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Family Law Dictionary


Abduction – Removal of a child from its home, sometimes from the jurisdiction, without the consent of the other parent or person with parental responsibility.

Acknowledgement of Service – Form provided by the court upon service of the divorce petition, to be completed and returned to enable the divorce to proceed, or to register your intention to defend or answer the proceedings.

Affidavit – A written statement of evidence, sworn on oath, or affirmed to be true.Generally replace by a statement of truth.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – Any means of resolving a dispute, other than legal proceedings, eg mediation or collaboration.

Ancillary Relief – Old term, now financial remedy.The term used to cover the range of financial remedies the court can make in divorce proceedings.

Answer – A response to a divorce petition.Rarely used, unless the proceedings are being defended.

Applicant – Person applying to the court.

Application For Directions For Trial – Request that the court tells the party what to do next.

Application For Directions For Trial (Special Procedure) – Request made within divorce proceedings that the court list the divorce for decree nisi hearing.


Breach Of An Order/Undertaking – acting contrary to a direction of the court or a promise given to the court.


Cafacass – Court and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.The organisation responsible for promoting the safety and welfare of children in cases.

Cafacass Officer – Person who works for Cafacass.

Certificate Of Entitlement To A Decree – Document provided by the court after the application for directions for trial (special procedure) to confirm the parties are entitled to a decree nisi, and giving a date for the decree nisi hearing.

Cash Equivalent Transfer Value (CETV) - Also known as CEV. The valuation of a pension used in pension sharing orders.

Child Arrangements Programme (CAP) - arrangements for children formly known as 'residence' and 'contact'

Child Of The Family – Child treated as a member of the family, whether born naturally of both parties or not.

Child Of The Marriage – Child born of both parties to the marriage.

Child Maintenance – Payments made to help meet the daily outgoings of a child of the family.

Child Maintenance And Enforcement Commission (CMEC) – Government organisation established to take over from the CSA.

Child Support Agency (CSA) – Government organisation currently in charge of arranging the collection and payment of child maintenance from one parent to the other.

Civil Partnership – A legal relationship for same sex couples.

Civil Partnership Order - A legal document confirming the dissolution of a civil partnership.

Conciliation Appointment -An informal and private hearing, held at court with the Cafcass officer to see if an agreement can be reached in children proceedings.

Conditional Civil Partnership Order – The first court order in the process of ending a civil partnership.Equivalent to Decree Nisi.

Conditional Divorce Order – The first court order in the process of ending a marriage.Formerly known as Decree Nisi.

Consent Order – An order of the court, approving an agreement reached between the parties.

Contact – Formerly known as access. The old term for time spent with each parent.

Contact Activity Direction – Request from the court that one parent attends an activity to promote contact between the other parent and a child.

Contempt Of Court – Any behaviour that shows disrespect for the court whether before a judge, or failing to comply with a court order.

Co-Respondent – Second party named in court proceedings.

Costs Order – A direction from the court that one party pays the legal fees of the other.This is discretionary and the starting point in family cases is that each party pays for their own costs.


Decree Absolute – The final order in divorce proceedings.

Decree Nisi – The first order in divorce proceedings.It proves the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

Directions – A list of ‘jobs’ required by the court to be carried out before the next hearing.

Disclosure – A requirement of financial remedy proceedings, providing the other party and the court with information relevant to the case.

Dissolution – The legal end of a civil partnership, equivalent to a divorce.

Domestic Violence – Abuse within a family whether physical or psychological.

Domicile – The country a party considers to be their home, whether or not they currently reside there.

Duxbury – Tables used by the court and legal advisors to calculate a lump sum which will provide income over a party’s lifetime.


Ex Parte – The old term for an application or appearance at court where the other side have not had notice.Now known as ‘without notice’.

Enforcement Order – A court order imposing an unpaid work requirement on a parent in breach of a contact order.


Final Civil Partnership order – The final order in civil partnership proceedings, bringing the legal relationship to an end.

Final Court Order - Also known as Decree Absolute.The final order in divorce proceedings, bringing the legal relationship to an end.

Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment (FDA) – The second appointment fixed by the court in financial remedy proceedings.

Financial Statement (Form E) – The standard court form to be completed by each party in financial remedy proceedings.A sworn document providing full and frank financial disclosure.

