Glossary of Terms
Below is a list of terms / phrases and their definitions that are commonly used in the court system.
Abatement - To reduce, diminish or temporarily suspend.
Adjournment - The postponing or putting off of a case or session of court until another time or place.
Adjudication - A final judicial determination by the giving of a Judgment or a decree in a civil case.
Adoption - The act by which a person takes the child of another into his or her own family and makes the child, for all legal purposes, his or her own child.
Adversary Proceedings - Actions contested by opposing parties.
Affidavit - A written statement of fact that is verified by oath or affirmation.
Aid to Families with Dependent Children - A program of public assistance administered by the Family Independence Agency.
Alimony - See spousal support in Friend of the Court Handbook (PDF).
Alternative Dispute Resolution - A method to resolve disagreements without the direct intervention of the court. See Arbitration, Conciliation, and/or Mediation in the Friend of the Court Handbook (PDF).
Appeal - An application to a higher court requesting a change of the judgment of a lower court.
Appellate Court - A court that reviews lower court decisions, generally on the record of the lower court.
- Coming into court: The formal act by which a defendant submits to the jurisdiction of the court.
- Document identifying one who is representing himself or another. An attorney files an "appearance" making it known that (s)he is representing an individual.
Arbitration / Binding Mediation - A procedure for the determination of a disputed matter. Legally binding, as opposed to mediation.
Arrearage - Money that is overdue.
Attorney - A lawyer; a person admitted to legal practice who is qualified to represent the legal interests of another person.
Bail Bond - A financial obligation that guarantees a person's future appearance in court.
Bench Warrant - An order issued by the court from the bench (judge) for the arrest of a person, so that (s)he may be brought before the court.
Burden of Proof - The duty to establish facts in a dispute. In civil matters, this burden may be a "preponderance of the evidence" or "clear and convincing evidence."
Caseload - The number of cases a Friend of the Court caseworker handles at any given time.
Cash Bond - A payment of a specific amount of money to guarantee future support payments will be made.
Certified Copy - A copy of an order signed and certified as an exact true copy by the officer of the court having possession of the original order.
Change of Venue - Transfer or removal of a case to a court of anther geographical location and jurisdiction, either because it should have been there in the first place, or for the convenience of the parties or witnesses, or because a fair trial cannot be had in the original court location.
Chief Judge - In courts with two or more judges, one judge is selected as chief judge. The chief judge is the director of the administration of the court.
Child Abuse / Neglect - Mistreatment of a minor by an adult legally responsible for the minor.
Child Born Out-of-Wedlock - A child born to parents who are not married to one another.
Child Support - Payment of money for a child in a divorce, paternity, or family support act proceeding. Support includes health care, and may include educational and childcare expenses.
Child Support Formula - Factors considered by the Friend of the Court and the Prosecuting Attorney when making a recommendation, and by the circuit court when making a determination for an appropriate amount of child support. Both parents' incomes are considered under the formula.
Child Support Guidelines - See Child Support Formula.
Circuit Court - The trial court in Michigan that ears many types of cases. Domestic relations actions are tried in this court.
Commit - The act of sending a person to jail, pursuant to a court order.
Complaint - The original pleading in a domestic relations matter. In this pleading, the plaintiff alleges the basis for the suit and states the remedy requested.
Conciliation - A method of Alternative Dispute Resolution utilized by many Friend of the Court offices. The conciliator attempts to assist parties in resolving disputes, but may prepare a recommendation if the parties are not able to reach agreement on issues.
Contempt of Court Hearing - Also known as a "show cause" hearing. A court hearing in which the person alleged to be in violation of the court order has the opportunity to show good cause why (s)he did not comply.
Counsel - An attorney.
Custody - Care and keeping of anything, i.e., children in a domestic relations action.
Defendant - The person against whom a lawsuit is started.
Delinquent - In regards to child support and amount owed but not paid.
District Court - All criminal cases are started in the district court. The District Court hears all misdemeanors and civil cases under $10,000, including small claims.
Dismissal - A court order terminating a particular case.
Divorce - The legal termination of a marriage.
Domestic Relations Action - Any action involving families. Divorce, paternity, and family support actions are all considered domestic relations actions.
Domicile - The permanent home to which a person, when absent, always intends to return.
Emancipation - The act by which one attains adulthood. Emancipation may occur when a child reaches the age of majority, marries, enters military service, or by court order.
Enforcement - Activity engaged in by the Friend of the Court to bring an alleged violator of a court order into compliance.
Evidence - Proof allowed at a hearing. Evidence may be presented through testimony of witnesses and by documents, records and other material.
Ex Parte - On the request of one party only, without notice to any other party.
Ex Parte Order - An Order made by the court upon the request of one party without prior notice to the other party.
Family Independence Agency - The agency providing public assistance to families. Includes the Office of Child Support.
Fees - A charge fixed by law for services.
File - To put in the records of the court.
Filing - The act of recording with the clerk of the court the various legal documents regarding a suit.
