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
age of majority
Adulthood in the eyes of the law. After reaching the age of majority, a person is permitted to vote, make a valid will, enter into binding contracts, enlist in the armed forces and purchase alcohol. Also, parents may stop making child support payments when a child reaches the age of majority. In most states the age of majority is 18, but this varies depending on the activity. For example, in some states people are allowed to vote when they reach the age of eighteen, but can't purchase alcohol until they're 21.
agent
A person authorized to act for and under the direction of another person when dealing with third parties. The person who appoints an agent is called the principal. An agent can enter into binding agreements on the principal's behalf and may even create liability for the principal if the agent causes harm while carrying out his or her duties. See also attorney-in-fact.
aggravate
To make more serious or severe.
aggravating circumstances
Circumstances that increase the seriousness or outrageousness of a given crime, and that in turn increase the wrongdoer's penalty or punishment. For example, the crime of aggravated assault is a physical attack made worse because it is committed with a dangerous weapon, results in severe bodily injury or is made in conjunction with another serious crime. Aggravated assault is usually considered a felony, punishable by a prison sentence.
agreement
A meeting of the minds. An agreement is made when two people reach an understanding about a particular issue, including their obligations, duties and rights. While agreement is sometimes used to mean contract -- a legally binding oral or written agreement -- it is actually a broader term, including understandings that might not rise to the level of a legally binding contract.
alien registration receipt card (ARC)
The official name used in immigration law for a green card.
alimony
The money paid by one ex-spouse to the other for support under the terms of a court order or settlement agreement following a divorce. Except in marriages of long duration (ten years or more) or in the case of an ailing spouse, alimony usually lasts for a set period, with the expectation that the recipient spouse will become self-supporting. Alimony is also called "spousal support" or "maintenance."
allegation
A statement by a party in a pleading describing what that party's position is and what that party intends to prove.
Allen charge
See dynamite charge.
alternate beneficiary
A person, organization or institution that receives property through a will, trust or insurance policy when the first named beneficiary is unable or refuses to take the property. For example, in his will Jake leaves his collection of sheet music to his daughter, Mia, and names the local symphony as alternate beneficiary. When Jake dies, Mia decides that the symphony can make better use of the sheet music than she can, so she refuses (disclaims) the gift, and the manuscripts pass directly to the symphony. In insurance law, the alternate beneficiary, usually the person who receives the insurance proceeds because the initial or primary beneficiary has died, is called the secondary or contingent beneficiary.
alternative dispute resolution (ADR)
A catchall term that describes a number of methods used to resolve disputes out of court, including negotiation, conciliation, mediation and the many types of arbitration. The common denominator of all ADR methods is that they are faster, less formalistic, cheaper and often less adversarial than a court trial. In recent years the term Alternative Dispute Resolution has begun to lose favor in some circles and ADR has come to mean Appropriate Dispute Resolution. The point of this semantic change is to emphasize that ADR methods stand on their own as effective ways to resolve disputes and should not be seen simply as alternatives to a court action.
Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
A federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with physical or mental disabilities in employment, public services and places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, hotels and theaters.
amicus
See amicus curiae.
amicus curiae
Latin for "friend of the court." This term describes a person or organization that is not a party to a lawsuit as plaintiff or defendant but that has a strong interest in the case and wants to get its two cents in. For example, the ACLU often submits materials to support a person who claims a violation of civil rights even though that person is represented by a lawyer.
ancillary probate
A probate proceeding conducted in a different state from the one the deceased person resided in at the time of death. Usually, ancillary probate proceedings are necessary if the deceased person owned real estate in another state.