The following Guide to Terms Frequently Referred to in Legal Matters is provided by the DeKalb County Superior Court – Family Law Information Center.

Acknowledgment of Service
An Acknowledgement of Service is a document signed by the respondent that says to the court that he/she has received a copy of the petition.

Action
An action is a formal complaint (suit) brought in a court of law.

Affidavit
An Affidavit is a written statement that a party signs in front of a notary public, after swearing or affirming that a statement is true.

Affidavit of Poverty
An Affidavit of Poverty is a document that explains to the court that you do not have money to pay the fee for filing a case in the clerk’s office, and that you won’t be able to get the money.  The document requests that the filing fee be waived so that you may have access to the Court.

Answer
Answer refers to a defendant’s formal response to a petition served on him by the plaintiff.

Biological Father
A biological father is the man who fathered the child.

Calendar Clerk
A calendar clerk is a staff person in the judge’s office who schedules civil hearings, trials and helps make certain that paperwork is correctly filed.

Certified Copy
See "True and Correct Copy"

Civil Action No.
The civil action no. is the number assigned to your case in the clerk’s office, so that all pleadings for your case will be kept in the same file.  Each time you file a new and unrelated case, that case will be assigned a new number.  This number is needed whenever you interact with the court concerning your case.

Clerk’s Office
The clerk’s office is the keeper of all legal documents associated with a case filed in superior court.  The clerk’s office for domestic issues is the Clerk of Superior Court.  Documents filed in the Clerk’s office become the property of that office and are kept as the official record of the court.  Each document filed will receive a date and time stamp indicating exactly when it was filed.  The clerk’s office will assign the case number, sometimes referred to as a docket number, and assign the judge.  If the case is completely new and neither party has filed an action against the other party in the past, the judge assignment will be random.  If the suit you are filing is related to a case already assigned to a particular judge, your new case will be assigned to that judge.  The clerk’s office will file most documents that you submit.  They cannot tell you whether or not what you’ve filed is correct and/or complete.

Complaint
A complaint is the initial pleading in a civil case that states the facts charged.  An initial pleading may also be referred to as a petition.

Conformed Copy
A conformed copy is a word for word copy of a document.

Consent Agreement
A Consent Agreement is a document that tells the court that both parties have agreed on one or more issues.  This agreement is signed by both parties and lists the issues to which the parties have agreed.  This may permit the judge to enter an order without holding a hearing.

Consent to Try
Consent to Try is a document signed by both parties and needed by the Court in order for a Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce to be entered.

Contempt
Contempt is a deliberate act of disobeying a court order.  You may be able to file a "Motion for Contempt" or "Petition for Contempt" to tell the court about this act or acts of disobedience, and request the Court to compel the other party obey the original order.

Custodian
A custodian is a parent or some other person who has physical custody of a child.

Defendant
The defendant is the person against whom an action has been brought.  In family or domestic relations law matters, the defendant may be referred to as the "Respondent."

Divorce
A divorce is the dissolution of a marriage contract and is considered a civil matter.

Enter an Order
The court (a judge) is the only entity in superior court, which can enter an order directing a party to either do something or not do something.  An order is made effective and "the Order of the Court," when it is signed by the judge and filed in the clerk’s office.

Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce
The Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce is the order the judge signs granting a divorce.  There is no divorce until the order is signed by the judge and filed in the clerk’s office.  These steps must be taken and done correctly in order for there to be a divorce.

First Class Mail
First class mail is a way of delivering court papers to the other party using the United States Postal Service (U. S. mail).

Guardian
A guardian is someone who has been authorized by law, through probate court, to care for another person, and to manage that person’s money and/or property.  This is not the same as custody.

Guardian ad Litem 
A Guardian ad Litem is a person, (usually an attorney) appointed by the court to represent a child’s best interest and make certain that child’s rights are protected.

Hearing
A hearing is a meeting in court where both parties explain why the judge should or should not do something.  A hearing is requested by one of the parties or is scheduled by the court.  Each party to the action is required to attend a hearing.

Income Deduction Order
An Income Deduction Order is a court order directing that child support payments be withheld from the wages of the parent who has been ordered to pay child support.

Jurisdiction
Jurisdiction is a term that indicates a court’s authority over someone (personal jurisdiction) and/or the authority to hear certain types of cases and make a decision.

Legal Custody
Legal custody gives one party the right to have access to a child’s medical, school and other records, and to be involved in the major decisions affecting that child.  Legal custody is defined by Georgia statute.

Legal Father
A legal father is a man who has legitimated his biological child; a man who was married to the mother of the child at the time of birth; a man who married the mother of a child after the child was born, and then completed an affidavit of paternity stating or acknowledging that the child is his.

Legal Separation
See "Separate Maintenance"

Legitimation
Legitimation is a legal action brought by a man who wishes to establish his legal rights to a child he believes is his biological child, who was born out of "wedlock."

