Legal Definitions and Terminology



Means left without provision for reasonable and necessary care or supervision (Source: Iowa Code 598B.102).


v. what an appeals court does if it agrees with and confirms a lower court's decision. (Affirm, 2010).


1 : to declare (a marriage) to have never validly existed —compare divorce.
2 a : to make legally void b : to declare to no longer have legal effect. (Annulled, 2010).


A pleading or formal written statement setting out a defendant's case in response to a petition.  An answer usually denies a plaintiff's allegations (Legal Glossary, n.d.).


To seek a higher court review of a decision of a lower court (Legal Glossary, n.d.).


A party appealing a lower court decision, usually seeking reversal of the decision (Legal Glossary, n.d.).


A party against whom an appeal is filed (Legal Glossary, n.d.).


A compilation of supplementary materials such as copies of court records and portions of a transcript filed in a case that is required to be filed on appeal along with the briefs (Legal Glossary, n.d.).


Latin meaning "for the sake of argument" used by lawyers in the context of "assuming arguendo" that the facts were as the other party contends, but the law prevents the other side from prevailing (Arguendo, 2008). 

"Best interest of the child"

Includes, but is not limited to, the opportunity for maximum continuous physical and emotional contact possible with both parents, unless direct physical or significant emotional harm to the child may result from this contact.  Refusal by one parent to provide this opportunity without just cause shall be considered harmful to the best interest of the child (Source: Iowa Code 598.1).


A written document that sets out the legal contentions of a party, including a recitation of important facts, a statement of the issues presented for review, and legal authority supporting a party's legal contentions.  A brief is required on appeal (Legal Glossary, n.d.).


n. (sersh-oh-rare-ee) a writ (order) of a higher court to a lower court to send all the documents in a case to it so the higher court can review the lower court's decision. Certiorari is most commonly used by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is selective about which cases it will hear on appeal. To appeal to the Supreme Court one applies to the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, which it grants at its discretion and only when at least three members believe that the case involves a sufficiently significant federal question in the public interest. By denying such a writ the Supreme Court says it will let the lower court decision stand, particularly if it conforms to accepted precedents (previously decided cases) (ceritiorari, 2010).

Child Abuse... What is Child Abuse under Iowa law?

  • The victim is a child. 
  • The child is subjected to one or more of the eight      categories of child abuse defined in Iowa Code section 232.68: 

  • Physical       abuse 
  • Mental       injury 
  • Sexual       abuse 
  • Child       prostitution 
  • Presence       of illegal drugs 
  • Denial       of critical care 
  • Manufacturing       or possession of a dangerous substances (defined in Iowa Code 232.2)       
  • Bestiality       in the presence of a child 
  • The abuse      is the result of the acts or omissions of the person responsible for the      care of the child.   

Also See: physical abuse and denial of critical care.

(Source: Iowa Department of Human Services)

Contempt of Court

An act that shows disrespect for the court's authority.  Contempt usually involves willful disobedience of a court order. A finding of willful disobedience requires evidence of conduct that is intentional and deliberate.  Contempt is punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or other sanctions.  Often, sanctions are used to compel someone into obeying a court order (Legal Glossary, n.d.).


To continue a matter, hearing, or trial to another time (Legal Glossary, n.d.).

Court of Equity

n. originally in English common law and in several states there were separate courts (often called chancery courts) which handled lawsuits and petitions requesting remedies other than damages, such as writs, injunctions and specific performance. Gradually the courts of equity have merged with courts of law. Federal bankruptcy courts are the one example of courts which operate as courts of equity (Court of Equity, 2010).


A judicial decision or order.  The word is typically used in reference to decisions and orders issued in dissolution, probate, and other types of cases heard in courts of equity (Legal Glossary, n.d.).


A mostly obsolete motion put to a trial judge after the plaintiff has completed his or her case, in which the defendant, while not objecting to the facts presented, and rather than responding by a full defence, asks the court to reject the petition right then and there because of a lack of basis in law or insufficiency of the evidence (Legal Dictionary, n.d.). 

