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    One of the most difficult parts of completing legal documents is understanding the legal document terms involved what it is you’re signing. Unfortunately, most documents appeal to those with legal knowledge, not the average person. Court or government paperwork is often chock full of confusing legal document terms and lengthy sentences that can make your head spin. Before you buckle down and sign your “x” on the line, it’s important to have a grasp on the most common legal document terms.


    Affidavits are documents containing information that the signers swear is the complete truth. Typically, courts request affidavits in situations where there are two parties like a divorce proceeding or child custody hearing. Each party may have differing accounts of events, and these accounts will impact the way a matter may play out in court.

    Ex Parte

    Latin phrases are often the most obtuse legal document terms. “Ex parte” is a Latin term literally meaning “from one party.” An ex parte petition is a request that one party in a legal matter makes of the court without input from the other party. While the court typically informs both sides of any new developments in a legal matter, it grants ex parte petitions to a single side. Family law matters most often utilize ex parte petitions.


    Orders are court-made judgments. At the end of a legal matter, the judge will make a ruling and file an order. Each party in a case will have an opportunity to ask questions about the order and may be given copies of an order to take home with them.


    Parties in a case may file a motion at the clerk’s office. Motions usually ask for a particular change or ruling in the case matter. Unlike an ex parte petition, though, motions are available to any parties involved in the case. A person may file motions during probate, for example.


    Parties are the people involved in a legal matter. Each party represents their own interests. Parties are not always adversarial like plaintiffs and defendants. They may also just be two people trying to negotiate and navigate a situation in court. For example, two parents may be finding a child custody arrangement that works for both.


    A petitioner is a person filing a petition or motion with the court. Whether the matter involves a single party or multiple, the petitioner is always the one who begins the case.

    Pro Se

    “Pro se” is another Latin phrase meaning “yourself.” In legal matters, it means that a person is representing themselves without an attorney. Sometimes, appearing pro se is common like in estate planning filings or in business formation matters. Anyone looking to go to court is allowed to appear pro se for any reason. However, some matters may be best served with legal advice from an attorney.