Legal Glossary

This simplified glossary is provided for informational purposes only. It contains abbreviated definitions of common legal terms that you may encounter in a court case or legal dispute. The information does not constitute legal advice and may not be relied upon for reliability or accuracy.


Abuse: In a protection from abuse case, attempting to cause or causing physical injury or offensive contact, including sexual assault; attempting to place, or placing, another in fear of bodily injury through threatening, harassing or tormenting behavior; compelling a person by force, threat of force or intimidation to do something that the person has a right or privilege to abstain from doing; knowingly restricting substantially the movements of another person without that person's consent; communicating to a person a threat to commit, or to cause to be committed, a crime of violence dangerous to human life; repeatedly, and without reasonable cause, following the plaintiff or being at or in the vicinity of the plaintiff's home, school, business, or work;  knowingly, and with the intent to harass, torment or threaten, disseminating a private, sexually explicit image of the plaintiff or another person without consent; or engaging in sex trafficking or aggravated sex trafficking.

Adult: An individual who is eighteen (18) years of age or older, or an emancipated minor.

Affidavit: A written statement made voluntarily and signed under oath by the person making the statement. The oath must state the affiant (the individual signing) affirms, under penalty of perjury, that the facts contained in the affidavit are true.

Aggravated sex trafficking: Compelling an individual to enter into, engage in, or remain in prostitution through force, threat of force, coercion, or fraud; promoting prostitution of an individual under the age of 18; or promoting prostitution of an individual who suffers from a mental disability, as further defined in Title 17-A of the Maine Revised Statutes, Section 852.

Allegation(s): Statements or claims made in a complaint and other court documents, not yet proven.

Answer: Generally, a response to an initial filing in a court case. In some types of cases, a written answer is not required. The summons served on the defendant with the initial filing indicates whether a written answer is required and when it is due.

Appeal: A written request to another (appellate) court to review, change or reverse a decision of a trial court.

Appellate court:  A court, which reviews trial court cases on questions of law.

Assignee: The person to whom a property right is transferred.

Authenticated copy: A copy of an order or other court document with: 1) the clerk's seal or signature attesting that the document is a true copy; 2) a judge's attestation that the clerk is the clerk of said court and the proper person to make out and certify said document; and 3) the clerk's further attestation that the judge signing is duly qualified and commissioned, and the proper person to make out and certify the document in question. In Maine, this is sometimes referred to as an "exemplification."



Capitalize: In a foreclosure context, process of taking the delinquency and paying it off with each remaining monthly payment. This allows the delinquency to be paid off by the time the original loan is paid off.

Challenge: In the context of jury selection, to ask that a member of a jury pool be excused.

Challenge for cause: To ask that a member of the jury pool be excused because there appears to be a reason why he or she might not be impartial as a juror.

Civil (case):  A noncriminal court case or proceeding filed by one party against another usually involving private property rights.

Civilly arrest/civil arrest: A court order directing a law enforcement officer to bring the debtor to court, if it is in session, or release the debtor on his or her personal recognizance, after the debtor's written promise to appear in court at a specific date and time. In a civil arrest, the debtor is not taken to jail.

Collateral: Property promised to guarantee payment of a debt. In a mortgage loan, the real property is the collateral for the loan, meaning that if the loan is not paid, the lender can foreclose to obtain title to the property.

Complaint: The term for the first document filed with a court to start a case. In a civil case, the plaintiff files the complaint. In a criminal case, the District Attorney or Attorney General files the complaint or written charge on behalf of the State.

Contempt: Behavior in or out of court that violates a court order or shows disregard for the court. Failing to go to court when ordered to do so or comply with other terms of an order issued can be grounds for a finding of contempt.

Continuance: Postponement of a hearing at the written request of one or both parties. Only a judge may grant a continuance.

Court costs: Include filing fees and fees for service on a party or third party.