Denial of Critical Care

"Denial of critical care" is defined as the failure on the part of a person responsible for the care of a child to provide for the adequate food, shelter, clothing or other care necessary for the child's health and welfare when financially able to do so or when offered financial or other reasonable means to do so (Source: Iowa Department of Human Services). Also see: child abuse and physical abuse. 

De Novo 

Meaning "of new."  Used most often to describe a standard of review in which a higher court reviews a new the evidence and record of a case from a lower court or tribunal, as opposed to a review limited to the correction of errors (Legal Glossary, n.d.). 


The official statement by a witness taken in writing as opposed to testimony which where a witnesses give their perception of the facts verbally (Legal Dictionary, n.d.). 


In civil procedure, a process by which one party may obtain information about the other party, typically through depositions and various records(Scaros, 2008).  Also see Interrogatories and Depositions. 

Due Process

Restricts the ways in which government can limit individual freedom (Nowak & Rotunda, 2007) 

Substantive Due Process – protects certain fundamental rights or void arbitrary limitations of individual freedom of action. The 14th Amendment is the incorporation of many of the guarantees in the Bill of Rights, thus legislation cannot be passed that denies such protected freedoms (Nowak & Rotunda, 2007) 

Procedural Due Process – guarantees that each person shall be accorded a certain “process” if the government deprives them of life, liberty, or property. If the government deprives a person physical liberty for a substantial period of time and penalizes him or her, due process guarantees that person a trial (Nowak & Rotunda, 2007) 


The act of freeing a person who was under the legal authority of another (such as a child before the age of majority) from that control such as child reaching the age of majority (Legal Dictionary, n.d.).    

emancipation of child support 

When a child reaches the age of emancipation, the duty of a parent for child support often ends (Source: Iowa Statute 598.1(9): "Support" or "support payments" means an amount which the court may require either of the parties to pay under a temporary order or a final judgment or decree, and may include alimony, child support, maintenance, and any other term used to describe these obligations.  For orders entered on or after July 1, 1990, unless the court specifically orders otherwise, medical support is not included in the monetary amount of child support.  The obligations shall include support for a child who is between the ages of eighteen and nineteen years who is engaged full-time in completing high school graduation or equivalency requirements in a manner which is reasonably expected to result in completion of the requirements prior to the person reaching nineteen years of age; and may include support for a child of any age who is dependent on the parties to the dissolution proceedings because of physical or mental disability.

en banc

Fr. "by the full court" "in the bench" or "full bench." When all the members of an appellate court hear an argument, they are sitting en banc. Refers to court sessions with the entire membership of a court participating rather than the usual quorum. U.S. courts of appeals usually sit in panels of three judges, but may expand to a larger number in certain cases. They are then said to be sitting en banc (EN BANC, n.d.). 

et seq

n abbreviation for the Latin et sequentes or et sequentia, meaning "and the following."

The phrase et seq. is used in references made to particular pages or sections of cases, articles, regulations, or statutes to indicate that the desired information is continued on the pages or in the sections following a designated page or section, as "p. 238 et seq." or "section 43 et seq."

The abbreviation et seq. is sometimes used to denote a reference to more than one following page or section (et seq, 2008). 

Guardian Ad Litem  

A person, usually an attorney, appointed by the court to represent a the interests of another person, usually a child, in court.  For instance, a guardian ad litem is often appointed for a child who is the subject of a child in need of assistance case.  Sometimes the court will appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of a child when the child's parents are dissolving their marriage.  Note:  At least in Iowa, the appointment of a guardian ad litem does not necessarily mean the government will cover the expense (Legal Glossary, n.d.).


Is the court’s decision on the issue or issues litigated. The holding has been defined as the judgment plus the material facts of the case (Shapo, Walter, & Fajans, 2008). 


A poor person; not penniless but in need and who has no financial support from any other (Legal Dictionary, n.d.). 