Garnishment - A court order to take part of a person's wages or other money owed to him/her before (s)he receives the money, because of an unpaid debt owed to a creditor.
Guardian - The person who has legal duty and power to take care of another person who by age, or incompetence, is unable to care for him/herself.
Guardian Ad Litem - A person appointed by the court during the course of a litigation for the purpose of protecting the interests of an infant or incompetent adult.
Hearsay - A statement made outside of the hearing. Most hearsay evidence is not allowed as evidence in court.
Inactive Case - A case for which the Friend of the Court is no longer responsible for initiating enforcement or other services. May also be called a "closed case."
Income Withholding Order - An order of the circuit court. It directs an employer, or source of income, to withhold a fixed amount and send that amount to the Friend of the Court for purposes of support.
Interstate Income Withholding Order - An order entered to secure payment of support through an employer in another state.
Joint Custody - An order of the circuit court that provides:
- Parents will share in major decisions affecting their children (joint legal custody).
- Children will live with one parent part of the time and the other parent part of the time (joint physical custody).
Judgment - The decision of a court.
Jurisdiction - The power of the court to decide cases before it. This power depends on the type of case and how closely connected the parties are to the county where the court is located.
L.E.I.N - Law Enforcement Information Network. A computer system containing files on wanted persons.
Lien - A claim against real or personal property. The owner cannot sell the property without first paying the debt. It also subjects the property to seizure and sale.
Litigant - A party to a legal action.
Litigation - The process of resolving a dispute in court.
- A process parties can use to reach their own agreements without going to court. The Friend of the Court provides mediation services when there is a dispute regarding custody or parenting time.
- Binding Mediation - A procedure used to determine a disputed matter. The mediator's decision is binding upon both parties.
Minor - A person under the age of 18 years.
Mutual Agreement - An arrangement reached by parties on their own free will without duress or coercion.
Office of Child Support - The office within the Family Independence Agency that administers federal child support program funds, coordinates location of absent parents and manages the process for income tax intercepts. This office may also initiate complaints under the Paternity Act and the Family Support Act.
Order - A decision of the court made in writing.
Party - A person legally involved in a particular action.
Paternity Suit - An action to prove who the father of an illegitimate child is.
Payee - The person or agency to whom support is sent. Also known as recipient.
Payer - The person who is ordered to remit support.
Petition - A formal request made in writing to the court.
Plaintiff - The person who originally files the action.
Pleadings - Papers filed by parties in a lawsuit stating claims against each other, or his/her defenses to those claims.
Power of Attorney - A written instrument appointing and authorizing a person to act in the place of another as agent or substitute.
Pretrial Conference - Informal hearing between the judge and attorneys (and sometimes parties) to discuss any matters that can be resolved prior to a court hearing.
Probate Court - The court that handles conservatorships, guardianships, wills, estates, and commitment of mentally ill persons. The court also has jurisdiction over matters involving minors, usually through a juvenile division.
Pro Per - A person who represents himself or herself in court without an attorney. Also known as Pro Se.
PS - An abbreviation for the Protective Services unit of the Michigan Family Independence Agency.
Recipient - A person or agency to whom support is paid. Also known as payee.
Reconciliation - When parties to a domestic relations action are attempting to work out his/her differences and remain as a family unit.
Referee - A person who holds hearings, takes testimony, and makes recommendations for orders to the court. A referee may be the person serving as the Friend of the Court, or an attorney appointed by the court to hear domestic relations actions.
Residence - The place where one presently lives.
RURESA - An abbreviation for "Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act." Pertains to non-support actions against a parent in another state.
Show Cause Hearing - A court hearing which is held so that a person can present reasons why (s)he should not be considered in violation of a specific court order. Also known as "Contempt of Court" hearing.
Sole Custody - An order of the court that provides that children reside with one parent and that parent is responsible for all decisions affecting them.
Statute of Limitations - In civil matters, the time limit on the right to seek relief in court for damages.
Statutes - Laws of the State of Michigan enacted by the Legislature.
Stipulation - A mutual agreement between parties or his/her attorneys that resolves a particular issue.
Summons - A notice given to a party that a court action has been started against them.
Support Order - An order issued by the circuit court ordering the payment of money for children or spouse in a domestic relations action.
Supreme Court - The Court of last resort in Michigan, the highest appeals court in the state.
Suspension - Held up or put on the shelf; temporarily stopped.
T.A.N.F. - Temporary Aid to Needy Families
Testimony - The statement of a witness under oath that is given as evidence.
Transcript - A word for word record of proceedings at a hearing.
Venue - The county in which proceedings may be commenced. Also see Change of Venue.
Visitation Order - An order that establishes time between the children and the parent with whom (s)he do not primarily reside. Also known as a "parenting time" order.
Waive - To give up a right, claim, or privilege.
Warrant - A paper issued by a judge that allows police to arrest a person. (See Bench Warrant.)
Witness - One who testifies to what (s)he has seen, heard, or otherwise observed.