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:

  • 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 P

Parenting plan: A written agreement worked out by parents who are separating which details how they will separately and jointly meet their responsibilities to their children, especially regarding child custody and visitation.

Partner support: In family law, court-ordered support of a registered domestic partner or ex-partner.

Party: One of the litigants in a court case. At the trial level, the parties are typically called the "plaintiff" or "petitioner" and the "defendant" or "respondent."

Paternity: Legal determination of fatherhood. Paternity must be determined before a court can order child support or medical support.

Paternity suit: A lawsuit to determine the father of a child whose parents were not married when the child was born.

Payee: Person or organization in whose name child support or other money is paid.

Payor: Person who makes a payment.

Penalty: Punishment for breaking a law.

Penalty of perjury: Making false statements in a court of law, or on court forms, is called perjury and is considered a serious offense if it is done on purpose. There are severe penalties for perjury. For example, the general perjury statute under Federal law provides for a prison sentence of up to five years.

Pending: The status of a case that is not yet resolved by the court.

Per-Child Order: A child support court order that breaks down the total child support order to show specifically now much support is ordered for each child.

Periodic rental agreement: An oral or written rental agreement that states the length of time between rent payments - for example, a week or a month - but not the total number of weeks or months that the agreement will be in effect.

Perjury: A false statement made on purpose while under oath in a court proceeding.

Personal service means that the court forms must be given to the person directly. The person who serves the forms must tell the person that they are being served and leave the papers within the presence of the person (e.g., at their feet is fine), but they do not need to touch the person with the papers and the person served does not need to accept the papers
or sign anything.

Person serving papers

Personal Service


Personal Property: Any movable or intangible thing that is subject to ownership and not classified as real property. (Compare real property)

Petition: A formal written request given to the court asking for a specific judicial action.
(Compare to motion, or complaint)

Petitioner: A person who presents a petition to the court. In a family law case, this is the person who starts the case by filing the first court papers.

Physical Custody: Designates where the child will actually live.

Plaintiff: A person that brings an action; the party that complains or sues in a civil case.

Pleading:  A written statement filed with the court that describes a party's legal or factual claims about the case and what the party wants from the court.

Points and authorities: Also called "P's and A's." "Points and authorities" refers to the written legal argument given to support a motion. It includes references to past cases, statutes (codes), and other statements of law that emphasize the legality of the motion requested.

Post: (1) A prefix meaning "after," as in "post-trial" matters; (2) to "post" something is to bring it to the public's attention, as in "to post a notice of sale."

Power of Attorney: When a person (the "principal") authorizes someone else (the "agent" or "attorney of fact") to take care of business for the principal. A power of attorney authorizes the agent to do whatever is necessary to manage the principal's assets.

  • A "limited" or "special" power of attorney can be made more restrictive by setting time limits for the agent to serve, limiting the agent to certain actions, or authorizing the agent to manage only particular assets.
  • A general or limited power of attorney ends when the principal becomes incapacitated.
  • A durable power of attorney stays in effect if the principal becomes incapacitated.


Prayer (for relief): A request contained in a complaint or petition to the court that states what the person wants. For example, the person may ask to court to order the other side to pay him or her a specific amount of money, or to order the other side to stop a certain activity, or both.

Pre: A prefix meaning "in front of" or "before," as in "pretrial" hearing.

Prejudgment Claim of Right to Possession: A form that a landlord in an unlawful detainer (eviction) lawsuit can have served along with the summons and complaint on all persons living in the rental unit who might claim to be tenants, but whose names the landlord does not know. Occupants who are not named in the unlawful detainer complaint, but who claim a right to possess the rental unit, can fill out and file this form to become parties to the unlawful detainer action.

Presume: To believe or accept upon probable evidence.

Pretrial conference: A meeting of the judge and lawyers to plan a trial, discuss which matters should be presented to the jury, review proposed evidence and witnesses, and set a trial schedule. Typically, the judge and the lawyers also discuss the possibility of settling the case.

Probable cause: A reasonable basis for assuming that a charge or fact is well founded.

Probate: The judicial process to determine if a will of a dead person (called the "decedent") is genuine or not; lawful distribution of a decedent's estate.

Probate court: The department of each county's superior court that deals with probate conservatorships, guardianships, and the estates of people that have died. The purpose of guardianships in the probate court is to protect the rights of the minor child's person or estate.

Probate examiner: Someone at the court who can make sure that forms are filled out correctly.

Procedure: The rules for conducting a lawsuit. There are rules of civil procedure, criminal procedure, evidence, bankruptcy, and appellate procedure

Proceedings: Generally, the process of conducting judicial business before a court or other judicial officer. A " hearing".

Process server: A person that serves court papers on a party to a lawsuit.

Promissory Note: A written document that says that a person promises to pay money to another.

Proof: Evidence that tends to establish the existence or truth of a fact at issue in a case.

Proof of service: The form filed with the court that proves that court papers were formally served on (delivered to) a party in a court action on a certain date

Pro per: A "pro per" is a person who is representing his or her self in court proceedings. This is also called "pro se."

Proposed guardian: The person who has offered to be the guardian, or who has been suggested or nominated by someone else to be the guardian.

Pro se: Refers to persons that present their own cases in court without lawyers; from the Latin for "on one's own behalf."

Pro tem judge: A lawyer that volunteers his or her time to hear and decide cases. Also called a "temporary judge.