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Legal Definitions and Terms

Alimony: Alimony is an order of a court for the support of one spouse by the other spouse. State law, which varies by state, governs the award of alimony to a spouse. On application of either party for spousal support, the court may decree an increase or decrease only upon a showing of a substantial and material change of circumstances.

Attorney: An attorney at law is an officer in a court of justice, who is employed by a party in a cause to manage the same for him. The principal duties of an attorney are:

  1. To be true to the court and to his client;
  2. To manage the business of his client with care, skill and integrity;
  3. To keep his client informed as to the state of his business;
  4. To keep his secrets confided to him as such.

Balloon Payment: A balloon payment is the final payment needed to satisfy the payment of the entire principal amount, if different from the monthly payment. It is a lump-sum principal payment due at the end of a loan.

Bankruptcy: Bankruptcy law provides for the development of a plan that allows a debtor, who is unable to pay his creditors, to resolve his debts through the division of his assets among his creditors. The philosophy behind the law is to allow the debtor to make a fresh start, not to be punished for inability to pay debts. Bankruptcy law allows certain debtors to be discharged of the financial obligations they have accumulated, after their assets are distributed, even if their debts have not been paid in full.

Complaint: In a lawsuit or administrative dispute, a complaint is the initial document filed with the court or other authority by a person or entity claiming legal rights against another. The party filing the complaint is usually called the plaintiff and the party against whom the complaint is filed is called the defendant or defendants. Complaints must properly state the factual as well as legal basis for the claim.

Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure: A deed in lieu of foreclosure is a method sometimes used by a lien holder on property to avoid a lengthy and expensive foreclosure process. With a deed in lieu of foreclosure (DIL), a foreclosing lien holder agrees to have the ownership interest transferred to the bank/lien holder as payment in full. The debtor basically deeds the property to the bank instead of them paying for foreclosure proceedings. Therefore, if a debtor fails to make mortgage payments and the bank is about to foreclose on the property, the deed in lieu of foreclosure is an option that chooses to give the bank ownership of the property rather than having the bank use the legal process of foreclosure.

Default Judgment: Default judgment is a binding judgment in favor of the plaintiff when the defendant has not responded to a summons or has failed to appear before a court of law. It can be compared to a forfeit victory in sports. In a civil trial involving damages, a default judgment will enter the amount of damages pleaded in the original complaint. If proof of damages is required, the court may schedule another hearing on that issue. A defendant can have a default judgment vacated, or set aside, by filing a motion, after the judgment is entered, by showing of a proper excuse.

Defendant: A defendant or defender is any party who is required to answer the complaint of a plaintiff or pursuer in a civil lawsuit before a court, or any party who has been formally charged or accused of violating a criminal statute.

Foreclosure: Foreclosure is the procedure by which a party who has loaned money secured by a mortgage or deed of trust on real property (or has an unpaid judgment), forces the sale of the real property to recover the money due, unpaid interest, plus the costs of foreclosure, after the debtor fails to make payment. The lender must serve a notice of default on the debtor after a certain time period from when the payment becomes past due. The notice will give the borrower a certain time period and amount necessary to be paid in order to "cure" the default and avoid foreclosure. If the delinquency and costs of foreclosure are not paid within this time, then the lender (or the trustee in states using deeds of trust) will set a foreclosure date for selling the property at public sale. The property may be redeemed by the borrower by paying all delinquencies and costs, up to the time of sale.

Garnishment of Wages: Wage garnishment is a legal procedure in which a person's earnings are required by court order to be withheld by an employer for the payment of a debt such as child support.

Garnishments: Garnishment is a legal proceeding whereby money or property due to a debtor but in the possession of another is applied to the payment of the debt owed to the plaintiff. A court order of garnishment allows a creditor to take the property of a debtor when the debtor does not possess the property.

Judgment: A judgment is the final decision by a court in a lawsuit, criminal prosecution or appeal from a lower court's judgment. It is a court’s final decision regarding the rights and obligations of the parties to a case. A judgment is also referred to as a decree.

Lis Pendens: Lis pendens means "a suit pending". A lis pendens is a written notice that a lawsuit has been filed involving the title to real property or some interest in that real property.

Plaintiff: A plaintiff, also known as a claimant or complainant, is the party who initiates a lawsuit (also known as an action) before a court. By doing so, the plaintiff seeks a legal remedy, and if successful, the court will issue judgment in favor of the plaintiff and make the appropriate court order.

Predatory Lending Practices: “Predatory" is a term used in lending contracts. Lenders following predatory lending practices target vulnerable consumers such as those who do not qualify for conventional loans, the elderly, or those in the low income bracket.

Primary Residence: Primary dwelling refers to a dwelling where a person usually lives. It may be a house or apartment, and at a given time, a person shall not have more than one primary residence. Primary residence is the legal residence of an individual, for purposes of income tax calculation or for acquiring a mortgage.

Pro se: Pro se legal representation refers to the instance of a person representing himself or herself without a lawyer in a court proceeding, whether as a defendant or a plaintiff and whether the matter is civil or criminal. Pro se is a Latin phrase meaning "for oneself".

Reaffirmation Agreement: A reaffirmation agreement is used to pay any specific debt(s) that otherwise would be discharged in the bankruptcy. After filing the bankruptcy petition, a petitioner may sign a reaffirmation agreement to repay a particular debt, such as an automobile to drive to a place of employment, or may be asked by a creditor to pay a debt. It is a legally enforceable document promising to pay all or a portion of the debt which is filed with the court. A reaffirmation agreement is made voluntarily and is enforceable when entered with legal advice or court approval and filed with the court.

Summons: A summons is a paper issued by a court informing a person that a complaint has been filed against her. It may be served by a sheriff or other authorized person for service of process, called a process server. The summons states the name of both plaintiff and defendant, the title and file number of the case, the court and its address, the name and address of the plaintiff's attorney, and instructions on how to file a required response to the complaint within a certain time (such as 30 days after service), usually with a form on the back on which information of service of summons and complaint is to be filled out and signed by the process server.