Lawyers are ready to help during these stressful times. Schedule your consultation >

Resource Library

Free Online Legal Resources

Legal Dictionary

A

  • A fortiori

    More effective; with greater reason
    Back To Top
  • A vinculo matrimonii

    Latin: of marriage. The term is now used to refer to a final and permanent dissolution of the marriage by a decree of annulment on the ground that the marriage was void ab initio, from the beginning.
    Back To Top
  • Ab initio

    Latin: from the start.
    Back To Top
  • Abatement

    A reduction in some amount that is owed, usually granted by the person to whom the debt is owed. For example, a landlord might grant an abatement in rent. In estate law, the word may refer more specifically to a situation where property identified in a will cannot be given to the beneficiary because it had to be sold to pay off the deceased debts. Debts are paid before gifts made in wills are distributed and where a specific gift has to be sold to pay off a debt, it is said to "abate" (compare with "ademption").
    Back To Top
  • Abbacinare

    A barbaric form of corporal punishment meted out in the middle ages where persons would be permanently blinded by the pressing of hot irons to the open eyes.
    Back To Top
  • Abduction

    To take someone away from a place without that person's consent or by fraud.
    Back To Top
  • Abet

    The act of encouraging or inciting another to do a certain thing, such as a crime. For example, many countries will equally punish a person who aids or abets another to commit a crime.
    Back To Top
  • Acceleration clause

    A clause in a contract that states that if a payment is missed, or some other default occurs (such as the debtor becoming insolvent), then the contract is fully due immediately. This is a typical clause in a loan contract; miss one payment and the agreement to pay at regular intervals is voided and the entire amount becomes due and payable immediately.
    Back To Top
  • Acceptance

    One of three requisites to a valid contract under common law (the other two being an offer and consideration). A contract is a legally binding agreement between two or more parties which starts with an offer from one person but which does not become a contract until the other party signifies an unequivocal willingness to accept the terms of that offer. The moment of acceptance is the moment from which a contract is said to exist, and not before. Acceptance need not always be direct and can, in certain circumstances, be implied by conduct (see acquiescence below).
    Back To Top
  • Accord and Satisfaction

    A term of contract law by which one party, having complied with its obligation under a contract, accepts some type of compensation from the other party (usually money and of a lesser value) in lieu of enforcing the contract and holding the other party to their obligation. This discharges the contract. The definition cited by lawyers is usually that found in British Russian Gazette & Trade Outlook Ltd. v. Associated Newspapers Ltd. (1933) 2 K.B. 616: "Accord and satisfaction is the purchase of a release from an obligation arising under contract or tort by means of any valuable consideration, not being the actual performance of the obligation itself. The accord is the agreement by which the obligation is discharged. The satisfaction is the consideration which makes the agreement operative."
    Back To Top
  • Accretion

    The imperceptible and gradual addition to land by the slow action of water. Heavy rain, river or ocean action would have this effect by either washing up sand or soil or by a permanent retreat of the high water mark. The washing up of soil is often called avulsion although the latter term is but a variety of accretion.
    Back To Top
  • ACF

    Administration for Children and Families
    Back To Top
  • Acquiescence

    Action or inaction which binds a person legally even though it was not intended as such. For example, action which is not intended as a direct acceptance of a contract will nevertheless stand as such as it implies recognition of the terms of the contract. For example, if I display a basket of fruit in a marketplace and you come by, inspect an apple and then bite into it, you have acquiesced to the contract of sale of that apple. Acquiescence also refers to allowing too much time to pass since you had knowledge of an event which may have allowed you to have legal recourse against another, implying that you waive your rights to that legal recourse.
    Back To Top
  • Act

    A bill which has passed through the various legislative steps required for it and which has become law, as in "an Act of the Commonwealth of Australia." Synonymous to statute, legislation or law.
    Back To Top
  • Act of God

    An event which is caused solely by the effect of nature or natural causes and without any interference by humans whatsoever. Insurance contracts often exclude "acts of God" from the list of insurable occurrences as a means to waive their obligations for damage caused by hurricanes, floods or earthquakes, all examples of "acts of God".
    Back To Top
  • Ad damnum

    Latin: refers to the parts or sections of a petition that speaks to the damages that were suffered and claimed by the plaintiff. The ad damnum part of a petition will usually suggest an amount in dollars that the plaintiff asks the court to award.
    Back To Top
  • Ad hoc

