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Know the words they use at court

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed October 2019

It is important to learn what the words you will hear at court mean.

"Filing a case" is starting the case in court. You start a case by filling out papers for the right kind of case and giving them to the clerk in the court.

A Complaint is a form that you fill out to say what you want the court to do and why.  There is a complaint form for each kind of case, for example a Complaint for Divorce.  Some kinds of cases use a Petition instead of a complaint, for example a Petition for Appointment of Guardian of Minor.

The plaintiff is the person (party) who filed the case.  The other party is called the defendant.

An affidavit is a form you use to write your side of the story. It is your "statement". In the affidavit, you swear that everything you wrote is true. You have to sign your statement.

When you file a case at court, you will get a summons. The summons tells the other person

  1. you have filed a complaint against them
  2. you are taking them to court and
  3. how much time they has before they must file an Answer to your complaint.

A deputy sheriff, constable, or someone else who is not involved in your case (a disinterested person) has to give the summons and a copy of the court papers to the person you are taking to court. This is called "serving" the person or serving the papers. 

Some court cases take a while. If you want to ask the judge to make some decisions right away, you file a motion for temporary orders.

 A court order is the judge’s decision in a case.

If you go to court by yourself, without a lawyer, they say you are "unrepresented." You are representing yourself. When you represent yourself you are "pro se."

When you testify in court, you swear that what you say is true.

If you have a lawyer, these pages may help you understand what happens in Probate and Family Court. If you are pro se (going to court on your own), this information may help you get better results.  

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