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Glossary of Divorce and Family Law Terms

The following are some of the key terms you are likely to come across when dealing with divorce and other areas of family law.

Acknowledgement of Service – This is the response completed by the respondent in divorce proceedings confirming they have seen a copy of the divorce application. 

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

Applicant – The person who makes an application either in relation to children matters, financial matters or injunction proceedings. The Applicant is also now the name for the person who applies for a divorce, instead of being called the Petitioner.  

Application for Financial Remedy – The term used for the request (by either party) to the Court for it to consider all of the financial orders that it can make to resolve the financial issues arising out of divorce proceedings.

CAFCASS – The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services for England and Wales. You will speak to a CAFCASS officer if you apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order.

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

Child Arrangement Orders – This is the modern term for residence and contact orders.  It relates to orders made by the court that decide with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with, and when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with that person (normally a parent).

Child Maintenance Service (CMS) – This is a government organisation that deals with statutory child maintenance.  CMS opened in 2012 and now manages all new applications for statutory maintenance.  It uses slightly different rules to the CSA, which is closed to new applications but still manages many statutory arrangements for the payment of child maintenance setup before December 2013.

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 equal rights to marriage.

Clean break – An order that deals with and concludes all the financial claims between a husband and wife. It means that there can be no subsequent claim for any maintenance even if circumstances change (except in very exceptional circumstances).

Collaborative Law – An approach built on mutual problem-solving where both parties and their lawyers pledge to work together at a series of round table meetings to negotiate an agreement without going to court.

Common Law Wife – This is a myth.  Living together does not automatically give rise to the same legal rights against a partner that would exist in a marriage.

Conditional Order – (previously known as Decree Nisi) a provisional order showing that the court is satisfied that a couple is entitled to divorce. There has to be a period of reflection of a minimum of 20 weeks from when the divorce application is made before the applicant can apply for the conditional order in their divorce. Once the conditional order stage in the divorce has been reached it means the court has the power to make a financial order in the case or approve a financial agreement reached between the parties to make it legally binding. 

Consent order – An order made by a court in terms agreed by both parties.

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. These are now called Child Arrangement Orders.

Counsel – Another name for a Barrister.

Disclosure – This is the process of providing full and frank financial details about a person’s finances, namely 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 as well as some Children Act hearings.

Divorce Application – (previously known as Divorce Petition) the process of instigating the divorce which is done online. 

Divorce Order – (previously known as Decree Absolute) the final pronouncement in the divorce process which legally brings the marriage to an end. The earliest that either party in the divorce can apply for the final Divorce Order is six weeks after the pronouncement of the Conditional Order. 

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 deducted.

Family Proceedings Court – The family section of the Magistrates Court where family cases are heard by a bench of Magistrates supported by a Legal Adviser.

Final Hearing – the hearing at which Magistrates or a Judge will make a final decision about a case which will result in a legally binding court order.

Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment (FDR) – This is the second court appointment within Financial Remedy proceedings where the judge considers all offers made by the parties and gives his or her opinion on what a fair outcome might be. This hearing is often used to try to negotiate a final settlement and avoid a final hearing.

Financial Remedy – An order made in family proceedings for financial provision for a spouse, civil partner (or former spouse or civil partner) or child.

Finding of Fact – A hearing when the court decides whether or not certain allegations are proven on the balance of probabilities, for example, whether or not domestic violence has occurred. 

First Appointment – This is the first court appointment within financial remedy proceedings where the judge considers what other information is needed to determine financial matters, including if necessary the appointment of a single joint expert.

Form E – This is a signed financial statement which contains details about your capital, income, assets and liabilities. Form Es can either be exchanged voluntarily or as directed by the court in Financial Remedy proceedings.

Habitual Residence – This is the country where you live voluntarily and for settled purposes (such as work, training, family life), apart from temporary or occasional absences.  You must spend a substantial amount of time in a place to be habitually resident there.

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. This option is normally chosen for religious reasons in circumstances where one or both parties does not wish to divorce.

Liquid Assets – Cash assets or assets which can be easily converted into cash such as net equity in any property, savings, shares, ISAs or endowment and other policies.

Lump Sum – A payment of a capital amount of money, normally by a set deadline.

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

Maintenance Pending Suit – If the divorce may take some time, temporary maintenance can be requested pending the end of the divorce. This is also known as interim spousal maintenance

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 trained mediator 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.

Mortgagee – This is usually a bank or building society, but it can be anyone, that lends you money to buy a property which is then secured against 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. It has a power of arrest which means that breach of the order is an arrestable offence.

Occupation Order – An order which regulates occupation rights to the matrimonial or family 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 fathers have in relation 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.

Post-Nuptial Agreement – an agreement entered into by spouses subsequent to their marriage to regulate the division of money and assets in the event of their separation. 

Pre-Nuptial 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 but they will be considered as a relevant factor by the Court in Financial Remedy proceedings.

Prohibited Steps Order – This is a court order used to prohibit something being done to a child, for example prohibiting the removal of 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 – Orders governing the transfer of property within divorce and financial remedy proceedings.

Respondent – The person who responds to proceedings issued at court and the person who responds in the divorce process.

Section 25 Factors – A reference to section 25 Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which sets out a list of things that a District Judge must consider when making decisions in financial cases.

Separation Agreement – Also know as a Deed of Separation, this is an agreement usually drawn up by a solicitor which records an agreement reached in relation to financial matters following separation. 

Specific Issue Order – An Order made by the Court dealing with a specific issue on which the parents of that child cannot agree, such as which school they should attend, what the child’s name should be or whether the child should receive medical treatment.

Spousal Maintenance – A regular payment of money paid by one spouse or former spouse to the other following the breakdown of marriage. Payments can be ordered by the Court to be paid for a definite term or under a joint lives order. The joint lives comes to an end on either the recipient’s remarriage, the death of either party or further order of the Court.

Spouse – your husband or wife.

Tenants in Common – This is the alternative to owning a property as joint tenants. When a property is owned as Tenants in Common the owners can agree to own the property in unequal shares (usually through a Declaration of Trust). It also means that each owner is free to leave their share of the property to who they wish under a Will.

ToLATA – If you are not married, but have lived together, then you may have a claim against property that you have lived in, even if it is not in your name, if you have contributed financially to that property in some way. This is a TOLATA claim – a claim under the Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act.

Undertaking – A promise to the court to do, or not to do something which is enforceable by way of a fine or ultimately a committal to prison.

Without Prejudice – If correspondence is marked “without prejudice”, then generally speaking, it means that it cannot be produced in court. This is often used for making financial settlement offers in a divorce.


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