In forma pauperis 

in form-ah paw-purr-iss) adj. or adj. Latin for "in the form of a pauper," referring to a party to a lawsuit who gets filing fees waived by filing a declaration of lack of funds (has no money to pay). These declarations are most often found in divorces by young marrieds, or poor defendants who have been sued (In forma pauperis, 2008). 


prep. Latin for "below," this is legal shorthand to indicate that the details or citation of a case will come later on in the brief. Infra is distinguished from supra which shows that a case has already been cited "above." The typical language is Jones v. McLaughlin, infra, meaning the exact citation of the case, including volume and page number, will follow later in the document (Infra, 2008). 


A court order requiring a party to do or to refrain from doing a certain act.  An injunction may be granted as part of a final judgment; or at any prior stage of the proceedings, in which case it is a preliminary, or temporary, injunction.  A preliminary injunction is to be issued only with extreme caution where it is likely a petitioner would suffer irreparable injury if the injunction is not granted, or in any case specially authorized by statute  (Legal Glossary, n.d.).


Written questions propounded by one party and served on an adversary, who must provide written answers under oath; a discovery procedure in preparation for a trial (Legal Glossary, n.d.).

Issue of Fact

See Question of Fact.

Issue of Law

See Question of Law.

"Joint physical care" 

An award of physical care of a minor child to both joint legal custodial parents under which both parents have rights and responsibilities toward the child including, but not limited to, shared parenting time with the child, maintaining homes for the child, providing routine care for the child and under which neither parent has physical care rights superior to those of the other parent (Source: Iowa Code 598.1).


The legal power to adjudicate a case (Scaros, 2008). 


A writ which commands an individual, organization (eg. government), administrative tribunal or court to perform a certain action, usually to correct a prior illegal action or a failure to act in the first place (Legal Dictionary, n.d.).


English practice. A writ enclosing a record sent to be tried in a county palatine; it derives its name from the Latin word mittimus, "we send." It is the jury process of these counties, and commands the proper officer of the county palatine to command the sheriff to summon the jury for the trial of the cause, and to return the record, etc.crim. law, practice. A precept in writing, under the hand and seal of a justice of the peace, or other competent officer, directed to the jailer or keeper of a prison, commanding him to receive and safely keep, a person charged with an offence therein named until he shall be delivered by due course of law (Mittimus, n.d.). 


An application to the court requesting a specific ruling in a pending case. Usually, a motion concerns an issue with the court's discretion  (Legal Glossary, n.d.).

Motion for Summary Judgment

A request made by the defendant in a civil case. Asserts that the plaintiff has raised no genuine issue to be tried and asks the judge to rule in favor of the defense. Typically made before the trial (Motion for Summary Judgemnt, n.d.). 

· “Each element must be supported in the same way as any other matter on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof, i.e., with the manner and degree of evidence required at the successive stages of the litigation." Id. In order to defeat a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not simply rely on his pleadings but must present some evidence on every material issue for which he will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex  Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).


Generally defined as conduct that falls below a standard established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm.  Comparative negligence or comparative fault means a plaintiff's own negligence that proportionately reduces the damages recoverable from a defendant.  Concurrent or joint negligence involves the negligence of two or more parties causing the same damage.  Negligence per se is negligence established as a matter of law that renders a person absolutely liable for resulting damages (Legal Glossary, n.d.).

Non-custodial Parent

n. The father or mother of a child, who supports, loves, cares, educates, disciplines, and raises their child, to the fullest extent that is allowed by Court Order.  

Notice of Appeal 

A filing required to appeal a ruling made by a lower court.  In Iowa, the notice of appeal is filed with the clerk of district court in the county where decision being appealed from is entered, a copy must be served on the other parties, and the clerk of district court sends a copy to the clerk of the supreme court (Legal Glossary, n.d.).

nunc pro tunc

(nuhnk proh tuhnk) adj. Latin for "now for then," this refers to changing back to an earlier date of an order, judgment or filing of a document. Such a retroactive re-dating requires a court order which can be obtained by a showing that the earlier date would have been legal, and there was error, accidental omission or neglect which has caused a problem or inconvenience which can be cured. Often the judge will grant the nunc pro tunc order ex parte (with only the applicant appearing and without notice). Examples: a court clerk fails to file an answer when he/she received it, and a nunc pro tunc date of filing is needed to meet the legal deadline (statute of limitations); a final divorce judgment is misdirected and, therefore, not signed and dated until the day after the re-marriage of one of the parties-the nunc pro tunc order will prevent the appearance or actuality of a bigamous marriage (nunc pro tunc, 2010).

