Glossary of Divorce and Family Law Terms

Access – This is the old term for Contact. See Contact.

Acknowledgement of Service form – This is a form sent by the court to the Respondent (and Co-respondent if any) together with the divorce petition. The form asks questions in respect of the divorce petition and must be returned to the court to establish service of the petition.

Adultery – Sexual intercourse that takes place while you are married, at any time before a Decree Absolute, with someone of the opposite sex who is not your husband or wife.

Affidavit -A formal statement, sworn on oath to be true by the person making it.

Answer -The formal defence to a divorce petition.

Application for Financial Remedy – A general term for the possible financial orders that a court can make in addition to a petition for divorce or Judicial Separation.

CAFCASS – The Children And Family Court Advisory And Support Services for England and Wales. You will meet a CAFCASS officer if you apply to the court for any order affecting your child, for example Contact or Residence.

In chambers -This term is when the District Judge or Judge considers an application in private. This is less formal than open court.

Charge – A charge on a property is like an additional mortgage. It gives the holder of the charge security as he/she has to be paid out of the proceeds of the eventual sale of the house.

Child Abduction – The illegal removal of a child from its home, in particular removal from one country to another. A removal may be illegal even if it is by a parent who lives with the child, if someone with the right to help make decisions about the child, such as the other parent, has not given their permission.

Civil Partnership – The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into operation on 5 December 2005 and enables a same-sex couple to register as civil partners of each other. It provides same-sex couples who form a civil partnership with an equality of treatment in a wide range of legal matters with those opposite-sex couples who enter into a civil marriage.

Clean break – A one-off order that deals with all the finances between a husband and wife. There can be no subsequent claim for any maintenance even if circumstances change.

Collaborative Law – A new approach built on mutual problem-solving where both parties and their lawyers pledge to work together to negotiate an agreement without going to court.

Conciliation -This is a type of mediation usually in court which helps couples to sort out arrangements for children. If it is outside of the court process, it is usually known as mediation.

Consent order – An order made by a court in terms agreed by both husband and wife.

Contact -(previously known as Access). The arrangement for the child or children to visit or stay with the parent who no longer lives with them. Indirect contact means the exchange of letters, telephone calls or presents. Contact orders can also be made in favour of others, for example grandparents.

Co-respondent -The person with whom your spouse (the respondent) has committed adultery. It is no longer legally required for this person to be named.

Counsel – Another name for a Barrister.

Cross-petition -This is when the Respondent argues different grounds for the divorce from those of the Petitioner.

Custody – The old term for Residence. See Residence.

Decree Nisi – A provisional order showing that the court is satisfied.

Decree Absolute – This is the final court order bringing the marriage to an end.

Directions for trial – A time in the divorce proceedings when the judge considers the petition and the affidavit in support of the petition. The Judge can ask for further information to be provided before a decree nisi is pronounced. This is also the stage in children’s applications when the District judge considers the Statement of Arrangements for Children and can ask for further evidence before making any order.

Disclosure – This is the process of providing full and frank financial details about a person’s capital, income, assets and liabilities . This is either done voluntarily, or the court can order it.

District Judge -A county court judge responsible for dealing with most aspects of divorce including the financial matters.

Domicile – The domicile of origin is normally where you are born unless a new domicile of choice is adopted by taking up permanent residence in another country.

Equity -Refers to the net value of a property after mortgages or other charges are paid off.

Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment (FDR) – This is the second court appointment within Ancillary Relief proceedings where the judge considers all offers made including those on a without prejudice basis.

First Appointment (FA) –This is the first court appointment within Ancillary Relief proceedings where the judge considers what other information is needed to determine financial matters.

Form E – This is a sworn financial statement which contains details about your capital, income, assets and liabilities. Form E’s can either be exchanged voluntarily or as part of Ancillary Relief proceedings.

Injunction – A court order which tells someone to refrain from doing something. Penalties for not abiding by the order can include a fine or imprisonment in some cases.

Joint Tenancy – A form of joint ownership of land in which both parties share the whole title to the property. If one party dies the survivor will own the entire property.

