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Welcome to the LSNJLAWSM website, provided by Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ). LSNJ is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit offering free civil legal assistance to low-income people in New Jersey. Find legal information by clicking on a legal topic or typing a few words into the search box.




acknowledgment of service

A form that may be used to serve a defendant more quickly and easily than service with a summons. In order for service to be effective, the defendant or the defendant’s attorney must sign this document in the presence of a notary public and return it to the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney. The plaintiff’s attorney must then file this form with the court.


A written or printed statement of facts signed by the party making the statement and witnessed by a person who is authorized by the government to administer oaths and attest to the fact that the signature on a document is really that of the person who signed it. See also certification


Money paid by one spouse to the other spouse after a divorce to help the other spouse continue to live the way he or she lived while married. See also spousal support


The process of paying off a loan, such as a mortgage, gradually, usually by periodic payments of principal and interest. See also principal, interest/interest rate


The document filed by the defendant in response to the complaint filed by the plaintiff. The answer admits to the statements in the plaintiff’s complaint that are true and denies the statements that are false. An answer can also include a counterclaim. See also counterclaim, answer to counterclaim

answer to counterclaim

The document filed by the plaintiff in response to the defendant’s counterclaim. See also answer, counterclaim


A defendant who is not represented by an attorney and does not file an answer to a complaint may enter a general appearance by signing a document called an acknowledgment of service and returning it to the plaintiff. Where a defendant who is represented by an attorney does not file an answer to a complaint, his or her attorney may still make an appearance by sending a letter to the court or filing a motion informing the court that he or she is representing the defendant in the matter before the court. See also acknowledgment of service, answer


A procedure that uses an impartial third party to decide issues in a case. Arbitration is one way for cases to be resolved without having a judge or jury make the decision. The parties can choose whether the arbitrator’s decision will be binding or non-binding. If it is binding, the parties cannot question the decision or appeal it. Arbitration is used to resolve many different kinds of cases, including consumer disputes, personal injury cases, and family matters. It is similar to mediation, as both are ways to resolve disputes without a trial. See also mediation


A reference to payments being “in arrears” is a reference to money that is not paid when it is due. An arrearage is a type of debt that is overdue after missing an expected payment. Unpaid rent, unpaid credit card expenses, and unpaid child support are common types of arrearages.

adjustable rate mortgage (ARM)

A mortgage where the interest rate changes periodically. The note will tell you how often the interest rate can change and the maximum rate that you can be charged. Many loans have a short time period during which the interest rate is fixed, such as two years. After that time period is over, the interest rate becomes adjustable for the rest of the loan term. See also mortgage, note


balloon loan

A loan where the monthly payments do not fully pay off the loan. If you have a balloon loan and you make all monthly payments on time, you will still owe some portion of the loan at the end of the loan term.

best interests investigation

In family cases where the court determines that the custody of children is a genuine (real) and substantial (important) issue, the court may order a best interests investigation. The purpose of a best interests investigation is to determine what custody or visitation arrangement is best for the child or children. Depending on what factors are in dispute, a best interests investigation may consist of a home inspection, a social investigation, or both. The investigation may be done by any member of the staff of the Family Division of the Superior Court. The purpose of the investigation is to provide the court with information that corresponds to the list of factors it must consider under the law in order to determine the best interests of a child in a custody dispute. See also custody, legal custody, sole custody


cause of action

A statement about what someone has done, or failed to do, and why that gives another person the legal right to sue for some kind of relief. The legal ground (reason) for a complaint. The legal theory of a lawsuit.


A written statement of facts that supports a request for relief to the court. The party making the statement of facts swears at the end of the document that everything stated is true to the best of his or her knowledge. A certification is similar to an affidavit. However, unlike an affidavit, a certification is self-swearing. It does not require the signature of an authorized witness, such as a notary public. At the end of the document, the party making the statements affirms under oath that everything stated is true. See also affidavit

Chancery Division

The division of the Superior Court of New Jersey where lawsuits asking primarily for non-monetary (not money-related) relief are filed and heard by the court. The Chancery Division includes, among other parts, the General Equity Part, Probate Part, and Family Part. In the General Equity Part, judges hear cases such as home foreclosures or requests to restrain parties from taking various types of action. In the Probate Part, judges hear disputes over wills and cases asking that guardians be appointed for incapacitated persons. In the Family Part, judges hear cases such as adoption, divorce, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, child support, and termination of parental rights. See also General Equity Part, Probate Part, Family Part

child support

Financial support provided by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to help support the children.

civil action

A lawsuit that involves non-criminal claims against a party. The range of civil actions is large and includes many types of lawsuits including contract disputes and claims for personal injury. All civil actions must give a cause or causes of action in order for a court to decide them.

civil part

The part of the Superior Court of New Jersey where cases involving money issues, such as breach of contract, collection of a debt, automobile accidents, medical malpractice, etc., are heard.


Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1986. COBRA is the federal law that requires employers to offer a continuation or extension of health coverage in certain instances where coverage under the employer’s health plan would normally end, such as when an employee is terminated from or leaves a job.


Assets pledged by a borrower to secure a loan or other credit. The assets may be seized if the loan is not paid back. In a home loan, the house is the collateral. The borrower risks losing the property if the loan is not repaid according to the terms of the mortgage or deed of trust.


The legal document that begins a lawsuit in the Civil Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. A complaint provides reasons for the lawsuit and gives the party being sued information about why he or she is being sued. The party who files the complaint is known as the plaintiff. See also plaintiff

consent judgment

A judgment signed by the plaintiff, the defendant, and the judge, where the plaintiff and defendant reach an agreement with respect to all of the terms included in the consent judgment. When the parties come to an agreement of this type, they usually avoid having to participate in a trial or hearing.

consent order

See also consent judgment

consolidate debt

To replace multiple loans with a single loan, which often has a lower monthly payment and a longer repayment period. Also called a consolidation loan.


A civil officer, such as a sheriff, whose purpose is to perform duties, such as serving writs and warrants, on behalf of the court. A constable’s duties are more minor than a sheriff’s, with less authority and a smaller jurisdiction. See also sheriff’s officer

contested divorce

A divorce where the defendant contests or objects to the things that the complaint states happened, or where the defendant objects to the relief that the plaintiff is asking for in the complaint, such as custody, support, or property.


A plaintiff’s or a defendant’s statement of the fact or facts in a complaint or counterclaim that give him or her a right to relief from the court. For example, a divorce complaint or counterclaim might contain two counts, with one demonstrating facts supporting a right to a divorce based on extreme cruelty and the other demonstrating facts supporting a right to a divorce based on desertion.


A complaint filed by the defendant against the plaintiff as a part of the defendant’s response to the plaintiff’s complaint. The defendant usually files a counterclaim with an answer. See also answer


A person or entity who gives credit to another for money or goods. One to whom a debt is owed. See also debtor


In the context of a trial or a hearing, the process by which the attorney for the opposing party (or the opposing party if he or she does not have an attorney) asks questions of the other the party’s witnesses about the answers that they have given to questions asked during direct examination. For example, after each of the plaintiff’s witnesses testifies, the defendant (or the defendant’s attorney, if he or she has one) can cross-examine those witnesses. The plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney can also cross-examine the defendant’s witnesses. The questions asked on cross-examination must refer to something that the witness has said in response to questions on direct examination. The judge can also ask questions of any of the witnesses during cross-examination. See also direct examination

covenant of quiet enjoyment

When a landlord and a tenant sign a contract to rent (rental agreement or lease), they each promise to do certain things. The tenant promises to pay rent by a certain date every month and, in return, the landlord promises that the tenant will be able to enjoy his or her property. When the conditions of the apartment interfere with the tenant’s ability to live in his or her property, the landlord is said to have breached the covenant (promise) of quite enjoyment.


A type of document that may be filed in response to a motion. Another type of response to a motion is a certification in opposition to that motion. Unlike a certification in opposition to a motion, a cross-motion usually concerns a subject different from that of the motion originally filed by the opposing party. See also motion

custodial parent

The parent with whom a child physically resides is called the custodial parent. In situations where the child resides most of the time with this parent but also resides part of the time with the other parent, the custodial parent may be referred to as the parent of primary residence.


