Family Law Glossary Beginning with A

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Abstract of Judgment

An Abstract of Judgment is a written summary that states which party owes (judgment debtor), and which party is awarded (judgment creditor), a money judgment, the rate of interest to be paid, and court costs.  The Abstract is acknowledged and stamped so that it can be recorded and made official with the government.  The purpose of an Abstract of Judgment is to create a public record and create a lien or claim on any real estate property owned or later acquired by the judgment debtor located in the county in which the Abstract of Judgment is recorded.  If the family law judgment is not paid voluntarily, the judgment creditor can force a sheriff’s sale of the judgment debtor’s property.

Actuarial Valuation

An actuarial valuation is an appraisal. An actuary is often hired as an expert in divorce cases involving defined benefit pension plans. The actuary can determine the value and community interest in pension plan benefits, using the present value approach and actuarial techniques to determine the value as of a particular date.

Add-ons (Child Support)

An add-on refers to the costs that a court adds to a child support order after calculating guideline child support. In addition to guideline child support, the family law court must add any child care costs (employment-related or education- and training-related) and health care and health insurance costs not deducted from gross income, as well as other health care costs for a child. These are "mandatory add-ons." The family law court has discretion on what percentage of these costs each parent will pay. The family law court may also add payment for costs related to children's special education, other needs, or for travel expenses for visitation. These are "discretionary add-ons."

Adjusted Book Value

Adjusted book value is an adjustment made to the assets of a business to reflect the fair market value of the assets.


An allegation is an assertion by a party in a pleading that the party claims to be able to prove.

Allocation of Community Debts

See “Debts, Obligations & Liabilities”

Alternate Payee

An alternate payee is an individual who has a right to receive some or all of the benefits of a qualified retirement plan.  An alternate payee is usually a spouse, former spouse, child, or other dependent.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a general term for the ways that parties can settle disputes, with (or without) the help of a third party, and come to an agreement short of litigation.  ADR processes and techniques include negotiation, mediation, collaborative law, and arbitration.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

AMT is an income tax imposed by the IRS on individuals, corporations, estates, and trusts. AMT is imposed at a nearly flat rate on an adjusted amount of taxable income above a certain threshold. The AMT rules disallow many personal exemptions and deductions. The resulting higher taxable income is then taxed at a flat rate. A taxpayer pays the higher of the tax calculated under the AMT method and the tax calculated under the regular tax calculation.

Alternative Valuation Date

An alternative valuation date is a date on which a community asset is valued other than "as near as practicable to the time of trial." Certain circumstances may favor an alternative valuation date. For example, when a business is primarily controlled by the services of one spouse, one might argue in favor of valuing it at the date of separation in a family law matter.

Annulment ("Nullity of Marriage")

An annulment is a legal determination by a family law court that a marriage was never legally valid because of unsound mind, incest, bigamy, being too young to consent, fraud, force, or physical incapacity.


An appeal is the process for requesting a formal reversal of an official decision of the family law court.  The result of an appeal can be one or a combination of the following:  (1) an affirmance: where the reviewing court agrees with the result of the family law court’s ruling(s); (2) a reversal: where the reviewing court disagrees with the result of the family law court’s ruling(s), and overturns their decision; and/or (3) a remand: where the reviewing court sends the case back to the lower court for more testimony.  


An arrearage is an amount of child support or spousal support ordered by the family law court that is owed or overdue. In family law, past-due support payments may be referred to as arrearages.

At-Issue Memorandum

An at-issue memorandum is a document filed with the family law court that requests a trial date and estimates the amount of time needed for the trial.


ATROs, or Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders, are family law orders that go into effect upon the commencement of a divorce proceeding and remain in effect against the parties until a final judgment is entered in the case, the family law petition is dismissed, or further order of the divorce court.  ATROs restrain both parties ina a family law matter from (1) removing any minor child of the parties from California or applying for a new or replacement passport for such a minor child without the other party’s written consent or a court order; (2) cashing, borrowing against, canceling, transferring, disposing of, or changing the beneficiaries of any insurance or other coverage held for the benefit of the parties or their minor children; (3) transferring, hypothecating, concealing, disposing of, or changing the beneficiaries of any real or personal property without a court order or the other party’s written consent, except in the usual course of business or for the necessities of life; and (4) creating or modifying a non-probate transfer in a manner that affects the disposition of property subject to the transfer, without the other party’s written consent or court order.

Attorney-Client Privilege

The attorney-client privilege protects confidential communications between attorney and client in a family law matter that are made in the course of the professional relationship from discovery unless waived or subject to an exception (i.e., disclosure to nonessential third persons or to perpetrate a crime).