Original Notice

A document filed in court to begin a law suit. The notice of the filing of a lawsuit served on a defendant, stating a time in which a response must be filed  (Legal Glossary, n.d.).

Parens Patriae

Latin: inherent jurisdiction of the courts to make decisions concerning people who are not able to take care of themselves (Legal Dictionary, n.d.). 

Parental Alienation

A form of emotional child abuse where a custodial parent belittles or vilifies the other parent to the child (Legal Dictionary, n.d.). 

Per curriam

Where the opinion does not bear the name of an author (judge) and means a decision “by court” and may be used for a shorter opinion on an issue which there is general unanimity (Shapo, Walter, & Fajans, 2008).


A written application to a court, usually the first pleading in a lawsuit, requesting a remedy available under law; also, called a complaint.  For example, a petition for dissolution of marriage is the first pleading filed in a divorce (Legal Glossary, n.d.). 

Physical Abuse

"Physical abuse" is defined as any non-accidental physical injury, or injury which is at variance with the history given of it, suffered by a child as the result of the acts or omissions of a person responsible for the care of the child (Source: Iowa Department of Human Services). 

Power of Attorney

A document which gives a person the right to make binding decisions for another, as an agent (Legal Dictionary, n.d.).


Law. a legal decision or form of proceeding serving as an authoritative rule or pattern in future similar or analogous cases (Precedent, 2010). 

Pro Per

adj. short for "propria persona," which is Latin for "for oneself," usually applied to a person who represents himself/herself in a lawsuit rather than have an attorney (Pro Per, 2010).

pro se

(proh say) prep. Latin for "for himself." A party to a lawsuit who represents himself (acting in propria persona) is appearing in the case "pro se." (Pro Se, 2010).  


To annul or set aside. In law, a motion to quash asks the judge for an order setting aside or nullifying an action, such as "quashing" service of a summons when the wrong person was served (Legal Dictionary, n.d.).

Question of Fact

Disputes the actual happenings of that situation (Scaros, 2008).

Question of Law

Is a dispute as to what the law state regarding a particular situation (Scaros, 2008). 


To abrogate or cancel a contract putting the parties in the same position they would have been in had there been no contract (Legal Dictionary, n.d.).


1.To send or order back.  2. Law.  a. To send back to custody. b. To send back (a case) to a lower court with instructions about further proceedings.  (Remanded, 2010).

Sexual Abuse

"Sexual abuse" is defined as the commission of a sexual offense with or to a child pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 709, Iowa Code section 726.2, or Iowa Code section 728.12, subsection 1, as a result of the acts or omissions of the person responsible for the care of the child. 

Sources in Law

Primary sources in law - include case law (judicial decisions) and enacted law (statutes, constitutions, and administrative regulations) (Shapo, Walter, & Fajans, 2008).

Secondary sources in law – are statements about the law and are used to explain, interpret, develop, locate, or update primary authorities (Mersky & Dunn, 2002). 

Stare decisis – literally “to stand on what has been decided” is the principle that the decision of the court is binding authority on the court that issued the decision and on lower courts in the same jurisdiction for the disposition of factually similar controversies (Mersky & Dunn, 2002). 


n. a court-ordered short-term delay in judicial proceedings to give a losing defendant time to arrange for payment of the judgment or move out of the premises in an unlawful detainer case (Stay, 2010).


A written agreement by opposing parties in a case as to any manner pertaining to court proceedings or trial.  Stipulations serve to simplify and expedite proceedings when parties agree on certain facts or procedures (Legal Glossary, n.d.). 