The right of a natural or adoptive parent to the care, control, and maintenance of his or her natural or adopted child. Custody is awarded to a parent or parents in a divorce or custody proceeding. See also physical custody, legal custody, sole custody



The act of attempting to resolve a dispute or disputes with the help of a neutral third party before a trial or hearing.

month-to-month lease

A lease where payments are made each month.

marital debt

Debt brought about by either spouse between the date of their marriage and the filing of a divorce complaint, with certain exceptions, such as debt that comes from purchasing items not related to the marriage, or purchases made after a separation. See also equitable distribution

market value

The going or current rate.

marital property

Property acquired by either spouse during the time between the date of their marriage and the filing of a divorce complaint, with some exceptions (such as gifts received by one spouse from a third party and property a relative leaves to one spouse). See also equitable distribution


An agreement that a lender may use a house as collateral for a debt. Using the property as collateral means that, if the homeowner does not pay the debt, the lender can bring a foreclosure case in court so that the property can be sold to satisfy the debt. See also collateral


An application to the court for some kind of legal relief. Motions are usually filed after an order has been entered in a lawsuit. Sometimes they may be filed at the beginning of a lawsuit in place of an answer to a complaint or with an answer to a complaint.

moving party

The party who files motion papers with the court.



A written instrument (document) that is used to transfer property (a house or land) from one person to another.

default judgment

A judgment by a court that can occur when the defendant is properly served with a complaint but fails to respond to it by filing an answer in the time allowed.


The party who is sued by a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit. The accused person in a criminal case is also referred to as the defendant. See also plaintiff


To discontinue or end a lawsuit without any further consideration or hearing.


A term for the act of terminating a marriage. See also divorce


The legal end of a marriage by way of a judgment or order of a court.

docket number

The number assigned by the clerk of the court to a case when it is filed with the court so that it may be easily identified and located. The docket number of a case never changes. It should appear on all letters and documents sent to the court or to the other parties in the case.


One of a number of different ways to get information about a case through the legal procedure known as discovery (the disclosure of facts, documents, and testimony of witnesses before a hearing or trial occurs). At a deposition, one party questions either the other party or the other party’s witness, and the witness gives answers under oath. See also discovery

direct examination

The process by which a party or a party’s witness is asked and answers questions asked by his or her attorney (if the party is represented by an attorney) or by a judge (if the party is representing him- or herself). After direct examination is completed, the opposing party or the attorney for the opposing party is permitted to ask questions of the party’s witnesses on cross-examination. The person asking the questions is not supposed to “lead the witness” (to use words in the question that give the answer to the question). See also cross-examination


The legal procedure used to get information about a case through the disclosure of facts, documents, and testimony of witnesses before a hearing or trial occurs. During discovery, the plaintiff and defendant exchange information about a case with each other by making requests for answers to questions (called interrogatories) and requests for documents that are related to the lawsuit. Parties may also take depositions of witnesses under oath. See also interrogatory, deposition


One who owes something to another person.



A party holding a mortgage, lien, lease, or other restrictions relating to property. See also lien, lease contract (lease), mortgage


Financial assistance that some low-income families or individuals may be eligible to receive from the local, county, or federal government. Public benefits include the different forms of welfare, such as Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), General Assistance (GA), and Emergency Assistance (EA). Other benefits include food stamps, Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). See also public benefits

equitable distribution

Under New Jersey law, this term refers to the concept of equitably (fairly) dividing marital property and marital debt between the parties as a part of the relief in a divorce case. See also marital property, marital debt


The amount of money left over if you subtract the amount of any liens (mortgages or loans) on real property from the market value of that real property.


Money in escrow is money placed into an account held by a lender into which a homeowner puts money to pay for taxes and insurance.


The legal term for a person’s real property (land or house), personal property (car, jewelry, other objects), and money and other investments.


Testimony, written documents, material objects, or other things presented at a trial for the purpose of proving the existence or nonexistence of a fact. There are special court rules which determine whether or not a particular item of evidence is admissible (that is, whether a judge will allow it to be presented in court and considered in making a decision concerning the case.)


Papers, documents, or other objects that are either attached to an affidavit or a certification in order to support factual statements made in the affidavit or certification. The term also refers to papers, documents, or other objects presented to the court during a trial or hearing in order to support facts that are presented by testimony or other evidence at that trial or hearing.


Family Part

The part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey where lawsuits involving subjects that arise out of family-type situations are filed and heard by the court.