Marital Property
Marital property pertains to things and money acquired during the marriage, except inheritances and gifts, until the Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce is entered.

Modification
A modification is a petition requesting the court to change an order that was entered at some other time.

Moral Turpitude
Moral turpitude is some act or behavior that gravely violates the accepted moral standards of the community, such as fraud, rape and murder.

Motion
A motion is a request made by either party for the court to take some kind of action in a pending case.  Before a motion can be filed, the case must have been filed in the clerk’s office and assigned a case number and a Judge.

No-Fault Divorce
No-fault divorce is sometimes referred to as a ground for divorce, stated in the Petition that "the marriage is irretrievably broken."

Non-Custodial Parent
A non-custodial parent is the parent who does not have physical custody of a child, although he or she might have visitation rights.

Notary Public
A notary public is a public officer whose function is to attest to and certify, by official seal, the authenticity of a document.  Documents to be notarized must be signed in the presence of a notary public and the signer must present picture identification.

O.C.G.A.
This acronym stands for Official Code of Georgia Annotated, and is a set of books that contains the laws (statutes) of the State Of Georgia.

Objection
An objection is used to tell the judge that one party is opposed to something said in or proposed to the court.

Order
An order is a document stating a judge’s decision and requiring certain actions.  This document is signed by the judge and filed with the clerk of court so that there will be a record of the action taken by the court.

Party
Party, in the legal sense, refers to a person involved in a case.  There may be multiple parties involved in a case.

Paternity Establishment
Paternity establishment is a legal action brought a father, mother or some other interested party to determine that a man is the biological father of a child.

Pending Case
A pending case is a court case where no final resolution has been reached, either by final decree, order or dismissal.

Personal Jurisdiction
Personal jurisdiction refers to the court’s power over the parties involved in a lawsuit.

Petition
A petition, sometimes referred to as a pleading, is a document where you request a Judge do something for you (for example: Petition for Divorce, Petition for Custody, Petition for Name Change, etc).

Petition for Divorce
A Petition for Divorce is a written complaint filed with the clerk of court to start a divorce action.

Petitioner
A petitioner is a person who initiates a case by filing a petition with the Clerk of Court.  This person may also be listed as the plaintiff.

Physical Custody
Physical custody refers to a person who has actual and physical control over a child or children.  The child or children usually live in the home of the person who has physical custody.

Plaintiff
A plaintiff is a person who files the initial petition that starts a case, and is sometimes referred to as the petitioner.

Pleading
A Pleading is a document filed by the parties in an action setting forth formal allegations of their respective claims and defenses.

Pro Se
Pro se is a Latin term that means "one who represents himself."  You are considered pro se if you handle your own court actions without an attorney.  It is a crime in Georgia to act as an attorney for someone other than yourself.

Proposed Order
A proposed order is an order that has not yet been signed by a judge.

Respondent
The respondent is the person whom a petition has been filed against; the person who should respond to or answer the complaint or petition.  The Respondent is also referred to as the Defendant.

Rule Nisi
A Rule Nisi is an order that informs both parties to an action that a hearing will be held to determine or make a ruling on an issue.

Separation
When a married couple no longer shares the same living quarters or bedroom.

Separate Maintenance
Separate Maintenance, also known as a Separation Agreement, is a document where the parties decide and agree on all issues before a divorce is granted.  Issues agreed upon include, but are not limited to custody, child support, alimony, debts, and property division.

Service of Process
Service of Process also known as service, refers to the actual delivery of legal papers.

Sheriff’s Entry of Service
Sheriff’s Entry of Service is a form that tells the court how a Sheriff’s deputy served copies of a petition and summons on the respondent.  This form also indicates if the Sheriff could not serve the document.

Subject Matter
Subject Matter refers to the subject of a case being presented to the court for consideration.

Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Subject Matter Jurisdiction refers to a court’s power to deal with the general subject involved in the action.

Summons
A summons is a cover sheet placed on a Petition that notifies the Respondent that he/she must file an answer to the complaint or petition within 30 days of receiving that document.  The summons will indicate whether or not an attorney represents the Petitioner.

Surname
A surname is a person’s last name.

True and Correct Copy
A True and Correct Copy is a copy of a document that has already been filed with the clerk of court, is copied by the clerk and imprinted with the seal of the court, indicating that the document is true and correct.  This is usually referred to as certifying a document.  The clerk of court certifies documents as true and correct.

Venue
Venue refers to the county in which a case must be filed.  Venue is usually based on where an event took place or where the parties live.
 
Verification
Verification is a document signed by a party swearing or affirming that all facts contained in a document are true.  The verification must be notarized.
 
Waiver of Venue 
Waiver of Venue is a form used by a respondent who lives in another county, indicating that the respondent gives up his/her right to have a divorce action filed in his/her county of residence.  This document must be accompanied by a verification document and must be notarized.