Acceptance of Service – when the Defendant in a case agrees to the proceedings and will not require the papers to be served upon him/her

Acknowledgment – statement of an acceptance of responsibility

Affiant – the person who swears to the Notary Public that his/her statement or documents are true

Affidavit – a document containing information the person swears to be true; usually
sworn to in the presence of a Notary Public

Alternate Dispute Resolution – ways to determine a case without going to court; examples include mediation, arbitration, and conciliation

Answer – the Defendant’s response to a complaint filed by the Plaintiff

Answer and Counterclaim – the Defendant’s response to a complaint filed by the Plaintiff that is followed by the Defendant’s own complaints against the Plaintiff

Appeal – when a party to a court case asks a higher court to review a judge’s decision from a lower court

Appellant – the person who appeals the decision of a court

Appellee – the other party to an appeal who has not requested the review of the corut’s decision

Arbitration – a proceeding where parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party and agree to abide by his/her decision; similar to a court case since each party can present evidence, but not as formal, and heard by an arbitrator, not a judge


Bar – general term referring to a group of Attorneys; example: “The bar of the 26th Judicial District is active in community issues.”

Bench – term used to refer to judges or the court; example: “Please approach the bench” – refers to approaching the judge

Biological Father – the natural father of a child


Child Custody – action requesting the court to determine the legal and physical custody of a child or children; may be between natural parents and other parties such as grandparents

Child Custody Mediation – a meeting of the parents and a trained mediator to assist the family in making decisions regarding child custody instead of going to court and allowing the judge to determine custody

Child Support – action for funds to support a minor child or children

Civil Action Number – a number assigned to each case by the Clerk’s Office; this number must be found on ALL documents filed in a case to help the Clerk’s Office keep a record of all papers in the case; usually begins with the year, then initials identifying the type of case, the case number and the judge’s initials in some instances; example: 99 – CVD – 00000 (XYZ)

Civil Case – any case that does not involve criminal charges

Civil Clerk’s Office – the office that handles the filing of civil cases

Civil Court – a court that only hears civil cases; no criminal cases are heard

Civil Procedure – the rules and process that govern how a civil case is presented in court; includes presentation of evidence, trial conduct, and the process of appealing a decision

Complaint – the first document filed by the Plaintiff that begins a court case

Contempt – method of enforcing a judge’s order; a person held in ‘contempt’ of court may be incarcerated

Counterclaim – a pleading filed by the Plaintiff to respond to charges set forth in Defendant’s answer

Court – the branch of the government that can determine interpretation of laws and resolve legal problems; in North Carolina, several courts exist, including Small Claims, District, Superior, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court

Court Costs – the fees associated with a court case, other than attorney’s fees; the court may order the losing side to pay the winning side’s court costs

Custody – the possession of an item or child; legal custody means that the possession has been granted by the courts; physical custody refers to the actual physical location of the item or child


Decision – the determination of a case by the judge of the court

Decree – an order entered by the court that sets forth the judge’s decision

Default Judgment – a judgment entered against a party who does not answer the charges filed against him/her or does not appear in court; not used in domestic cases

Defendant – the person being sued or the person the case is against

Discovery – a process where the parties find out who the witnesses are and find what evidence the other side will be presenting; discovery includes requests for admissions, depositions, interrogatories, and requests for production of documents

Divorce from Bed and Board – judicial separation; authorizes the party not at fault to live separate and apart from the other spouse; not a divorce – parties cannot remarry


Equitable Distribution – distribution of property acquired during the marriage; this property is referred to as “marital property”

Evidence – the documents, testimony or other information presented by the parties to the court to persuade a judge or jury to rule in their favor

Ex parte – when one party to a case speaks or meets with a judge without the presence of the other party or the other party’s attorney; this type of communication is highly inappropriate and not allowed except in unusual and emergency circumstances

Exhibit – a document or other physical object presented to the court as evidence


Family Court Case Manager – staff member of the Family Court who schedules hearings, trials, and assists with referrals to appropriate community resources

Final Judgment – the decision by the judge that resolves a legal matter unless appealed


Grounds – reasons for bringing a case into the judicial system

Guardian Ad Litem – a person, either an attorney or a trained volunteer, that is appointed by the Court to represent the best interests of a child or other person who is considered incapacitated by law due to age, illness, or mental condition


Hearing – a time scheduled when the judge gives the parties an opportunity to present evidence and testimony in support of their claims


Indigent – a person who can convince the court that he/she cannot afford to pay any costs for legal representation




Legal Custody – custody awarded by law; in the instances of children, this is a form of custody that allows access to the child’s medical records, school records or other matters

Legitimation – an action brought to prove paternity of a child


Marital Property – the property spouses acquire during their marriage

Modification – a petition requesting that the court amend an existing order – often used for child support and child custody/visitation

Motion – the request made by either side of the court requesting the court to rule or take action on their behalf



Order – the decision of the judge that is put in writing and filed in the court case; the order often requires action and if not complied with, can result in contempt charges


Party – a person or company involved in a lawsuit; can be either side of a case

Plaintiff – the person who begins a case in court

Post Separation Support – temporary alimony designed to provide support for the dependent spouse while waiting for a full alimony trial; must be requested prior to the entry of a final order of absolute divorce or it is waived

Pro Se – Latin phrase that refers to a litigant who represents himself/herself without the benefit of an attorney



Res Judicata – an issue that has been decided by the court; an adjudicated claim

Rule or Ruling – the decision made by a judge


Separate Property – property that a spouse owned before a marriage or was acquired in such a way that prevents it from becoming marital property, such as by a will or inheritance

Service of Process – refers to the manner in which the opposing party received notice that a case is being filed againts him/her; this must be completed in accordance with law in order for the case to be heard and be binding against the opposing party

Statutes – another term for the laws that govern a state or nation; these laws are written down and promulgated by the legislative branch of the government; in North Carolina, they are referred to as the General Statutes of North Carolina

Summons – a document issued by the Clerk of Court to be served on the Defendant to notify the Defendant that he/she has a civil action filed against him/her and must file an answer within thirty days




Verification – when a party to a suit swears that the contents of a document are true and correct; usually sworn in the presence of a Notary Public