First Appointment – The first appointment fixed by the court in financial remedy proceedings.

Former Matrimonial Home (FMH) - The property last used by the parties as their family home.

Freezing Order – A court order to prevent someone from disposing of their assets.Formerly known as a Mareva Injunction.



Habitual Residence – The country in which a person lives. It is possible to have more than one habitual residence.

Harassment – Behaviour that is unwanted and causes upset, fear or intimidation of another.


In Chambers – A court hearing conducted in private, attended only by the parties and in some cases the press.It is not open to the press.Most family cases are conducted in chambers.

Injunction – A court order that forbids or requires someone to do something.

Interim Maintenance (MPS) – Regular payments, usually monthly, from one party to another to help them with their basic living expenses until conclusion of proceedings.


Joint Lives – The length of time a maintenance order may last for.Payments will continue until the death of one of the parties.

Joint Tenancy – A way in which land can be owned by more than one person.Each person owns the whole of the land and on the death of one party, the property automatically passes to the survivor.

Judicial Separation – A formal separation of a married couple which allows the court to make financial remedy orders.

Jurisdiction – The authority of the court to make a decision in each case.We use the jurisdiction of England and Wales.


Legal Privilege – Usually communications between solicitor and client.Some court cases are legally privileged such as an FDR, therefore any documents produced or negotiations cannot be referred to again.

Lump Sum Order – A payment of capital M Maintenance - A regular payment of income from one party to the other to help meet their regular outgoings.Can be for a fixed term or on a joint lives basis.



Maintenance Pending Suit (MPS) - Regular payments, usually monthly, from one party to another to help them with their basic living expenses until conclusion of proceedings.

Mareva Injunction - The old term for a freezing order.

Matrimonial Home – The house occupied by the parties, as their main home.

Matrimonial Proceedings – The usual term for all applications for divorce, dissolution judicial separation and nullity. Mediation – A process that enables the party’s to reach agreement through communication with a trained mediator on any aspect of their lives.

Mirror Orders – An order that enables an order made in the jurisdiction of England and Wales to be enforced in another jurisdiction.


Notice Of Proceedings – A document from the court giving formal notice that an application has been made.

Nullity – A declaration that no legal marriage ever existed.


Offsetting – Trading off one asset against another. Usually used with pensions.

Open Offer – A proposal for settlement that can be seen by the court.

Overriding Objective – The main aim of the Family Proceedings Rules (FPR). The court must have regard to this when considering each case.


Parent With Care – The parent who has their child living with them the majority of the time.

Parental Responsibility (PR) – A parent’s rights, duties and responsibilities for their child. All mothers have it automatically as do married fathers. Unmarried fathers named on the birth certificate since 2003 have it.

Parental responsibility Order - An order under the Children Act which recognises a parent or guardian not named on the birth certificate as a legal parent.

Party – A person who is named and is part of the proceedings, who is required to appear before the court and will be bound by the decision of the court.

Penal Notice – An explicit warning on a court order that breach of the order may result in committal to prison.

Pension Attachment – A court order requiring a pension provider to pay a defined proportion of a pension to a former spouse when the pension is paid.

Pension Sharing – A court order requiring a pension provider to pay a defined share of a pension of one spouse into a fund identified by the other spouse. The fund is to be divided after decree absolute.

Periodical Payments – Another term for maintenance. Petition – An application for a divorce or judicial separation.

Petitioner – The party who starts divorce proceedings.

Post Nuptial Agreement – An agreement between two spouses that is entered into after marriage or and defines how their assets will be held during the relationship and upon breakdown.

Pre Action Protocol – Rules that set out the action that should be taken prior to issuing proceedings. They are guidance and not a requirement, although the court may penalise a party for failing to follow the protocol.

Pre Nuptial Agreement - An agreement between two spouses that is entered into before marriage and defines how their assets will be held during the relationship and upon breakdown.

Privilege – The right of a party to refuse to disclose a document or to answer a question, for a reason recognised by law. See Legal Privilege.

Prohibited Steps Order – An order under the Children Act that prevents a parent from acting in a way that is not considered by the court to be in the child’s best interests.

Property Adjustment Order – An order that one party must transfer their interest in a property to another.


Residence Order – old term for child arrangements

Respondent – The party who receives and responds to proceedings.