A written legal notice compelling a person to appear in court to testify as a witness.  Subpoena duces tecum is a notice to compel a person to appear and bring specified documents, records, or items (Legal Glossary, n.d.).


One of the initial documents issued in a civil suit; giving the defendant notice of the claim and an opportunity to defend it (Legal Dictionary, n.d.).


1 a : to cause to be set aside b : to force out of use as inferior. 2 : to take the place or position of. 3 : to displace in favor of another (Supersede, 2010). 


(sooh-prah) Latin for "above," in legal briefs and decisions it refers to the citation of a court decision which has been previously mentioned. Thus a case when first cited will be referred to as Guinn v. United States, (1915) 238 U.S. 347, meaning it can be found in volume 238 of the U.S. Reports (of the Supreme Court) at page 347 and was decided in 1915. The next time the case is cited as Guinn v. United States, supra (Supra, 2010). 


n. from French for "wrong," a civil wrong or wrongful act, whether intentional or accidental, from which injury occurs to another. Torts include all negligence cases as well as intentional wrongs which result in harm. Therefore tort law is one of the major areas of law (along with contract, real property and criminal law) and results in more civil litigation than any other category. Some intentional torts may also be crimes, such as assault, battery, wrongful death, fraud, conversion (a euphemism for theft) and trespass on property and form the basis for a lawsuit for damages by the injured party. Defamation, including intentionally telling harmful untruths about another-either by print or broadcast (libel) or orally (slander)-is a tort and used to be a crime as well (Tort, 2010).


A copy of the record of a trial, hearing or other proceeding as prepared by a court reporter (Legal Glossary, n.d.).  


v. for a judge to set aside or annul an order or judgment which he/she finds was imprope (Vacate, 2010).



n. a written order of a judge requiring specific action by the person or entity to whom the writ is directed (Writ, 2010).


Affirm. (2010). Retrieved February 09, 2010, from Dictionary:

Annulled. (2010). Retrieved February 9, 2010, from

Arguendo. (2008). Retrieved February 9, 2010, from The Free Dictionary:

Certiorari. (2010). Retrieved February 09, 2010, from Dictionary:

Court of Equity. (2010). Retrieved February 09, 2010, from Dictionary:
EN BANC. (n.d.). Retrieved January 9, 2010, from
Et seq. (2008). Retrieved February 9, 2010, from The Free Dictionary:
In forma pauperis. (2008). Retrieved February 9, 2010, from The Free

Infra. (2008). Retrieved February 9, 2010, from The Free Dictionary:
Legal Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2010, from
Legal Glossary. (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2010, from Iowa Judicial Branch:

Mersky, R. M., & Dunn, D. J. (2002). Legal Research Illustrated, Eighth Edition. New York: Foundation Press.
Mittimus. (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2010, from

Motion for Summary Judgment. (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2010, from
Nowak, J. E., & Rotunda, R. D. (2007). Principles of Constitutional Law, 3rd. Ed.St. Paul: Thomson West.

nunc pro tunc. (2010). Retrieved February 09, 2010, from Dictionary:
Precedent. (2010). Retrieved February 9, 2010, from

Pro Per. (2010). Retrieved February 09, 2010, from Dictionary:

Pro Se. (2010). Retrieved February 09, 2010, from Dictionary:

Remanded. (2010). Retrieved February 9, 2010, from

Scaros, C. E. (2008). Learning About the Law, 3rd. Ed. New York:
Aspen Publishers.

Shapo, H. S., Walter, M. R., & Fajans, E. (2008). Writing and Analysis in the Law, Fifth Ed. New York: Thomson West.
Stay. (2010). Retrieved February 09, 2010, from Dictionary:

Supersede. (2010). Retrieved February 9, 2010, from Merriam Webster Dictionary:
Supra. (2010). Retrieved February 09, 2010, from Dictionary:

Tort. (2010). Retrieved February 09, 2010, from Dictionary:

Vacate. (2010). Retrieved February 09, 2010, from Dictionary:

Writ. (2010). Retrieved February 09, 2010, from Dictionary:

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