    Latin: for this purpose; for a specific purpose. An ad hoc committee, for example, is created with a unique and specific purpose or task and once it has studied and reports on the matter, it stands disbanded (compare with standing committee).
    Back To Top
  • Ad infinitum

    Latin: forever; without limit; indefinitely.
    Back To Top
  • Ad litem

    Latin: for the suit. A person appointed only for the purposes of prosecuting or defending an action on behalf of another such as a child or mentally-challenged person. Also called a guardian ad litem.
    Back To Top
  • Addendum

    An attachment to a written document. For example, affidavits may be addendums to a petition as a petition may be an addendum to a writ.
    Back To Top
  • Ademption

    When property identified in a will cannot be given to the beneficiary because it no longer belonged to the deceased at the time of death. For example, the particular gift may have been destroyed, sold or given away between the time of the will and the time of death. Compare this with "abatement".
    Back To Top
  • Adhesion contract

    A fine-print consumer form contract which is generally given to consumers at point-of-sale, with no opportunity for negotiation as to it's terms, and which, typically, sets out the terms and conditions of the sale, usually to the advantage of the seller.
    Back To Top
  • Administrative Law

    the area of law dealing with governmental agencies.
    Back To Top
  • Administrative Procedure

    method by which support orders are made and enforced by an executive agency rather than by courts and judges
    Back To Top
  • Administrative tribunal

    Hybrid adjudicating authorities which straddle the line between government and the courts. Between routine government policy decision-making bodies and the traditional court forums lies a hybrid, sometimes called a "tribunal" or "administrative tribunal" and not necessarily presided by judges. These operate as a government policy-making body at times but also exercise a licensing, certifying, approval or other adjudication authority which is "quasi-judicial" because it directly affects the legal rights of a person. Administrative tribunals are often referred to as "Commission", "Authority" or "Board."
    Back To Top
  • Administrator

    A person who administers the estate of a person deceased. The administrator is appointed by a court and is the person who would then have power to deal with the debts and assets of a person who died intestate. Female administrators are called "administratrix." An administrator is a personal representative.
    Back To Top
  • Admiralty Law/Maritime

    the area of law that relates to the high seas and other navigable waters, which is administered by the admiralty courts.
    Back To Top
  • Adoption Law

    the area of law that deals with the relationship of parent to child of another person, usually a minor, by official legal action.
    Back To Top
  • ADR

    Abbreviation for alternative dispute resolution.
    Back To Top
  • Adultery

    Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and another person who is not their married spouse. In most countries, this is a legal ground for divorce. The person who seduces another's spouse is known as the "adulterer." In old English law, this was also known as criminal conversation.
    Back To Top
  • Adverse possession

    The possession of land, without legal title, for a period of time sufficient to become recognized as legal owner. The more common word for this is "squatters." Each state has its own period of time after which a squatter can acquire legal title. Some states prohibit title by mere prescription or possession.
    Back To Top
  • AEI

    Automated Administrative Enforcement of Interstate Cases
    Back To Top
  • AFDC

    Aid to Families with Dependent Children
    Back To Top
  • Affidavit

    A statement which before being signed, the person signing takes an oath that the contents are, to the best of their knowledge, true. It is also signed by a notary or some other judicial officer that can administer oaths, to the effect that the person signing the affidavit was under oath when doing so. These documents carry great weight in Courts to the extent that judges frequently accept an affidavit instead of the testimony of the witness
    Back To Top
  • Agent

    A person who has received the power to act on behalf of another, binding that other person as if he or she were themselves making the decisions. The person who is being represented by the agent is referred to as the "principal."
    Back To Top
  • Aggravated damages

    Special and highly exceptional damages awarded by a court where the circumstances of the tortious conduct have been particularly humiliating or malicious towards the plaintiff/victim.
    Back To Top
  • Agriculture Law

    the area of law focusing on issues relating to the practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock and/or the preparation and marketing of the resulting products.
    Back To Top
  • Aid To Families With Dependent Children

    assistance payments made on behalf of children who don`t have the financial support of one of their parents by reason of death, disability, or continued absence from the home; known in many States as ADC (Aid to Dependent Children)
    Back To Top
  • Alienate