Family Case Information Statement (Family CIS)

The Family CIS is a form required by court rule to be filed by both plaintiff and defendant at the beginning of a family case. It asks for detailed information about each party’s current financial and living situation.

fault-based divorce

A divorce based on a specific reason (ground or fault) as opposed to a no-fault divorce, which does not require a reason or ground.

final judgment of divorce (FJOD)

The court order that legally ends a marriage. The FJOD also describes the resolution of the issues raised in a divorce complaint, such as custody, child support, alimony, equitable distribution of property and debt, and name change.

final restraining order

A court order issued after the filing of a domestic violence complaint and usually after a hearing has been held where both the plaintiff and defendant have had an opportunity to appear and present evidence. This type of court order normally restrains or prevents the defendant from having any type of contact with the plaintiff. Under New Jersey law, final restraining orders remain in force indefinitely or until either the plaintiff or defendant applies to the court to dissolve or end the order.


pro se

In Latin, “for oneself.” Acting as one’s own lawyer. A person is considered a pro se litigant when he or she does not have a lawyer.

parent of primary residence (PPR)

Where the parents of a child or children are separated, the PPR is the parent with whom the child spends most of his or her overnight time, or the place where the child resides for more than 50% of the overnights during a year. If the time spent with the parents is equal, then the PPR is the parent with whom the child resides while going to school. For the purposes of determining who is the PPR, overnight means more than 12 hours.


The plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) named in a civil lawsuit.

personal property

Possessions such as cars, appliances, TV sets, sound equipment, jewelry, expensive tools, furniture, etc. See also real property

proposed form of order

The order that either the plaintiff or defendant gives to the court with the terms that each party would like the court to order.

physical custody

The parent referred to as having physical custody is the one with whom the child lives for a majority of the time. This parent is also called the custodial parent or the parent of primary residence. See also custodial parent, parent of primary residence (PPR)


The party who begins a civil lawsuit by filing a complaint.

plenary guardian

If a court determines that an alleged incapacitated person not capable of managing all or most of his or her own affairs, the court will most probably appoint a plenary (full) guardian. A plenary guardian has the legal right to take care of all of the responsibilities of the incapacitated person.


A sum of money owed as a debt – the total loan amount borrowed. The face value of the note. See also note


The name given to the legal process of settling the estate of a deceased person; specifically, resolving all claims and distributing the decedent’s property.

Probate Part

Cases asking for primarily non-monetary equitable relief, such as executing a will, appointing a guardian, or distributing an estate, are heard in the Probate Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court.


A court-imposed criminal sentence that releases a convicted person into the community in place of requiring him or her to serve a sentence in a jail or prison.

probation department

The enforcement arm of the Superior Court of New Jersey. This department is responsible for supervising criminal offenders and for the collection of payments ordered by the courts, including child support and victim restitution (money paid to victims of crimes). See also restitution

pre-trial discovery

The term for a number of different ways for one party to get information from the other party, which is necessary to prove a case or defend against a lawsuit before the case goes to trial. Common methods of pre-trial discovery include interrogatories, requests for the production of documents, and depositions. See also discovery

proof of service

A document filed with the court that proves the date on which documents were formally served on (delivered to) a party in a court action.

public benefits

Financial assistance that some low-income families or individuals may be eligible to receive from the local, county, or federal government. Public benefits include the different forms of welfare, such as Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), General Assistance (GA), and Emergency Assistance (EA). Other benefits include food stamps, Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). See also entitlements

pendent lite

A Latin term meaning pending or during the actual progress of the lawsuit or litigation. For example, in the context of a divorce, an example of “pendent lite relief” might be a request from one party to another for child support, or assistance with making a mortgage payment or paying some other household bill, before the final judgment of divorce is entered.



A judicial proceeding where a person who is owed money (a creditor) asks the court to order a third party (usually a bank or employer) holding the property of the person who owes money to the creditor (the debtor) to turn over a portion of that money (such as wages or a bank account) to the creditor. Some common examples of garnishment are where the court orders that a non-custodial parent’s wages be garnished in order to pay child support to the custodial parent, or where a credit card company obtains a court order garnishing a portion of the debtor’s salary to pay for unpaid credit card bills. See also creditor, debtor

General Equity Part

The part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey where cases asking for equitable relief rather than monetary relief are filed. General Equity cases usually involve the court ordering one party in the lawsuit to either do something or refrain from doing something. Some examples of General Equity cases are enforcing contracts and trusts, re-executing or correcting documents that were incorrectly executed or prepared, setting aside illegal or fraudulent transfers, granting relief in foreclosure actions, and stopping actions that may cause permanent harm.


