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.

    • Click the 'Show Me' link to see a short video clip about this subject, or click the 'Tell Me' link to hear a short audio clip about the subject.

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

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H-I   J   K-L   M   N-O   P   Q-R   S   T   U-V   W-X-Y-Z  

Glossary S

Sanction: (1) To concur, confirm, or ratify. (2) A penalty or punishment intended to make someone obey the law.

Satisfaction: Payment of a judgment amount by the losing party.

Security deposit: A deposit or a fee that the landlord requires the tenant to pay at the beginning of the tenancy. The landlord can use the security deposit, for example, if the tenant moves out owing rent or leaves the unit damaged or less clean than when the tenant moved in.

Separate property: Separate property is everything that a husband or wife or registered domestic partners OWNS SEPARATELY. In most cases that includes:

  1. anything that they owned before they got married or registered as domestic partners;
  2. anything they earned or received after their separation; and
  3. anything that either of them received, as a gift or by inheritance, at any time.

Separation date: The date of separation for divorces or registered domestic partnerships is when one spouse (or both) or one partner (or both) decides that the marriage or partnership is over and takes some actions to show this (like moving out of the house).

Serve and service:  Refers to legal requirements and procedures that seek to assure that the person to whom a notice is directed actually receives it.  Show Me | Tell Me

Serve in Person is to give the court forms 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. (See also personal service.)

Service by mail means that notice of a legal proceeding may be given by regular U.S. mail. The law states who may be mailed documents and who must be given them in person.

Service by publication: When service of process is done by publishing a notice in a newspaper or by posting on a bulletin board of a courthouse or other public facility after a court determines that other means of service are impractical or have been unsuccessful. (See also service of process.)

Service of process: The formal notice (when someone personally delivers or sends legal documents by mail) that is required of each document that is filed with the court. A person who is being affected by a court case has a constitutional right to be notified of the proceedings, so if it is not done properly, the petitioner/plaintiff will have to start over and reschedule the case for a new hearing and have everyone served again. You cannot serve your own documents. You may hire a professional process server or get a friend to serve the documents for you. Show Me | Tell Me

Serve in Person

Service by Mail

Settlement: An agreement reached among the parties that resolves the case at any time before a judge's decision in the case.

Settlement agreement: A written contact between spouses or partners who are asking the court to dissolve, legally separate or annul their marriage or domestic partnership, concerning the division and ownership of property, custody, support, and other issues.

Show cause: A court order telling a person to appear in court and present any evidence why the orders requested by the other side should not be granted or executed. A show cause order is usually based on a motion and affidavit asking the judge to make certain decisions

Siblings: Children who have either the same mother or the same father (includes half-siblings).

Sixty-day notice: A written notice from a landlord to a tenant telling the tenant that the tenancy will end in 60 days. A sixty-day notice usually does not have to state the landlord's reason for ending the tenancy.

Slander: Defamation of a person's character or reputation through false or malicious oral statements. (Compare libel)

Small Claims Advisor: In California, a small claim advisor is someone employed by the county or who volunteers his or her services to advise and assist parties in small claims court cases, other than by representing them in court. Unless exempt, each county must provide individual personal advisory services to small claims disputants at no charge.

Small claims court is the division of the superior court that handles civil cases asking for $7,500 or less, depending on who the plaintiff is. The plaintiff can file either a small claims case or a regular civil (of limited jurisdiction) case in superior court. Small claims court is designed to be simple, quick, and less costly than a regular civil lawsuit. In small claims court there are no lawyers, no rules of evidence, and no juries. The plaintiff has no right to appeal the judge's decision, but the defendant may appeal. An appeal would mean a new trial before a different judge. Lawyers can participate in the appeal.

Small claims court commissioner: A small claims court commissioner is a lawyer hired by the court to hear and decide small claims court cases.

Spousal support: Court-ordered support of a spouse or ex-spouse; also called "maintenance" or "alimony."

Statement of facts: Any written or oral declaration of facts in a court case.

Statute of Limitations:
A law that fixes the time within which parties must file a lawsuit to enforce their rights. If the party does not file their lawsuit within this time they normally lose their right to use the courts for this purpose.

Statutory damages for malice: A financial penalty set by law if malice is proven - malice being conscious, intentional wrongdoing based on ill-will, hatred or total disregard for the other's well-being.

Stipulated judgment: An agreement between the parties to a case that settles a case. For example, if two spouses agree on all the matters about their divorce, they can submit a stipulated judgment to the court. The stipulated judgment must be signed by both of the spouses, and will list their agreements about the division of property and debts, child, spousal or partner support, and child custody and visitation. Once the stipulated judgment is signed by the judge, it becomes the judgment in their case.

Stipulation: An agreement relating to a pending court proceeding between parties or their attorneys.

Strike: To delete or remove, as in to strike (a case) from the court's calendar.

Sublease: A separate rental agreement between the original tenant and a new tenant to whom the original tenant rents all or part of the rental unit. The new tenant is called a "subtenant." The agreement between the original tenant and the landlord remains in force, and the original tenant continues to be responsible for paying the rent to the landlord and for other tenant obligations.

Subpoena: An official order to go to court at a stated time. Subpoenas are commonly used to tell witnesses to come to court to testify in a trial.

Subpoena Duces Tecum: An official court order to bring documents or records to a stated place at a stated time.

Substituted service: Service of process on a party by leaving the court papers with someone other than a party to the lawsuit; valid only if certain specified procedures are followed. (See also service of process.)

Subtenant: see sublease.

Summary judgment: A court decision made on the basis of statements and evidence presented for the court record without a trial. It is used when no factual disputes exist in the case. Summary judgment is granted if, based on the undisputed facts in the record, a party is entitled to judgment in his or her favor as a matter of law.

Summons: A notice to a defendant or respondent that an action against him or her was filed in the court issuing the summons and that a judgment will be taken against him or her if the defendant or respondent doesn't answer the complaint or petition within a certain time.

Support order: A court order for the support of a child, spouse or domestic partner. A support order can include monetary support; health care; payment of debts; or repayment of court costs and attorney fees, interest, and penalties; and other kinds of support. (See also noncustodial parent, obligation, obligor.)