Superior Court of Contra Costa County

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- 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:

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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 D

Damages: Money that the losing side must pay to the winning side to make up for losses or injuries. There are 2 kinds of damages: (1) "compensatory," meaning money to pay for the actual cost of an injury or loss; and (2)"punitive" or "exemplary," meaning an amount of money that's more than the actual damages. This is a punishment for willful or malicious acts.

DCSS (Department of Child Support Services):
A department of the State of California’s Health and Human Services Agency set up to "promote the well-being of children and the self-sufficiency of families by delivering first-rate child support establishment, collection, and distribution services that help both parents meet the financial, medical, and emotional needs of their children."

Debtor: A person or business that owes a debt (usually money). (See judgment debtor.)

Debtor's Examination: A court procedure a judgment creditor may use to make a judgment debtor provide the informatioin about his or her income and assets needed to collect the judgment debt. (Often called an "OEX", which is short for an "Order of Examination".)

Decision: A court’s judgment or decree that settles a dispute. (See also decree, judgment.)

Declaration: A sworn, written statement that is used as evidence in court. The statement supports or establishes a fact. The person that makes the declaration certifies or declares under penalty of perjury that the statement is true and correct. The person that makes the declaration is called the "declarant." The declarant must sign and date the declaration. The declaration must also say where the declaration was signed or that it was made under the laws of the State of California.

Declaration of Due Diligence: A statement of the efforts that have already been made to serve papers on the other party. (See diligence.)

Declaration of Paternity: A form which, when signed by both parents, legally establishes the man as the child's father. Signing the form allows an unmarried father's name to be placed on his child's birth certificate.

Decree: A court decision. It can be (1) "interlocutory," which means it is not a final decision, or (2) "final," which means all issues of the case are settled.

Deem: To consider or have an opinion. For example, to deem it necessary to do something.

When one person hurts another person’s character, fame, or reputation by making false and malicious statements that are not protected by law.

Default: When a defendant in a civil case doesn't file an answer or go to court when they're supposed to, but was properly notified. This is called being "in default."

Default judgment: A court decision in favor of the plaintiff when the defendant doesn't answer or go to court when they're supposed to.

Defect: An imperfection or shortcoming, especially in a part that is essential to the operation or safety of a product.

Defense: A response to the claims of the other party in a lawsuit, giving reasons why the claims should not be accepted as true - on part, or as a whole. The defense may be as simple as a flat denial of the other party's accusations, or may involve entirely new accusations.

Defendant: In a civil case, the person or organization sued by the plaintiff. In a criminal case, the person accused of the crime.

Demurrer: When a defendant says the facts presented by a plaintiff may be true, but they aren't enough to prove the defendant's legal responsibility.

De novo:
Starting a case all over again as if it had not been heard before. In Latin, novo means "new."

Deposition: Written or oral testimony given under oath in front of an authorized third person like a court reporter. Depositions take place outside of court. They allow the parties to get a record of a person's testimony, or to get testimony from a witness that lives far away. They can help the lawyers prepare their court papers called "pleadings." (See also discovery.)

Detriment to the child includes the harm of removal from a stable placement of a child with a person who has assumed the day-to-day role of a parent and has fulfilled the child's physical and psychological needs for a substantial period of time. A finding of "detriment" does not require any finding of unfitness of the parents. (California Family Code, Section 3041) Opens new window

Reasonable care or attention to a matter, which is good enough to avoid a claim of negligence, or is a fair attempt (as in "due diligence" in a process server's attempt to locate someone).

Direct income withholding: A procedure that orders an employer in another state to withhold support from an employee's paycheck without having to go through the IV-D agency or court system in that state. With this order, withholding can start right away, unless the obligor doesn't agree, and no court pleadings are required. (See also income withholding, wage withholding, obligee, obligor.)

The act of disclosing; revealing; making something known or public.

Discovery: The gathering of information (facts, documents, or testimony) before a case goes to trial. Discovery is done in many ways, such as through depositions, interrogatories, or requests for admissions. It can also be done through independent investigation or by talking with the other side's lawyer.

Discrimination (in renting):
Denying a person housing, telling a person that housing is not available (when the housing is actually available at that time), providing housing under inferior terms, harassing a person in connection with housing accommodations, or providing segregated housing because of a person's race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, source of income, age, disability, whether the person is married, or whether there are children under the age of 18 in the person's household. Discrimination also can be refusal to make reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability.

Dismiss with prejudice: When a court dismisses a case and will not allow any other suit to be filed on the same claim in the future.

Dismiss without prejudice: When a court dismisses a case but will allow other suits to be filed on the same claim.

Disposition: The final decision by the court in a dispute.

Dissolution: A marriage or registered domestic partnership that is ended by a judge’s decision. This is also called a divorce.

District Attorney:  An officer of the governmental body under which he or she is operating, such as a state, county, or municipality, with the duty to prosecute all those accused of crimes

District Attorney (left) with
Defendant in courtroom

Divorce: A common name for a marriage or registered domestic partnership that is legally ended.

Docket: A record with the complete history of each case a court hears. It contains short chronological summaries of the court proceedings.

Does: People whose names are not known. From “Jane Doe” and “John Doe” – fictitious names used in a legal proceeding to designate a person whose identity is unknown, or to protect a person’s known identity. For example, a landlord may know the name of the person to whom he or she leased a property, but not know to whom their tenant sub-leased the property. The person with the sub-lease could be called “John Doe.”

Domestic Violence: Abuse -- spoken, written or physical -- directed toward a spouse or former spouse, cohabitant or former cohabitant, a person with whom the abuser has had a "dating or engagement relationship," or with whom the abuser has had a child. It includes hitting, kicking, hurting, scaring, throwing things, pulling hair, pushing, harassing, sexually assaulting, or threatening to do any of these things.

Due diligence: The care or attention to a matter reasonably expected from, and usually exercised by, a person who seeks to satisfy a legal requirement or to fulfill an obligation.

Due process: The regular way that the law is administered through the courts. The U.S. Constitution says that everyone has to have a day in court, has the right to be represented by a lawyer, and the right to benefit from court procedures that are speedy, fair, and impartial.

"Duty of good faith and fair dealing" is implied by law in every rental agreement and every lease, even if the duty is not expressly stated. Every rental agreement and lease requires that the landlord and tenant deal with each other fairly and in good faith.