A person appointed by a court to take care of another person (called his or her ward) and manage the property or personal rights of that other person because he or she is incapacitated and not able to care for himself or herself.

guardian ad litem

A guardian appointed for a limited purpose within the context of a particular litigation or case, usually where custody or visitation is an issue. The guardian ad litem’s duty ends when the litigation of the case or matter ends. A guardian ad litem does not have to be an attorney but should be a person with some social or psychological expertise. The guardian ad litem assists the court in determining what action is in the best interests of the child by reporting observations and facts to the court. The guardian ad litem does not act as an attorney for the child or children; that is the job of a law guardian. See also law guardian


The name for the special relationship between a guardian and his or her ward or incapacitated person. There are different types of guardianships, such as guardianships of the estate, guardianships of the person, limited guardianships, plenary guardianships, and standby guardianships.

guardianship of the estate

A legal relationship between two people where the court gives one person (a guardian) the legal right to make decisions about the property of another person (the ward). See also guardian

guardianship of the person

A legal relationship between two people where the court gives one person (a guardian) the legal right to make decisions about the person and personal well-being of another person (the ward). See also guardian


legal relief

What a litigant is asking the court to order in an application to the court, such as in a complaint or motion.


A kind of contract (agreement) that permits a person or a business to whom money is owed by another person to have a right to the property of the person who owes the money until the money is paid. A lien permits the person to whom the money is owed to take possession of the property and sell it in order to get the money owed.

limited guardian

If a court determines that an alleged incapacitated person is capable of managing some of his or her own affairs, the court may appoint a limited (partial) guardian. A limited guardian has a limited legal right to do only certain selected tasks for his or her ward. See also guardian, guardianship


The name given to the persons participating in and named in a lawsuit.

leave of court

Permission of the court (usually to do something non-routine).

legal custody

A parent with legal custody of a child is responsible for making important decisions concerning the child, such as where the child should go to school and what kind of medical care the child should get. It is common for both parents to retain legal custody of the child, even where only one parent has physical custody.

law guardian

An attorney for a child. A law guardian is appointed by the court or assigned to represent a child in matters where custody or parenting time/visitation is at issue or where the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, formerly DYFS, is suing a parent for neglect or abuse or to terminate his or her parental rights. The law guardian must represent the interest and wishes of the individual child that he or she represents.

lease contract (lease)

A contract between a landlord (or owner of a house or apartment building or other property, such as a car) and a tenant or lessee (other person who is permitted to pay rent or some other fee to use the property). A lease may be oral (spoken) or written. A lease or lease contract contains a term (a length of time for which a tenant or lessee agrees to rent property).

loan term

A loan term is the length of a loan.

loan principal

See also principal



A public proceeding in a court in which witnesses are heard, evidence is presented, and the parties to the lawsuit are present and have a right to be heard. There is no jury present. This proceeding is formal, but somewhat less formal than a trial.


in camera proceedings

Proceedings held outside of a courtroom, usually in the judge’s chambers (office).


In criminal cases, the jury decides whether or not the prosecutor on behalf of the State has presented enough evidence to go forward with the prosecution of a defendant for the crime with which he or she is charged. The written form of the jury’s decision is called an indictment.


A court order that commands that a party act or refrain from acting or taking action.

interest-only loan

A loan where the monthly payments do not pay down any of the loan principal. With an interest-only loan, even if mortgage payments are paid on time each month, at the end of the loan term the entire amount of the loan principal that was borrowed at the beginning of the loan will still be owed.

interlocutory appeal

An appeal to a higher court of a decision in a lawsuit filed before the final judgment of the lawsuit is entered.


A written question or set of questions directed by one party to the other party in a lawsuit. It is one of a number of different ways to get information about a case through the legal procedure known as discovery (the disclosure of facts, documents, and testimony of witnesses before a hearing or trial occurs). See also discovery

interest/interest rate

The cost of borrowing money from a lender, usually expressed as an amount of money per year. The interest is paid to the lender. For example, if you borrow $2,000 for one year and are charged an annual rate of interest of 5%, you would have to pay the lender $100 in interest.



The court order that represents the court’s written decision in a lawsuit. The judgment should be signed and dated on the date the case is decided.