    To sell or give completely and without reserve; to transfer title to somebody else. A voluntary conveyance of property, especially real property.
    Back To Top
  • Alimony

    An amount given to one spouse to another while they are separated. Historically, the word "alimony" referred to monies paid while spouses were legally separated but stilled wedlocked. Where they were divorced, the monies payable were then referred to as "maintenance" but this distinction is now in disuse.
    Back To Top
  • Alliance

    A military treaty between two or more states, providing for a mutually-planned offensive, or for assistance in the case of attack on any member.
    Back To Top
  • Allodial

    A kind of land ownership that is unfetterred, outright and absolute. It is the opposite of the feudal system and supposes no obligation to another (ie. a lord).
    Back To Top
  • Allonge

    A piece of paper which has been attached to a contract, a check or any promissory note, on which to add signatures because there is not enough room on the main document.
    Back To Top
  • Alternative dispute resolution

    Also known as "ADR"; methods by which legal conflicts and disputes are resolved privately and other than through litigation in the public courts, usually through one of two forms: mediation or arbitration. It typically involves a process much less formal than the traditional court process and includes the appointment of a third-party to preside over a hearing between the parties. The advantages of ADR are speed and money: it costs less and is quicker than court litigation. ADR forums are also private. The disadvantage is that it often involves compromise.
    Back To Top
  • Alternatives to Bankruptcy

    the area of law that focuses on debtor assistance other than Bankruptcy (see bankruptcy).
    Back To Top
  • Amalgamation

    The merging of two things together to form one such as the amalgamation of different companies to form a single company.
    Back To Top
  • Ambassador

    A citizen that has been officially asked by their country to live in another country in order to legally represent it. For example, the USA has sent ambassadors to live, and represent the USA, in almost all other countries.
    Back To Top
  • Ambulatory

    Something which is not cast in stone; which can be changed or revoked, such as a will.
    Back To Top
  • Amend

    To change, to revise, usually to the wording of a written document such as legislation.
    Back To Top
  • Amicus curiae

    Latin: friend of the court. Refers more specifically to persons asking for permission to intervene in a case in which they are neither plaintiff or defendant, usually to present their point of view (or that of their organization) in a case which has the potential of setting a legal precedent in their area of activity. This is common, for example, in civil rights cases and, in some instances, can only be done with the permission of the parties or the court.
    Back To Top
  • Animus contrahendi

    Latin: an intention to contract.
    Back To Top
  • Annulment

    To make void; to cancel an event or judicial proceeding both retroactively and for the future. Where, for example, a marriage is annulled, it is struck from all records and stands as having never transpired in law. This differs from a divorce which merely cancels a valid marriage only from the date of the divorce. A marriage annulled stands, in law, as if never performed.
    Back To Top
  • Antedate

    To date back; retroactively. To date a document to a time before it was written.
    Back To Top
  • Antenuptial

    An event or document which pre-dates a marriage. For example, an "antenuptial agreement" is one which is signed before marriage. A antenuptial gift is a gift given by one spouse to the other before marriage.
    Back To Top
  • Anti-trust

    (USA)"Anti-trust" legislation is designed to prevent businesses from price-setting or other secret collaboration which circumvents the natural forces of a free market economy and gives those engaging in the anti-trust conduct, a covert competitive edge. Also known as "anti-combines" or "competition" legislation.
    Back To Top
  • Antitrust & Trade Regulation

    the area of law that protects trade and commerce from unlawful restraints and monopolies or unfair business practices.
    Back To Top
  • Appeal

    To ask a more senior court or person to review a decision of a subordinate court or person. In some countries such as Canada, the USA and Australia, appeals can continue all the way up to the Supreme Court, where the decision is final in that it can no longer be appealed. That is why it is called "supreme" (although, in Australia the supreme court is called the High Court).
    Back To Top
  • Appellate Law

    the area of law relating to appeals to higher courts of law.
    Back To Top
  • Apportionment

    The division and distribution of something into proportionate parts; to each according to their share. For example, if a court ordered apportionment of a contract, the party would be required to perform only to a extent equal to the performance of the other side.
    Back To Top
  • Appurtenance

