk of court.
  6. Clerk of Court-- The administrative personnel that processes the paperwork that is filed in the courtroom or at the courthouse. The person/office at the courthouse who processes the pleadings and schedules the court hearings.
  7. Plaintiff -- The party who files the action or lawsuit. The plaintiff may also be referred to as a petitioner, or complainant.
  8. Defendant -- The party who the action or lawsuit is being filed against. The defendant may also be referred to as respondent.
  9. Pro Se -- A party who handles his/her own legal action without the assistance of an attorney.
  10. Docket -- A list of all the cases that will be heard on a particular session or day in a particular courtroom.
  11. Complaint/Petition -- The document the plaintiff/petitioner files with the court in order to initiate the court action. For example, a complaint for custody will contain the facts and allegations the law requires to support a claim for custody.
  12. Answer -- The document the defendant/respondent files in response to the complaint/petition.
  13. Motion – A document that is filed with the court when the parties already have a case pending in the courts.
  14. Counterclaim -- An action a party files in response to a claim that has been filed against him/her.
  15. Pleadings - Any of the documents filed in order to initiate or respond to court action.  The two most common pleadings in a divorce action are a complaint and an answer.
  16. Judgment -- This is the document that contains the judge's decision or ruling in a particular case. It is sometimes referred to as an Order.
  17.  Summons -- The document the plaintiff/petitioner sends to the defendant notifying him/her that a lawsuit has been filed against him/her.  It contains the information regarding how much time the defendant has to respond to the complaint/petition.
  18. Service of Process -- The formal process by which the plaintiff has the complaint and summons delivered to the defendant.
  19. Subpoena -- A formal request issued by court to a party or witness to appear in court or produce documents.
  20. Statutes -- The collection of the laws enacted by the state legislature.

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