Separation Agreement – An agreement entered into by parties, whether cohabiting, married or civil partners which defines how their assets will be divided. This document is not binding in the same way as a court order but a court may consider it within proceedings.

Service – The delivery of documents from one party to the other. In some cases service must be by person rather than by post.

Set Aside - To cancel an order.

Specific Issue Order – An order under the Children Act determining a specific question relating to a child, for example, the school they should attend.

Statement Of Arrangements – A court form that is filed with a divorce petition, setting out the petitioner’s proposals for the children. The respondent may file one in reply.

Statement - The written evidence of a party.

Statement Of Issues – A document that sets out the points of dispute, and sometimes the points of agreement, to assist the court.

Statement of Means – A document setting out a party’s assets, liabilities, income and outgoings.

Statement Of Truth – A paragraph at the end of a statement confirming the contents of the document are true.

Stay – Enabling proceedings to be halted. This may be used for example, if the parties decide to go to mediation. The stay can be lifted to enable the proceeding to be continued.

Strike Out – To remove something from the court record as though it never existed so it may not be used or relied upon again.


Tenants In Common – A way of more than one person owning property. They each own a share that can be left by will.


Undertaking – A promise to the court which has the same effect as an order. Breach of an undertaking can result in committal to prison.

Unpaid Work Requirement – Formerly known as community service. Used as a penalty for acting in breach of a court order.


Void Marriage – A marriage that is not valid and cannot be recognised by the court.

Voidable Marriage –A marriage that is missing one of the usual elements of a legal marriage, but may be recognised by a court if just to do so.


Warning Notice – A statement attached to a contact order, giving notice to person who receives it of the possible consequences of failing to comply.

Without Notice Application – An application to the court made in the absence of and without the knowledge of the other party.

Without Prejudice – Communication, whether written or spoken which cannot be used in court proceedings. The communication must be clearly identifies as being without prejudice.


1.What are the grounds for divorce?

You must show the marriage has broken down irretrievably and there are 5 ways to prove this:

a)Unreasonable behaviour
c)2 years separation with consent
d)5 years separation

2.Can I have a ‘quickie’ divorce?

The ‘quickie’ divorce is a media myth.  The procedure for obtaining a divorce is the same, regardless of the ground that you proceed on.  The speed of the divorce depends upon whether there are  issues relating to your children of finances that need to be resolved.

3.How long does it take for a divorce?

The average, straightforward divorce takes between 4 to 6 months.  However, if there are financial issues to resolve, it is likely this will take longer.

4.How long does it take for a divorce if there are financial matters to resolve?

This depends on how the finance can be resolved.  If you are in agreement, the finances may be resolved within the 4 to 6 months of the divorce proceedings.  If you go to mediation, the whole process may take between 6 to 8 months.  If you need the court to help to resolve matters, it could take 18 months to 2 years to get to a final hearing and final outcome.

5.Who pays the costs?

At our first meeting we will determine whether you are eligible for public funding.  If you are, you will be referred to firm of solicitors local to you that have a public funding contract.  Otherwise, the starting point is that each party is responsible for their own costs.

6.I have no income/assets of my own, how will I manage if we separate?

After there has been financial disclosure, we will mediate, negotiate or ask the court to help with how to fairly divide your assets.  You may be eligible for spousal periodical payments.

7.Do I lose any rights to my house if I leave?

No.  We can take steps to protect your interest in your house if it is not in your name.  If it is in your sole name or joint names, you are protected.

8.What about child maintenance?

This is currently dealt with through the CSA, and in the future, CMEC.  At present, if your children do not live with you , the CSA will assess you to pay 15% of your net income for 1 child, 20% for 2 children and 25% for 3 or more. This figure is then reduced to take into account the number of overnight stays your children have with you and any other children you are responsible for or have in your household.

9.What are my rights to see my children?

It is a child’s right to know both parents, as long as there is no risk of harm to them.

10.Can I take my children abroad to live with me?

Yes, with the agreement of the other parent , if they have parental responsibility, or with an order of the court.

11.Can I force my husband/wife/partner out of the house?

If there has been domestic abuse, it may be possible to obtain an order under the Family Law Act to prevent your husband/wife/partner from returning to the house.  It will depend upon the circumstances of the case.

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