Courthouse Assistance Project (CHAP): If you have a low income and cannot afford a lawyer, a volunteer may be able to help you fill out court forms, learn about "service" of forms, calculate child support, and answer some of your questions.
Courthouse Assistance Projects

Creditor: See judgment creditor.

Credit report: A written account of an individual's credit history prepared by a credit-reporting agency.

Credit reporting agencies: Private companies that collect and sell information about an individual's credit history. Banks, mortgage lenders, credit card companies, landlords, and potential employers often use information on an individual's credit report to screen applicants. The Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection regulates credit-reporting agencies in Maine.


Dangerous weapon(s): Firearms or other devices, instruments, materials, or substances, whether animate or inanimate, used as weapons and capable of causing death or serious physical injury.

Debt buyer: A company or entity that purchases debt for collection purposes. The original creditors may include credit card issuers, such as banks or businesses. Debt buyers often purchase thousands of debts in bulk sales from the original creditors. Unlike a debt collection agency, which tries to collect as a service to the original creditor, the debt buyer actually owns the debt. This means the debt buyer can make all decisions about the debt, including whether to settle, file a case, and which court to file in. A debt buyer is considered a debt collector under the Maine Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Title 32 of the Maine Revised Statutes, Sections 11001-11054.

Debtor: See judgment debtor.

Deed: A document used to convey real property from one person or entity to another, to be recorded in the Registry of Deeds in the county where the property is located. The deed must be signed and notarized in order to be recorded.

Deed in lieu of Foreclosure: In a foreclosure or mortgage loan delinquency, a way for an owner/mortgagor to avoid a foreclosure judgment by conveying the property to lender.

Default: In court case, failure to do something that is required (such as appearing or filing required information). In a loan agreement,  failure to pay as agreed.  

Defendant: The person against whom a case is filed; the person being sued.

Defense(s): One or more reasons given by the defendant for why the plaintiff should not win a case, in whole or in part. A defense may be based on facts (for example, the defendant might claim that he or she did not receive the goods or services the plaintiff claims were provided), or on law (for example, the defendant might claim that the debt to the plaintiff was canceled or discharged as a result of the defendant's bankruptcy).

Deficiency: In a foreclosure, the amount of the judgment remaining after the sale of the property.

Deliberations: The discussion by the jury through which the verdict in a case is reached. This discussion is private; only members of the jury are allowed to participate or to be present.

Delinquency: In a loan context, amount need to "bring the loan current." This amount usually includes all missed payments plus late fees and other additional fees.

Dependent person: An adult who has a physical or mental condition that substantially impairs the adult's ability to adequately care for his or her daily needs.

Direct contact: Any time the defendant is in physical proximity to the plaintiff, or any attempt to contact the plaintiff through other means, including telephone, letter, email, texting, or messages from the defendant posted on the plaintiff's social media accounts.

Discharge: A document issued by a lender or lienholder to show that a mortgage has been paid in full or satisfied.

Disclosure hearing: In a small claims case, a court hearing to determine what non-exempt assets a judgment debtor may have to pay a judgment.

Dissolve: To end a temporary or final protection order. The court sometimes uses the term "terminate" to mean the same thing. 

District Court: The name of the court in Maine where small claims cases and certain other civil, criminal, and family matters are heard. Cases in District Court are decided by a judge without a jury.

Docket: A list of cases and hearings that a court is scheduled to hear or hold on a particular day.


Emancipated minor: An individual under the age of eighteen (18) who has been emancipated by court order.

Emotional distress: Mental or emotional suffering shown by fear, anxiety, torment, or apprehension.

Extended family member(s): Any family members related by blood, marriage, or adoption.

Entity: An organization, corporation, or business that has a separate existence for legal or tax purposes. An entity is treated like an individual for purposes of suing and being sued.

Equity: In the real estate lending area, the difference between the amount that is owed on the property and its fair market value.