The authority of a court to hear and decide a case. To hear a case and issue a decision, a court must have subject matter jurisdiction (the right to hear the type of case) and personal jurisdiction (the right to hear the case because of the actions of the parties involved.) For example, the New Jersey Superior Court (the state trial court) has jurisdiction to hear cases involving state civil and criminal laws, but does not have jurisdiction over cases involving immigration laws or patent laws because these cases involve federal laws and may only be heard and decided in federal court. Jurisdiction may also be connected to limits on the amount of money involved in a case. For example, the small claims section of the New Jersey Superior Court has jurisdiction only over cases that involve $3,000 or less.


open court

A hearing open to the public and in court as opposed to in a judge’s chambers (office). See also in camera proceedings


The court’s written decision in a lawsuit, signed and dated on the date that the case is decided. See also judgment


A formal statement opposing something that has occurred or is about to occur in court. This statement should also ask the court to decide if it will accept (sustain) the objection or reject (overrule) the objection. The party who states the objection must also give a legal reason for the objection.

order to show cause (OTSC)

A special order that directs a party to appear in court on short notice to explain why the court should or should not grant some sort of relief. An OTSC is usually used in emergency situations where the relief that is requested is of an emergency nature. If the court issues an order after it reviews the OTSC application, there is no need to serve a summons on the other party. The order serves as notice to the party in place of a summons.



The process of paying off one loan with the proceeds from another loan using the same property as security.


A rule or order usually issued by an administrative agency. These rules are found in a set of books called the New Jersey Administrative Code (N.J.A.C.). An example of an administrative agency is the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which enacts regulations to carry out New Jersey’s labor laws, or the Department of Law And Public Safety, which enacts laws to carry out the licensing of professionals.

reinstating a mortgage

To reinstate a mortgage and stop a foreclosure proceeding, a homeowner must pay the lender the total amount in default, plus interest, attorney’s fees, and any other costs incurred by the lender in connection with the foreclosure proceedings.


The act of sending a case or a claim back to the court from which it came for further legal action. It can also refer to the act of sending a person back to jail or prison or custody.


The act of transferring or moving a person or thing from one place to another. Cases may also be removed from one court to another.


To unmake or undo a contract or transaction between two parties.


The act of unmaking or undoing a contract or transaction between two parties.


Return or restoration of some specific thing to its rightful owner.

restraining order

A court order prohibiting (restraining) one party from doing something. For example, after a court finds that a defendant in a domestic violence case committed an act of domestic violence against the plaintiff victim, the judge will issue a final restraining order prohibiting the defendant from having any contact with the plaintiff. See also final restraining order

retainer agreement

The name for the agreement (contract) between a person and his or her attorney. In New Jersey, there are special rules about what these contracts must say. In civil family cases, the retainer agreement must state the name of the attorney or attorneys who will be have primary responsibility for the client’s case as well as the other attorneys representing the client and what legal services will be provided for the client. The retainer must also state what services the attorney will not provide for the client. In cases where a client will be charged for services, New Jersey court rules require that a client receive a bill at least every 90 days. Where there is a charge for services, the retainer agreement must also state the amount of the initial deposit, how it will be applied to the bill, the attorney’s hourly rate, and when the client will be billed.

return date

The date on which the court will consider an application to the court, such as a motion or an order to show cause.


An amendment (addition or change) to a contract or a policy.

real estate closing

The last step in the process of transferring ownership of real estate property from seller to buyer.

real property

Land and any building on the land, such as a house. Real property is also called real estate.

responding party

The party who responds to the moving party’s request for relief in a motion by agreeing to it, opposing it, or filing a cross-motion in response to it.


substituted service

See service/service of process


A command issued from the clerk of the Superior Court to appear at a certain time and place to give testimony under oath in a deposition, hearing, or trial.

subpoena duces tecum

A command issued from the clerk of the Superior Court to appear at a certain time and place to give testimony in a hearing or trial and to produce at the deposition, hearing- or trial-specific papers, and documents related to the case.

Section 8 Housing

A term for privately owned rental dwelling units participating in the low-income rental assistance program created by 1974 amendments to Section 8 of the 1937 Housing Act. Under the Section 8 program, landlords receive rent subsidies on behalf of qualified low-income tenants, allowing the tenants to pay a limited portion of their incomes toward the rent.

security deposit

The deposit that a landlord requires from a tenant upon the beginning of the lease. The money belongs to the tenant but is held by the landlord in trust to be used in case the tenant damages property or fails to pay rent. There are laws regulating how a security deposit must be treated.

security interest

A property interest created by agreement or by law. Usually this type of interest is created in order to make certain that the person responsible for re-paying a debt actually re-pays the debt.

service mortgager/servicer

A company responsible for collecting monthly payments and penalties, insurance and tax payments, and keeping records related to a mortgage loan.

separate maintenance

Support given from one spouse to another or from one civil union partner to another, usually where the parties are still married or still in a civil union but have physically separated.


