Translation Tuesday: common legal terms

I remember sitting in a college course a while back on Structural Violence.  I was not enrolled in the class, I was just visiting.  I believe myself to be a smart person, but I was utterly lost.  Having never taken the class or been exposed to the subject, I had no idea what the class was talking about.  I felt like a fish out of water.  In this series, which we will call “Translation Tuesday,” we will try to ease some of the anxiety caused when you feel like a fish out of water by tackling many of the terms that you will come across as you pursue family law and estate matters.


For our first segment, we will decode some of the common legal terms you will see in any proceeding. Many of the terms we will cross reference in other Translation Tuesday segments so keep an eye out for them.

Petition for ________ – the document or form first filed with the Court to get the case started, usually just referred to as the Petition;  this contains all the biographical information the Court needs about the parties; there are many different types of Petition’s, each of which is specific to the type of case being started
Petitioner – the party that files the Petition with the Court to start the case; typically responsible for initiating scheduling with the Court and notifying the other party of all court dates
Respondent – the party that does not file the Petition with the Court, and who is typically served with the Petition; it is not a disadvantage to being the Respondent over the Petitioner
Co-Petitioner – if both parties choose to file together, they can both sign and file the Petition, then one party is the Petitioner and the other is the Co-Petitioner
Opposing Counsel – if the other party in the case has hired an attorney, you may hear them referred to as opposing counsel; often times you will hear them referred to as ‘Counselor’ when in the courtroom
Judge – a person who listens to testimony and reviews evidence to determine and issue Court Orders on the issue before them; the final decision-maker if the parties are unable to agree on disputed issues
Magistrate – a person who listens to testimony and reviews evidence to determine and issue Court Orders on the issue before them; can only hear and rule on certain matters, such as non-contested hearings and temporary orders
Family Court Facilitator – an employee of the court who will often times oversee the Initial Status Conference; they cannot enter Orders but can set deadlines for the parties; works closely with the Judges and Magistrates
Filing fees – statutory fees that a person must pay when filing documents, such as the Petition
Docket – the courts calendar and schedule of cases and hearings
Hearing – a formal presentation of your position and requested Orders to the Court; testimony is presented to the Court and witnesses can be called to present testimony
Testimony – formally telling the Court facts and observations that will be used by the Court to come to a conclusion and enter Orders on a specified matter; you cannot lie during testimony as there are severe repercussions if you do so (think Law and Order here)
Court Order – the ruling entered by the Court on a specific issue which directs the parties how to proceed on that issue; Court Orders must be followed and are legally binding; failure to follow Court Orders can result in punishment such as fines or jail
Initial Status Conference – the parties first appearance in Court; this is not a hearing, but an opportunity for the Court to meet the parties and the parties to meet the Court; it also gives the Court an opportunity to issues deadlines to ensure the case is moving along, and to assist the parties through the process
Motion for __________ – a document or form which one party files with the Court requesting a specific action or Order from the Court; usually filed once a case has already been started, though is some cases, such as a request to change child support, it is the document which starts the case
Permanent Orders – the final Orders issued by a Court on the case; the Orders are permanent, unless they relate to children, in which case a party can always file a Motion to change the Orders
Mediation – a meeting between the participants of a case with a neutral third party, the goal of which is to reach an agreement on a specific matter or a selection of matters; the mediator has no power to enforce or require agreement, their only role is to facilitate an agreement between the parties


4 thoughts on “Translation Tuesday: common legal terms

  1. Pingback: Translation Tuesday: The world of mediation | Family Law Warrior

  2. Pingback: I filed for divorce, now I’m single! Right? | Family Law Warrior

  3. Pingback: Translation Tuesday: Allocation of Parental Responsibilities | Family Law Warrior

  4. Pingback: Translation Tuesday: Domestic Relations | Family Law Warrior

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