Escrow: In a mortgage loan, money paid by a borrower as part of the monthly payment to pay certain property-related expenses such as property taxes and insurance. This money is held "in escrow" by the lender and paid out once or twice a year instead of having to pay a large bill all at once. If no escrow is held, the borrower/homeowner is responsible for paying these bills directly.

Exempt: Property, income, or assets that cannot be used to pay a judgment to a creditor. Non-exempt property, income or assets may be used to pay a judgment. Title 14 of the Maine Revised Statutes, Section 4422 contains a list of exempt property and income.


Family or household member(s): A spouse or ex-spouse; domestic partner or ex-domestic partner; individuals who are, or were, living together; parents of the same child; adult household members related by blood or marriage; minor children of a household member when the defendant is an adult household member; or current or former dating or intimate partners.

Fair Market Value (FMV): How much a willing buyer would pay to buy property sold by a willing seller. The FMV of property is not the same as the appraised value, assessed value, or the amount paid in a distressed sale.

File/to file: To submit completed forms and other documents (a filing) to the clerk's office in connection with a court case.

Final order: In a case under the protection laws, an order that a judge grants at the final hearing. See also Order and Temporary order.

Finding of fact: A determination by a judge of a factual question or issue.

Forbearance: In a loan context, when a lender gives the borrower a period of time during which the borrower can stop paying on the loan or may pay a lower amount.

Foreclosure: In Maine, a court case used by a lender to get the right to sell property to re-pay a mortgage loan that is in default.

Forum: The court in which a case is filed or a hearing or trial is held. The appropriate forum depends on which court has personal jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter of the case.

Frivolous: A finding by a judge that the allegations in the complaint or other documents lack any basis in fact and were intended to harass, embarrass or delay.


Good faith: Honest intent to fulfill a promise, or to act without taking unfair advantage of another person.

Grand jury: A jury that reviews evidence submitted by the prosecutor and determines whether a person should be charged with a crime.

Guardian: An individual who has the legal authority and duty to care for the interests of another. A parent is usually a guardian of his or her child or children. A guardian can also be an individual who is legally appointed on behalf of a child or incapacitated person.


Harassment: Under the protection laws, three (3) or more acts of intimidation, confrontation, actual or threatened physical force by the defendant, made with the intention of causing fear, intimidation or damage to personal property, and which do in fact cause fear, intimidation or damage to personal property; or a single act or course of conduct constituting a serious criminal act; or violating or interfering with the plaintiff's constitutional or civil rights.

Hardship letter: In a foreclosure or mortgage loan context, a letter from a homeowner-borrower explaining what happened to cause the default and whether the homeowner has the ability to pay currently.

Hearing: A court proceeding before a judge similar to a trial.




Impaneled: A jury, which has been chosen and sworn in a particular case.

Incapacitated person: An adult who is impaired by reason of mental illness, mental deficiency, physical illness or disability to the extent that he or she lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate responsible decisions concerning themselves, or to the extent that he or she cannot effectively manage his or her own property.

Indictment:  The formal charge by a grand jury against an individual or entity.

Indirect contact: Any effort by the defendant to contact the plaintiff through other people, including having others give the plaintiff letters or images, or forward emails, texts, or social media messages to the plaintiff.

Individual(s): A natural person; a human being as distinguished from an entity.

Information: The formal charge filed by the prosecutor when a defendant has waived the right to have the defendant's case submitted to the grand jury.

Interest: The cost of borrowing money, calculated as a percentage of the principal that has to be paid in addition to the principal itself.

Interest rate reduction: In the mortgage context, a possible way to modify a loan by lowering the interest rate and lowering the payment.


Judgment: A final ruling or decision by a court that determines the rights and responsibilities of the parties. A judgment in a small claims case can be enforced through further court action, including requesting a disclosure hearing.

Judgment creditor: An individual or entity that is the owner of any money judgment.

Judgment debtor: An individual or entity against whom or which a money judgment has been entered.



