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– Washington DC Family Law Dictionary


DAMAGES – the monetary harm caused by the actions of another person.

DEBTOR – a person who owes money.

DECREE – the final decision made on an action for divorce.

DEATH RIGHTS – the rights of inheritance to s spouse’s estate.

DE BENE ESSE — term meaning “as well done,” often used in connection with videotape examination used to preserve sworn testimony for a later date.

DEBT COLLECTION IMPROVEMENT ACT – a 1996 federal act that authorizes the Department of the Treasury to withhold tax refunds to cover delinquent tax refunds to cover delinquent child support.

DEBTOR – one who owes money.

DECISION AND JUDGMENT – the term for a judge’s ruling.

DEADBEAT PARENTS – parents who do not pay their child support.

DEED – a written, legal instrument that conveys an estate or interest in real property when it is executed and delivered. There are numerous types of deeds.

DEED REGISTRY – place in the civil court system where deeds are recorded.

DE FACTO – A Latin term meaning “in fact”; acting in a manner as if complying with what a court might order without such an order being in place.

DE FACTO PARENT – a person who has been found by the court to fulfill the role of a parent, one of provides for a child’s needs for a substantial period of time.

DEFAULT DIVORCE — A form of uncontested divorce in which one spouse never responds to the filing spouse’s complaint.

DEFAULT ORDER OR JUDGMENT – an order or judgment made based on only the plaintiff’s (petitioner’s) complaint, due to no response or presence of the defendant (respondent).

DEFENDANT – the spouse who defends against the lawsuit brought against him or her by the other spouse.

DEFENSE – what a defendant replies in answer to defeat or diminish the allegations of the plaintiff in his or her complaint.

DEFERRED ANNUITY – an income stream that begins at some time in the future.

DEFERRED COMPENSATION PACKAGE – this includes all retirement assets (such as a pension, 401K, IRA) and any other saving or postponed income earned during the marriage.

DEFINED BENEFIT PLAN – generally a retirement annuity, whereby employers set aside benefits for employees, with the employee-spouse entitled to share in the benefits after a vesting period, and payments made a predetermined retirement date for the life of the employee.

DEFINED CONTRIBUTION PLAN – an individual or separate account in the employee-spouse’s name, whereby the worker contributes pretax dollars to his or her account that are matched to a certain amount by the employer’s contribution.

DE JURE – in compliance with an order or judgment.

DEPENDENT – one who relies on another for support, such as a child.

DEPENDENCY EXEMPTION – a sum of money a person can subtract from his or her adjusted gross income for each dependent child he or she claims, as per the guidelines of the I.R.S.

DEPOSITION – the testimony of a witness under oath and reduced to writing. It is also used to question opposing spouse. (see legal process section in your state).

DEPRECIATION – in appraising, a loss in property value from any cause. In regard to improvements, deterioration and Obsolescence. In accounting, an allowance made against the loss in value of an asset for a defined purpose and computed using a specified method.

DESCENDANTS – offspring, children.

DESERTION – one of several grounds for fault divorce in many states.

DIRECT CAPITALIZATION – the capitalization method used to convert an estimate of a single year’s income expectancy or any annual average of several years’ income expectancies into an indication of value in one step, either by dividing the income estimated by an appropriate rate or by multiplying the income estimate by an appropriate factor.

DIRECT EXAMINATION – the initial questioning of a witness called to the stand by an attorney.

DIRECT PAYMENT – child or spousal support paid directly to the parent who has custody by the parent who does not have custody.

DISABILITY BENEFITS – compensation paid workers who become disabled as a result of work or accidents on the job.

DISBARMENT – the official seizing of an attorney’s license to practice law.

DISCIPLINARY RULES – rules applied to lawyers in connection for violations of the Canons of (Legal) Ethics.

DISCHARGEABILITY – refers to the cancellation of debt through bankruptcy.

DISCOUNTING – the procedure used to convert periodic income and reversions into present value: based on the assumption that benefits received in the future are worth less than the same benefits received now.

DISCOVERY – procedures used to absorb information that pertains to the credibility of the opposing party’s case. The term may also be used for the interview procedure between the attorney and the client at the initial meeting. (see legal process and or the attorney section in your state)

DISCRETION OF THE COURT – an area of choice available to a judge to make decisions after reviewing reasonable evidence.

DISINHERIT; DISINHERITANCE – depriving a rightful heir of his or her inheritance.

DISMISS – the termination of a case without a final disposition of the matter.

DISSIPATION OF ASSETS – the wasting of marital assets through extravagant spending, gambling or excessive borrowing or fraudulent conveyance of a third party.

DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE – a legal judgment that severs a marriage relationship and returns each person to single status.

DISTRIBUTION OF PROPERTY – the apportionment of marital or community property upon a divorce or legal separation.

DISTRIBUTIVE AWARD – money paid by one spouse to the other compensate him or her for giving up some asset or right, paid in a lump sum or over time.

DIVORCE – a final decree required to legally terminate a valid marriage.

DIVORCE AGREEMENT – another term for the agreement by which spouses divide the marital property and establish child custody and support.

DIVORCE DECREE; DECREE OF DISSOLUTION; JUDGMENT OF ABSOLUTE DIVORCE – the court’s final judgment after the interlocutory or nisi period.

DIVORCE STATUTES – a jurisdiction’s legislative laws governing divorce.

DOCKET – the calendar schedule of the court.

DOD – date of divorce.

DOS – date of separation.

DOM – date of marriage.

DOMAL – the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which defines marriage as a union of two people of opposite sexes.

DOMESTIC RELATIONS – the field of family law, including divorce, separation, custody, support and adoption.

DOMESTIC RELATIONS ORDER (DRO) – a court order normally used to allocate the interests of divorced people in nonqualified pensions, usually state and municipal, as compared to private retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s.

DOMESTIC TORT – the allegation of wrongful act within a marriage that creates a liability for the defendant.

DOCKET NUMBER – the number assigned by a court to a civil or criminal case. It is used to identify all court actions and it appears on all documents filed with the court in a specific case.

DOMICILE – the place where a person lives and will return if temporarily absent.

DOWER – a wife’s common law right to inherit from her husband.

DOUBLE DIPPING – a term used to describe the alleged unfairness that results when a spouse receives property in equitable distribution that is also counted as a source of income for calculating alimony or support.

DUCES TECUM – a Latin term meaning “bring with you.”

DUE PROCESS – the right of self defense in court in a fair and systematic manner, guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY – an instrument granting another person legal authority to manage the financial affairs and make medical decisions for the principal who is unable to do so.

DURATION – a period of time, particularly the length of a marriage.

DURESS – any unlawful threat or coercion used to induce another person to act or not to act in a manner he or she otherwise would or would not.

DUTY – a legal or moral responsibility, for example, reasonable care in everyday life activities.