    Something that, although detached, stands as part of another thing. An attachment or appendage to something else. Used often in a real estate context where an "appurtenance" may be, for example, a right-of-way over water, which, although physically detached, is part of the legal rights of the owner of another property.
    Back To Top
  • Arbitration

    the process of resolving a dispute or a grievance outside of the court system by presenting it to an impartial third party or panel for a decision that may or may not be binding (see also mediation and alternative dispute resolution).
    Back To Top
  • Arraignment

    In USA criminal law, the formal appearance of an accused person to hear, and to receive a copy of, the charge against him or her, in the presence of a judge, and to then enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The arraignment is the final preparatory step before the criminal trial.
    Back To Top
  • Arrearages

    unpaid child support for past periods owed by a parent who is obligated to pay
    Back To Top
  • Arrears

    A debt that is not paid on the due date adds up and accumulates as "arrears". For example, if you do not pay your rent, the debt still exists and is referred to as "arrears". The same word is used to describe child or spousal maintenance or support which is not paid by the due date.
    Back To Top
  • Arson

    Some countries define "arson" as the intentional setting of a fire to a building in which people live; others include as "arson" the intentionally setting of a fire to any building. In either case, this is a very serious crime and is punishable by a long jail sentence.
    Back To Top
  • Assault

    The touching of another person with an intent to harm, without that person's consent.
    Back To Top
  • Assign

    To give, to transfer responsibility, to another. The assignee (sometimes also called "assigns") is the person who receives the right or property being given and the assignor is the person giving.
    Back To Top
  • Assignment Of Support Rights

    a person receiving public assistance agrees to turn over to the State any right to child support, including arrearages, paid by the obligated parent in exchange for receipt of a cash assistance grant and other benefits
    Back To Top
  • AT

    Action Transmittal
    Back To Top
  • Attorn or Attornment

    To consent, implicitly or explicitly, to a transfer of a right. Often used to describe a situation where a tenant, by staying on location after the sale of the leased property, accepts to be a tenant of the new landlord; or where a person consents to ("attorns to") the jurisdiction of a court which would not have otherwise had any authority over that person.
    Back To Top
  • Attorney

    An alternate word for lawyers or "barrister & solicitor", used mostly in the USA. A person that has been trained in the law and that has been certified to give legal advice or to represent others in litigation
    Back To Top
  • Attractive Nuisance Doctrine

    A legal doctrine which makes a person negligent for leaving a piece of equipment or other condition on property which would be both attractive and dangerous to curious children. These have included tractors, unguarded swimming pools, open pits, and abandoned refrigerators. Liability could be placed on the people owning or controlling the premises even when the child was a trespasser who sneaked on the property. Basically the doctrine was intended to make people careful about what dangerous conditions they left untended. Some jurisdictions (including California) have abolished the attractive nuisance doctrine and replaced it with specific conditions (e.g. open pit and refrigerators) and would make property owners liable only by applying rules of foreseeable danger which make negligence harder to prove.
    Back To Top
  • Audi alteram partem

    Latin: a principle of natural justice which prohibits a judicial decision which impacts upon individual rights without giving all parties in the dispute a right to be heard. Habeas corpus was an early expression of the audi alteram partem principle. In more recent years, it has been extended to include the right to receive notice of a hearing and to be given an opportunity to be represented or heard.
    Back To Top
  • Auto Lemon Law

    the area of law governed by statute that allows the purchaser of a car specific remedies if the car has a defect that impairs or significantly affects its use, value, or safety and that cannot be repaired within a specified period.
    Back To Top
  • Autrefois acquit

    French word now part of English criminal law terminology. Refers to an accused who cannot be tried for a crime because the record shows he has already been subjected to trial for the same conduct and was acquitted. If the accused maintains that the previous trial resulted in conviction, he or she pleads "autrefois convict." "Autrefois attaint" is another similar term; "attainted" for a felony, a person cannot be tried again for the same offence
    Back To Top
  • Aviation Law

    the area of law dealing with the operation of civilian aircraft often under the control of a common carrier. This legal arena usually focuses on airline disasters and wrongful death
    Back To Top
  • AVR

    Automated Voice Response System
    Back To Top
  • Avulsion

    Land accretion that occurs by the erosion or addition of one's land by the sudden and unexpected change in a river stream such as a flash flood.
    Back To Top
  • Avunculus

    Latin: a mother's brother. "Avuncular" refers to an uncle.
    Back To Top