Superior Court of Contra Costa County

Virtual Self-Help Law Center

- Glossary of Legal Terms -


Below are some words or legal phrases that you may come across in this site. In the legal glossary you can:

  • You can read the definitions, or

  • In some cases, there is a link that looks like this: Show Me | Tell Me.

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The Superior Court in Sacramento has prepared legal glossaries in 12 languages. To view these, click here.

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Glossary A


Abandon/Abandonment: (a) When a parent leaves a child without enough care, supervision, support, or parental contact for an excessive period of time. (b) A tenant's remedy of moving out of a rental unit that is uninhabitable and that the landlord has not repaired within a reasonable time after receiving notice of the defects from the tenant.

Abstract of Judgment: Summary of the court’s final decision. Can be used as a lien if it is filed it with the county recorder.

Abuse: The Domestic Violence Prevention Act defines abuse as actual or threatened violence from physical injuries; sexual assault; attacking, striking, or battering; molesting; harassing; stalking; harassing or threatening telephone calls; destroying personal property; disturbing the peace; or threatening to do any of these. According to the law, the abuse can be physical, sexual, or verbal. It can include spoken or written abuse. (Family Code, sections 6203 and 6320) Opens new window

Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment: A court form that the judgment creditor must complete, sign, and file with the court as soon as the judgment is fully paid.

Action: In court, when one person sues someone else to: defend or enforce a right, stop something bad from happening or fix something, or punish them for a crime.

Adjourn: To put off a court hearing until another time or place.

Ajudicate: When a judge hears and decides a case.

Adjudication:The judge's decisioin in a case or action.

Ad litem: "For this lawsuit." Comes from Latin.

Administrative procedure: The way an executive government agency makes and enforces support orders without going to court.

Admissible evidence: Evidence that can legally and properly be used in court.

Admission: Saying that certain facts are true. But not saying you are guilty.
(Compare with confession)

Affidavit: A written statement that someone swears to under oath in front of someone that is legally authorized, like a judge or notary public.

Agent: Someone who has authority to act for another.

Agent for Service of Process: A person or legal entity that a corporation or other business entity designates as its agent for receipt of documents constituting service of process.

Alimony: Money the court orders one spouse or partner to pay to the other spouse or partner, or former spouse or partner. (See spousal or partner support.)

Allege: To say, declare, or charge that something is true even though it isn't proved yet.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR): Methods of resolving disputes without official court proceedings. These methods include mediation and arbitration.

Annulment (or nullity of marriage or domestic partnership):
A legal action that says a marriage or domestic partnership was never legally valid because of unsound mind, incest, bigamy, being under the age of consent, fraud, force, or physical incapacity.

Answer: A statement that a defendant writes to answer a civil complaint and say what defense they will use.

When someone that loses at least part of a case asks a higher court (called an "appellate court") to review the decision and say if it was right. This is called "to appeal" or "to take an appeal." The person that appeals is called the "appellant." The other person is called the "appellee."

When a person that isn't involved in the case looks at the evidence, hears the arguments, and makes a decision. (Compare with mediation and neutral evaluation.)

Arrearage: Past-due money owed. An unpaid or overdue debt, such as rent. Child support that is overdue or unpaid. A parent that has arrearages is "in arrears."

Assets: Anything owned that has monetary value. Assets can be large, like a house, or small, like a cell phone. Assets can include cars, televisions, washing machines, golf clubs, bank accounts and pensions.

Assignee: A person or business that is put in the place of the original creditor, such as a collection agency. You can assign your judgment to another person or business.

At-issue memorandum:
A legal paper filed in a civil case that says the case is ready to go to trial. (See memorandum to set.)

Attorney: Someone that is qualified to represent clients in court and to give them legal advice. (See counsel and lawyer.)