Image of Scales A Brief Guide to Legal Terms Frequently Used in Family Law

Acknowledgment of Service
a Document signed by the respondent to say to the Court that he/she has received a copy of the Petition.

Affidavit
A written statement that the party signs in front of a notary public, after swearing (or affirming) that the statement is true.

Affidavit of indigence
A document which explains to the Court that you do not have money to pay the filing fee and cannot get the money. The document requests that the filing fee be waived so you have access to the Court.

Biological father
The birth father of a child.

Case manager
The staff person in the judge's office who schedules hearings, trials, and helps make sure all paperwork is correctly filed.

Civil Action No
The number assigned to your case so that all the pleadings will be kept in the same file.

Complaint
The initial pleading in a civil case that states the facts charged. In Family Division, the initial pleading is called a "petition".

Conformed copy
A word for word copy of a document.

Consent Agreement
When both parties sign an agreement so that the Judge may enter an order without holding a hearing.

Consent to Try
A document to be signed by both parties in order for the Court to enter a Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce 31 days after the Respondent signs the Acknowledgment of Service or 31 days after the Respondent is served with the Petition.

Contempt
A deliberate disobedience of a court order. You may be able to file a "Motion for Contempt" to tell the Court about the disobedience and request the Court to take action to make the person obey the order.

Custodian
A parent or any other person who has physical custody of the child

Defendant
The person against whom an action is brought. In Family Division, this person is usually called the "respondent".

Enter an order
How an order becomes effective. It involves getting the signature of a Judge on an order and filing the order with the county clerk.

Final Judgement and Decree of Divorce
The order the judge signs granting a divorce. There is no divorce until this last detail has been done.

First Class Mail
A way of delivering Court papers to the other party by regular mail.

Guardian
A person authorized by law (through Probate Court) to take care of another person and manage this person's money or property. This is not the same as Custody.

Guardian ad Litem
A person--usually an attorney--appointed by the Court to represent the child and make sure the child's rights and best interests are protected.

Hearing
A Court meeting where both parties explain why the Judge should or should not do something that has been requested by one of the parties.

In forma pauperis
A Latin term. See Affidavit of Indigence.

Income deduction order
A court order directing that child support payments be withheld from the wages of the parent who has to pay child support.

Jurisdiction
A term that indicates a Court's authority to decide certain types of cases.

Legal Custody
A party's right to have access to a child's medical, school, and other records, and to be involved in the major decisions affecting said child. Legal custody is defined by statute.

Legal father
A Father who has legitimated his child; a Father who was married to the Mother of the child at the time of its birth; a Father who married the Mother after the child was born and then completed an affidavit of paternity stating or acknowledging that the child is his child.

Legal Separation
see Separate Maintenance

Legitimation
A legal action brought by a Father to establish his legal rights concerning his child who was "born out of wedlock".

Marital Property
Things and money acquired during the marriage, except for inheritances and gifts, up until the Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce is entered.

Modification
A petition requesting the Court to change an order that has been granted at some other time, used in connection with child support or alimony.

Moral Turpitude
An act or behavior that gravely violates the accepted moral standards of the community, such as fraud, rape, and murder.

Motion
A request made by either party for the Court to take action in a pending case.

No-Fault Divorce
Some people use this term to refer to the ground for divorce stated in the petition that "the marriage is irretrievably broken." The normal procedure for divorce must still be followed.

Non-Custodial Parent
The parent who does not have physical custody of a child (although he or she might have visitation rights).

O.C.G.A.
Official Code of Georgia Annotated is the set of books that contains the laws (statutes) of the State of Georgia.

Objection
What a party objects to in a proposed or recommended order.

Order
A decision signed by a Judge requiring certain actions. This decision is filed with the Clerk of Court so that there is a record of the Judge's decision.

Party
A person involved in a case may include someone other than a spouse if the Court grants that person's request to be part of case.

Paternity Establishment
A legal action brought by either a Father, Mother or another interested part to establish that a man is the biological father of a child, and therefore has a duty to support the child he has fathered.

Pauper's affidavit
See Affidavit of Indigence.

Pending Case
A Court case where no final judgment order has been entered.

Petition
A form filed with a court that requests that a Judge do something for you.

Petition for Divorce
A written complaint filed with the Court to start the divorce proceeding.

Petitioner
The person who starts a case by filing a petition with the Court, may in some cases be listed as "Plaintiff."

Physical Custody
When a person a has actual physical control over the child or children. Usually the child will live in the household of the person who has physical custody.

Plaintiff
A person who files the initial petition to start a case. Sometimes called Petitioner.

Pro se
A Latin term that indicates a person who files a court action but does not have an attorney.

Proposed Order
An order which has not yet been signed by the Judge.

Respondent
The person who the petition is being filed against; the person who should respond to the petition; may in some cases be listed as the Defendant.

Rule Nisi
A hearing held by the Court to determine any issue on a temporary basis.

Separation
When the spouses no longer share the same living quarters or bedroom.

Separation Agreement

Service
How a party receives legal papers.

Sheriff's Entry of Service
A form which tells how the Sheriff served the copies of the petition on the respondent. The form also tells if the Sheriff could not serve the petition.

Summons
The cover sheet placed on a Petition which notifies the Respondent to file an answer within 30 days of receiving a Petition. The summons also lets the Respondent know if the Petitioner is represented by an attorney.

Surname
Last name.

True Copy
A copy of a Court paper imprinted with the seal of the Court to show that the copy is real.

Venue
The county in which a case must be tried. Usually the venue is based on where an event took place or where the parties live.

Verification
A document signed by the party swearing that all facts contained in the petition are true. A notary public must witness the signing and fill out a form.

Waiver of Venue
A form that a respondent who lives in another county can fill out relinquishing his/her right to have a divorce filed in his/her county of residence. The form must be accompanied by a verification.


Legal dictionaries with many more detailed definitions are available both in the Family Law Information Center and in the Fulton County Law Library.







Family Division
Superior Court of Fulton County
136 Pryor Street, S.W.
Suite C-826
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
Office Number: 404-612-0505
Fax Number: 404-335-8659