Lien: A creditor's legal claim against personal or real property owned by a debtor to guarantee payment of a judgment or debt.

Lienholder: A creditor or other person or entity that has a legal claim against a debtor's personal or real property.

Loan modification: A change in the terms of the original loan. A modification can reduce your monthly payment to make the loan more affordable, but may also extend the term of the loan or change other conditions.

Loss mitigation: Broad term for ways to work out a default in a mortgage loan to lessen or "mitigate" the loss to the borrower without a foreclosure.


Mediation: A flexible, informal process in which the plaintiff and the defendant work together with the assistance of a trained, neutral third party (the mediator), to try to resolve their dispute. The mediator helps both parties communicate with each other, and assists the parties in clarifying and expressing their views. The mediator has no power to decide the issues or force the parties to agree.

Minor child: An individual under the age of eighteen (18).

Modify: In a court case, to make changes to the terms of an order in response to the request of a party, if permitted.

Monthly payment: In a mortgage loan, the amount a borrower pays the lender each month to pay the debt.

Motion: A written request by a party in a court case for the court to issue an order or ruling in favor of the party making the request.


Note: See promissory note.


Order: A direction by a judge to one or both parties to do something or not do something.


Parentage: The legal relationship between a child and a parent; the legal status of being a parent.

Parties: Collectively, the plaintiff and the defendant in a court case. The singular term, "party," can refer to either the plaintiff or the defendant.

Payoff: In the loan context, the amount needed to pay off the loan in full.

Person: An individual or entity, including a partnership, association, limited liability company, or corporation.

Personal property: All property other than land and buildings attached to land. Cars, bank accounts, wages, furniture, tools, equipment, and jewelry are examples of personal property.

Personal recognizance: Release of an individual judgment debtor by a sheriff's deputy or law enforcement officer on the basis of a written promise by the individual released to appear in court on a specified date and time.

Plaintiff: The person suing or filing a case.

Post-judgment interest: In a small claims case, interest on a judgment that a creditor may be awarded from the time the judgment is entered until it is paid. The rate of post-judgment interest is determined either by the rate set forth in the contract or note at issue, if there is one, or by statute. See Title 14 of the Maine Revised Statutes, Section 1602-C.

Principal: In a loan, the total amount borrowed.

Private, sexually explicit image(s): In cases under the protection laws, a photograph, videotape, film, or digital recording of the plaintiff or another person in a state of nudity or engaged in a sexual act or simulated sexual act, which the defendant has distributed without the plaintiff's consent and with intent to harass, torment or threaten.

Promissory note: Document signed by one or more borrower promising to pay an amount to a lender according to its terms. Also called a "note." Whoever signs is said to "be on the note."


Question of fact: An issue that is decided by the judge acting as the trier of fact. Questions of fact can include the credibility of parties and witnesses and the issue of whether something happened or did not happen.

Question of law: An issue in a court case that is decided by a judge applying the law.


Real property: Land and things permanently attached to it, such as buildings, houses, stationary mobile home, fences and trees. Real property is also called real estate. Anything that is not real property is personal property.

Reasonable accommodation: Actions taken to make existing facilities or processes readily accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities.

Registered agent: An individual who serves as an entity's contact to receive service of court papers in cases and legal matters.

Reinstatement: In a foreclosure context, when the borrower pay the lender the full amount overdue to bring the loan current.

Relief: The money damages or other actions or things asked for by a party or ordered by a judge. 

Repayment plan: In a foreclosure workout, term for the plan by which the borrower pays the regular monthly payment plus an additional amount to pay the delinquency over time.

Return of service: Proof that a party has been served, which must be submitted to the court.


Second mortgage: A loan which has lower priority to be repaid than a first mortgage that a homeowner-borrower takes out while there is another loan secured by the home.