In New Jersey, a sheriff is an officer of the court who performs official duties such as providing security to the courthouse and serving process on litigants. Sheriff’s officers usually have more authority than constables. See also constable

show cause orders

See order to show cause (OTSC)

SISA loan

SISA stands for stated income, stated asset loan, meaning that the lender asks an applicant how much he or she earns but does not check with the applicant’s employer. If the loan was based on a much higher income than the applicant actually had, the mortgage may be unaffordable and the mortgagor (person responsible for paying the mortgage) may not be able to afford the mortgage payments and may end up in foreclosure. SISA loan documents may or may not contain information about the details of the loan.

service/service of process

The legal term for delivering to or leaving with a person who is a party to a lawsuit a summons, writ, or other official court paper that gives that party notice of the fact that someone has filed a lawsuit against him or her. This procedure is followed in order to give the other party reasonable notice of when and where the proceedings concerning the lawsuit will take place, so that he or she will have the opportunity to appear at that proceeding and be heard. The most common type of service is personal service, which means simply delivering to or leaving a summons and complaint with an actual person. Other types of service are substituted service, which refers to giving a party notice by way of mailing or delivering the papers to someone else in place of the party, or publishing a notice of the lawsuit in a newspaper.

sole custody

The term that describes the legal result when a court awards both legal and physical custody to only one parent of a child or children. Sole custody is usually ordered only in situations where one parent is missing or absent or has been found legally unfit to parent a child. A parent with no custodial rights may still be awarded visitation time with a child or children, but it is likely to be limited and supervised.

spousal support

Support paid by a husband or wife to his or her spouse while they are separated but before they are divorced. Sometimes this term is used in place of the term alimony although, technically, alimony refers to support paid after the divorce. See also alimony

standby guardianship

A type of guardianship arrangement where a natural parent of a child or children designates (chooses) or a court appoints another adult person to act as parent to his or her child or children in the future if he or she is unable to do so. The natural parent does not give up his or her parental rights as is the case with a regular guardianship designation


A party’s legal right to bring a legal claim (complaint) or to ask the court to enforce a right or duty.


A law passed by a legislative body.


An order that suspends the judgment of a court proceeding or the proceeding itself. For example, in landlord-tenant court, tenants will often need more time to actually remove themselves, their family, and belongings from an apartment and may ask the court to stay the warrant of removal for a short time. See also warrant of removal


An agreement between opposing parties on some important or relevant fact relating to a contract or, in the case of litigation, a trial or hearing.

substitution of attorney form

The name for the document that must be filed in order to notify the court that another attorney is taking over a case, or that the plaintiff or defendant is going to represent him- or herself. The new attorney or the party is named on the form, and the form is signed by the former attorney.

summary action

A term for a court case that is usually shorter and has a quicker turnaround time than a plenary (full) action. In a summary action, the defendant is usually not required to file a written response or answer to the plaintiff’s complaint. Instead, the defendant is required to appear on a certain date in court and answer the plaintiff’s claims in person. In addition, in some kinds of summary cases, such as domestic violence cases, the parties are not permitted to engage in discovery. In others, such as summary eviction actions, the parties are permitted to use some discovery methods to get information from each other prior to the hearing or trial.


The official notice to the defendant that a lawsuit has been filed against him or her. A summons also tells the defendant where and how to respond to the complaint and the deadline for filing that response.


negative amortization loan

A loan set up so that the monthly payments do not cover the full amount of principal and interest that would be necessary to fully pay off the loan within the loan term. When a loan negatively amortizes, your monthly payments do not reduce the total amount owed on the loan. Instead, the principal of the loan actually gets bigger each month, so that more than the amount originally borrowed is owed.


Communication with another party for the purpose of reaching an understanding.

next of kin

A term referring to the closest family relatives of an individual (usually spouse and children). The term is commonly used in the context of a will or the appointment of a guardian for a person who is incapacitated.

no-fault divorce

A divorce based on the fact that spouses have experienced irreconcilable differences for a period of six months or more, or based on the fact that spouses have been living separate and apart in different places for 18 consecutive months or more.

non-custodial parent

A term referring to the parent who does not have the child physically living with him or her. In situations where the child resides most of the time with the other parent but also resides part of the time with this parent, the non-custodial parent may be referred to as the parent of secondary residence.


