Divorce and family law glossary

Divorce and family law glossaryAccess Also now called 'contact', although old term still commonly used. Usually refers to allowing a child to stay with the parent with whom they do not mostly live, but could relate to grandparents and others or contact via phone calls, emails and letters.

Acknowledgement of service Form signed by respondent and sent to the court to acknowledge receipt of a divorce petition (also called a matrimonial order application) confirming agreement to divorce or not.

Address for service Postal address of husband, wife and any other parties to the proceedings.

Affidavit Formal written statement sworn on oath so it can be used as evidence.

Adultery Sexual intercourse during the marriage between a spouse and someone of the opposite sex who is not their husband or wife. One of the five valid reasons for getting a divorce.

Alimony Term sometimes used to describe regular maintenance payments from one spouse to the other.

Ancillary relief A legal term for financial proceedings or financial remedies.

Annulment A way of ending a marriage (or a civil partnership) that is or has become legally invalid for particular reasons - for example, if one of the partners was under age.

Answer Formal defence to a divorce petition/matrimonial order application, rebutting the evidence.

Applicant Person applying to the court for a divorce. Previously called the petitioner, a term still used.

Arbitration Instead of going to court, the parties can choose an arbitrator to rule on some or all of the issues in dispute. The arbitrator's decision (called an award) is then made into a binding court order.

Cafcass The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, which represents children in divorce and separation cases, informing the court what the children's best interests would be, notably when child custody is disputed.

Cash equivalent value (CEV) Value of the rights accrued within a pension scheme (previously called cash equivalent transfer value).

Child arrangements order Court order requiring the person with whom a child mostly lives to allow the child to visit or stay with person named in the order.

Child Maintenance Service A government agency that can help you work out and collect child maintenance payments if you are unable to agree things between yourselves. Replaces the Child Support Agency, which was fully wound down in 2017. Visit the Child Maintenance Options website

Child Support Agency The agency that used to help parents agree child maintenance payments, now succeeded by the Child Maintenance Service

Children and Family Reporter An officer appointed by Cafcass to provide a welfare report on a child. The report includes the child's wishes and also a recommendation on what the officer thinks would be in the child's best interests.

Civil partnership By registering as civil partners, same-sex couples have very similar treatment to a heterosexual married couple in various legal matters, including relationship breakdown.

Clean break settlement Once-and-for-all financial settlement that includes an agreement that the husband and wife will make no further financial claims against each other. A schedule of child maintenance payments can be included.

Cohabiting/cohabitation A couple living together in a committed personal relationship without being married or in a civil partnership.

Collaborative law Collaborative approach to dealing with finances and childcare arrangements, etc. The couple and their lawyers pledge to work together to negotiate an agreement without going to court.

Common law marriage When two people live together, as if they were married, but without having married or entered a civil partnership. This 'marriage' is a myth legally-speaking, as common law marriage is not a legally recognised status and common law spouses do not get automatic rights like couples who are married or in a civil partnership.

Consent order Turns settlement terms agreed by the husband and wife into a legally binding agreement.

Contact Previously called access. Usually refers to allowing a child to stay with the parent with whom they do not mostly live, but could also cover arrangements with grandparents and others and contact via phone calls, emails and letters.

Co-respondent Person with whom the respondent is alleged to have committed adultery where this is the grounds for a divorce.

Costs order The court can order one spouse to pay the other's legal costs. During a divorce, it is quite common for the respondent to contribute towards the applicant's costs.

Decree absolute Final order of the court in the divorce process that dissolves a marriage.

Decree nisi Initial divorce decree that establishes the grounds for divorce, but does not dissolve the marriage.

Desertion When a spouse leaves the matrimonial home without a good reason or agreement for at least two years (or two and a half years in which the couple cohabit for a maximum of six months). One of the five valid reasons for divorce.

Directions order Court order directing how the case will proceed (eg hearing timings and what evidence needs to be submitted).

