Words You Need to Know

Glossary of Terms

Because your path to freedom involves legal processes, you will hear a lot of new words, as well as familiar words being used in new ways.

Use this list to help you understand some of the key terms that will be used during the process.

Remember to ask questions. Whenever there are terms or parts of the process you don’t understand, ask someone to explain it to you.


Free and willing agreement. (eg., A "consent order" is made when both parties agree to the terms of the order and then the judge signs off on it.)


The services of a spouse. Services include household tasks one spouse performs for another and/or in addition to sexual services. (Term is used in law suits for "loss of consortium" where one spouse loses the services of the other and can sue for damages. Available only in some states.)

Contempt of court

Committed by a person who intentionally disobeys a court order, acts in a way that does not respect the authority and dignity of the court, or fails to follow a court order.


The postponing (rescheduling for later) of a court hearing. If you ask a judge for a continuance, s/he may or may not give it to you.


To give, sell, or transfer to another person


Place where civil and criminal trials are held.

Court officer

An officer of the court who protects the judge; is in charge of the accused person while he is in the courtroom; and looks after the jurors.

Court reporter

A legal stenographer who records what happens during official court proceedings.

Criminal case

A legal proceeding brought by the state, county, or city against someone, charging the person with a crime.


An award of money to the winning party in a lawsuit. Actual damages are out-of-pocket expenses such as lost wages or hospital bills. Actual damages in some cases may include an award for psychological harm. Punitive damages are an award to punish the wrongful party for willful improper action.

Default judgment

A judgment made against someone who did not defend himself/herself against a claim. For example, someone asking the Court for a restraining order may get one by default judgment if the accused abuser does not come to court.


Person with charges or a lawsuit against him or her. This term is used in both criminal and civil cases. (The defendant is also sometimes called the "respondent.")

Defense attorney

The lawyer who represents the defendant.


To cheat or steal by false representation.


Person under 16 years old who commits a crime.

District attorney

The attorney(s) employed by the state to prosecute people for state criminal offenses. Also known as prosecutors, they represent the state. A city government may also have attorneys assigned to prosecute city charges. These people function like district attorneys on a local level.


The place where you live.


The process by which a minor child is declared to be an "adult" by a court of law. The child must petition the court for this right. The age at which you can file for emancipation is set by law in each state.

Emergency Protective Order

An Emergency Protective Order (EPO) is a criminally enforceable court order that can be issued to the abuser following an arrest on a family violence offense. The victim is not required to be present in court when the order is issued and there is no separate application process required of the victim.


Proof; witnesses' testimony; written statements or physical objects that someone presents at trial to make his or her case. testimonial evidence -- Statements that witnesses make under oath at a trial. demonstrative evidence -- Physical items that the parties introduce at trial, such as records, documents, exhibits, and objects such as guns or other weapons.