Serious criminal act: In cases under the protection from harassment law, an alleged violation by the defendant of any of the following sections of Title 17-A of the Maine Revised Statutes: 201(murder); 202 (felony murder); 203 (manslaughter); 204 (aiding and abetting suicide); 207 (assault); 208 (aggravated assault); 209 (criminal threatening); 210 (terrorizing); 210-A (stalking); 211 (reckless endangerment); 253 (gross sexual assault); 301 (kidnapping); 302 (criminal restraint); 303 (criminal restraint by parent); 506-A (harassment); 511 (violation of privacy); 511-A (dissemination of private, sexually explicit images); 556 (incest); 802 (arson); 805 (aggravated criminal mischief); 806 (criminal mischief); 852 (aggravated sex trafficking); and 853 (sex trafficking).

Serve/service: The process of giving a party notice of a case, or a request by another party so that the person receiving the notice and legal papers may respond.

Settlement/to settle: To reach a voluntary resolution of a dispute or case.

Sex trafficking: Action or behavior by the defendant that promotes an adult to enter into, engage in, or remain in prostitution as further defined in Title 17-A of the Maine Revised Statutes, Section 853.

Sexual assault: In cases under the protection laws, any sexual assault in Title 17-A of the Maine Revised Statutes, Sections 251-261, including gross sexual assault or unlawful sexual contact.

Short sale: A sale of the property for less than the amount of the debt. A short sale offer must be approved by the lender to be accepted and may not reduce the amount owed by the borrower.

Stalking: Two (2) or more acts by the defendant involving following, monitoring, threatening, harassing, interfering with property, or communicating with or about a specific person with the purpose of causing the plaintiff to suffer serious inconvenience or emotional distress; fear physical injury (the plaintiff or a close relative); fear damage to or destruction of property; or fear injury, harm or death to an animal owned or kept by the plaintiff.

Standing: The right of an individual or entity to file a case in court. In a small claims case involving consumer debt collection, the debt buyer must show that it owns the defendant's debt in order to have standing to bring a case.

Statement of Claim: The name of the form the plaintiff uses to begin a small claims case in Maine District Court.

Submitted: When a case is given to the jury for deliberation.

Subpoena: An order by a court directing an individual to appear in court at a specified date and time.


Tax lien: If an owner has unpaid property taxes, the municipality in which the property is located may place a lien on the property. If there are unpaid state or federal taxes, Maine Revenue Service or the Internal Revenue Service may place liens on the property. Tax liens have priority (must be paid first) over first mortgages. 36 M.R.S.   943

Temporary order: In a case under the protection laws, an order that a judge grants after the plaintiff files the Complaint but before the final hearing is held. A temporary order does not take effect until the defendant receives a copy of it (is served). See also Order and Final order.

Term: In a loan context, the amount of time a borrower has to pay back the loan. Mortgage loans often have 30, 15, or 5 year terms.

Trial court:  A court, which is established to resolve disputes between parties by analysis of the evidence presented.

Turnover sale: A sale of a debtor's interest in non-exempt property ordered by a court to satisfy a judgment. Requirements for a turnover sale are in Title 14 of the Maine Revised Statutes, Section 3131.


Under advisement: Circumstance where the judge decides not to announce his or her decision immediately after a hearing, but to give the case additional thought or to conduct legal research.

Under oath: A promise by a party or witness to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in a hearing or trial. Making a false statement under oath in a court document or a hearing is a crime.

Unpaid care provider: An individual who voluntarily provides full or occasional personal care to an adult in the adult's home, similar to the way a family member would provide personal care.


Voir dire examination: The French word "voir" means to inspect; "dire" means to talk or speak. It is an examination of jurors to determine whether there are any reasons why they should not be sworn.


Without prejudice: A dismissal of a Statement of Claim allowing the plaintiff to re-file the case at a later time on the same debt, facts, or events. A dismissal with prejudice prevents the plaintiff from re-filing the case on the same debt, facts, or events.