Judicial Separation – This involves a court procedure which is virtually identical to divorce. The essential difference is that the court pronounces a decree of Judicial Separation rather than a divorce. This means that you and your spouse would remain married.

Liquid Assets – Cash assets or assets easily convertible into cash such as net equity in any property(s), savings, shares, ISA’s or endowment and other policies.

Lump sum – A payment of a capital amount of money.

Maintenance – Money one spouse pays to the other for ongoing financial support on a regular basis, either just for the spouse or for children too.

Maintenance pending suit -If the divorce may take some time, temporary maintenance can be requested pending the end of the divorce.

Matrimonial home – A property where the married couple lives or have lived together. It can either be rented or owned.

Mediation – A process in which an impartial third person assists those involved in a family breakdown to reach their own agreed and informed decisions about some or all of the issues relating to or arising from the separation, divorce, children, finance or property.

Minutes of order – This is when draft terms of agreement go before the court with a request that a consent order be made in the same terms.

Mortgagee -This is usually a bank or building society, but it can be anyone, that lends you money to buy a property on the security of the property.

Mortgagor -This is the borrower who obtains the mortgage.

Non-molestation Order – This order is to prohibit someone using or threatening violence against you or intimidating, harassing or pestering you.

Occupation Order – An order which regulates occupation rights to the matrimonial home. A spouse can be excluded from the home or from a certain part of it.

Parental Responsibility – This means the rights and responsibilities that mothers and married fathers have to their children. Non-married fathers can acquire Parental Responsibility through marriage to the child’s mother, by entering into a Parental Responsibility agreement with the child’s mother, by being named as the father on the child’s birth certificate after 1st December 2003 or by applying to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order.

Pension Sharing – The division of a pension fund between two spouses.

Periodical payments – Another term for maintenance which can be paid weekly, monthly or annually.

Petition – This is the document requesting a divorce or a Judicial Separation.

Petitioner – The person who starts the divorce proceedings by filing a divorce petition at court.

Prayer – The part of the Petition or Answer which asks the court to make orders in favour of the Petitioner or Respondent.

Premarital Agreement – A Premarital Agreement (also referred to as a Prenuptial Agreement) is a formal written agreement entered into by a couple before marriage. Its purpose is to record the parties’ intentions as to the division of assets in the event that the marriage breaks down. The courts are not obliged to enforce such agreements although they now seem to be moving towards acceptance of them.

Prohibited steps order -This is a court order used to prohibit something being done to a child, for example removing a child out of the country.

Proof of Identification – it is a Law Society requirement that you supply us with copies of two of the following documents:

  • Either:
    A valid UK or European Community passport or:
    A full UK or EC driving licence.
  • Plus:
    Proof of address that is no more than 3 months old (this can include a utility bill, Council Tax demand (in your name) or a bank/credit card statement).

Property adjustment order -An order that a spouse should transfer a property to the other.

Relevant child – A child of the marriage under 16 at the time of the decree nisi or between 16 and 18 if in full-time education or training for a trade. A disabled and dependant child of any age is considered.

Request for directions -An application to the court for a Decree.

Residence order – A court order which determines where a child or children will live.

Respondent – The spouse who receives and responds to the petition for divorce or Judicial Separation.

Separation agreement -A document which sets out the agreement reached in financial matters arising out of a separation without involving the court at all.

Service – The process by which court documents are formally sent to one spouse.

Special procedure -When a divorce is undefended, the decree can be issued without either spouse having to appear at court.

Specific issue order – An order to resolve a particular issue in dispute relating to a child, for example when parents cannot agree about schooling or medical treatment.

Spouse – a husband or wife you are married to.

Statement of Arrangements for Children – This form is sent to the court along with the divorce petition if there are any children. It sets out proposed arrangements for the children. If possible, this form should be agreed by the parents and signed.

Tenancy–in–common – A form of property ownership in which separate shares are agreed (usually when the property is purchased). If one of the owners dies their share will form part of their estate and will not automatically belong to the survivor unlike Joint Tenants.

Undefended divorce – Proceedings by agreement or when there is no answer.

Without prejudice – This is a way of preventing the court at the final hearing from knowing about any negotiations which did not result in an agreement. You may see this term at the start of a letter.