A non-dissolution family matter is a case that asks for relief relating to child support, custody, and visitation, but not divorce. A non-dissolution matter in the Family Part of the New Jersey Superior Court will have a docket number that begins with an FD.

notary public

A public officer whose function it is to administer oaths and to certify by his or her official seal that the signature of the party taking the oath is authentic. Law offices, banks, and real estate offices often have employees who may also be notaries public.


A legal document that is a written promise by one party to repay a loan or other sum of money to another party at a specific interest rate during a specific period of time.


The legal notification required by law or by an agreement made between two persons or parties. A person or party receives this legal notification in a variety of ways, including but not limited to: (1) having actual knowledge of it, (2) receiving information about it, or (3) having a reason to know about it.


qualified written request

A written request for mortgage documents made to the company collecting mortgage payments (the mortgage servicer).


Qualified Domestic Relations Order. A QDRO is a special type of order used to help the parties and the court decide how to divide a private or state pension. It is prepared by an expert and approved by the court. Dividing a federal pension requires the use of a different type of order, called a Court Order Approved for Processing (COAP).


unconscionable commercial practices

The term unconscionable means literally without conscience, or showing no regard for conscience, sense of decency, or justice. Commercial practices refer to the sale and distribution of goods and the financing of credit transactions on the goods sold.

uncontested divorce

A divorce where the defendant spouse does not object to the things the plaintiff says happened in the marriage or does not object to anything the plaintiff is asking for in the complaint.


This term refers to services such as natural gas, electricity, water, and telecommunications and cable television.


teaser rate loan

A loan with a low interest rate that lasts for a short period of time (as little as one month or as much as a few years). The only way to determine if you have a teaser rate is to look for the first interest rate change date in the note.

temporary restraining order

In a domestic violence case, a court order issued against the defendant after the plaintiff alone gives testimony to a municipal or Superior Court judge concerning the defendant’s alleged abuse of the plaintiff. It is issued after a judge makes a preliminary determination, based on only the plaintiff’s testimony, that the plaintiff is in need of this protection. The order requires that the defendant have no contact with the plaintiff. It also directs both parties to appear at a final restraining order hearing within 10 days or less of the date of the order to give testimony to the court.


The statement of a witness under oath. A witness may give testimony in a deposition, hearing, or trial.

tevis claim

A claim by one spouse for damages for a personal injury caused by the other spouse. This type of claim is named for the case that brought this concept to the attention of the court.

third-party complaint

A complaint filed by a defendant against a third party claiming that the third party is responsible for some or all of the damages that the plaintiff is trying to recover from the defendant.


The legal term for a civil wrong as distinguished from a criminal wrong (a crime). A tort can also be a failure to correctly perform a duty owed by one person to another person, such as when a doctor commits the tort of malpractice against a patient. The only civil wrong that is not referred to as a tort is a breach of contract.


A public proceeding in which witnesses may testify, evidence may be presented, and the parties to the lawsuit have a right to testify. A jury may be present at a trial. A trial is usually more formal than a hearing.


The legal right to control and dispose of (give away or sell) property. When you own property (such as a house and land or a car), you are said to hold the title to that property. When you rent property (such as leasing a car or renting an apartment), someone else owns that property and you are merely given permission to use it by way of a contract of some kind.


warranty of habitability

A promise by the landlord that, in return for the rent the tenant pays, the landlord will keep the apartment habitable or livable.

warrant of removal

A written court order directing a sheriff’s officer to evict a tenant from his or her leased apartment or other dwelling.


The name given to the incapacitated adult person or minor under the legal protection of a guardian. See also guardian

wage execution

The procedure by which the court issues an order directing an employer to take money out of an employee’s wages to pay towards a judgment or debt to a third party. The employee must get notice of this order.


A written court order directing a law enforcement officer to make an arrest or search or seize property.

workers compensation

A fixed award given to an employee who is injured in the course of employment, or whose injuries arise out of the employment. In return for getting a fixed amount of money from his or her employer, the employee gives up his or her right to sue the employer for damages for pain and suffering and compensation due to the employer’s alleged negligence.

writ of execution

A court order directing a sheriff or other officer to enforce a judgment, usually by seizing (taking) the judgment debtor’s property. In the case of a foreclosure action, the judgment debtor is the homeowner.