Disclosure Process of providing complete financial details about a person's capital, income, assets and liabilities. Can be voluntary or by court order. Usually done by filling in a Form E.

Dissolution The term used for the ending of a civil partnership (equivalent to divorce in marriage).

District Judge Sits in the County Court and deals with most matters relating to divorce cases.

Divorce petition Old name for a matrimonial order application, the document that starts the divorce process. Still commonly used when discussing divorce matters.

Domicile Country where a person has his/her permanent home or closest connection.

Equity in a property Property net value after mortgages or other charges are paid.

FDA First directions appointment - the first court appointment, where the judge considers what information is needed from both sides to progress the divorce settlement. Sometimes combined with the FDR (see below).

FDR Financial dispute resolution hearing - the second court appointment, at which the judge tries to help both parties reach agreement.

Final hearing If the FDR hearing doesn't result in agreement, a new judge hears both parties and any experts and then makes a binding court order.

Financial remedies General term for possible financial orders the court can grant as part of the divorce settlement (eg a lump sum, property adjustment or pension sharing). Used to be called ancillary relief.

Five-year separation One of the five valid reasons for getting a divorce, where one partner does not consent to the divorce, but the couple has lived apart for five years.

Form A 'Notice of an application for a financial order' form; starts off process of dealing with financial claims in a divorce.

Form E Sets out a person's financial circumstances and details which orders are sought (see financial remedies).

Form G Sent to the court before the FDA appointment, confirming whether the FDA and FDR hearings can be combined.

Forms H and H1 Submitted to the court before each court hearing; provides details of each party's costs and payments towards them.

Former matrimonial home House in which the divorcing couple were living together before they separated. Often the biggest asset that has to be dealt with on divorce.

Grounds for divorce The five valid reasons that can be used to show that a marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Joint tenancy Common form of property joint ownership. If one party dies, the survivor will own the entire property. See also tenants in common.

Judicial separation Alternative to divorce, usually used when religious reasons mean a couple does not wish to divorce. Formal separation sanctioned by the court that divides up money and property without terminating the marriage.

Lump sum order Where the court orders one spouse to pay a sum or series of lump sums to the other spouse.

Maintenance Regular payment by one spouse to another under a court order or following an agreement.

Maintenance pending suit (MPS) Temporary maintenance for a spouse pending the completion of a divorce. Also called interim maintenance or maintenance pending outcome of proceedings.

Matrimonial home House in which the divorcing couple were living together before they separated. Also known as the former matrimonial home.

Matrimonial order application Previously called a divorce petition. Document that starts the divorce proceedings. Sets out basis for the divorce (eg whether it is based on unreasonable behaviour, adultery or a period of living apart).

Mediation Process in which trained independent mediators try to help a separating couple to agree arrangements regarding finances or children as an alternative to having a court-imposed decision. Visit the Family Mediation Council website.

Mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) Couples are expected to attend a MIAM meeting to ensure they understand and have considered the mediation process before commencing any court proceedings about children, finance or dissolving the marriage.

Non-molestation order Court order that usually prohibits one person from using or threatening violence or intimidating, harassing or pestering another person.

Occupation order Court ordered exclusion of a person from the family home (or part of it) for a period of time. Sometimes a power of arrest is attached, allowing the police to arrest anyone disobeying the order.

Order Direction by the court that is legally binding and enforceable.

Pension sharing order Where the court transfers part of one spouse's pension entitlement to the other, creating a separate pension for the other.

Permission to remove Application to the court for permission to remove a child permanently from England and Wales. Previously called leave to remove.

Petition Term previously used for the matrimonial order application that starts the divorce proceedings.

Petitioner The spouse who applies for a divorce. Now called the applicant, although many people continue to use the old term.

Post-nuptial agreement Same as a pre-nuptial agreement, but the contract is agreed and signed at any time after the marriage ceremony. A well-written contract agreed by both parties can determine he outcome of a divorce.

Pre-nuptial agreement Contract that is signed before marriage, usually to agree how property and assets will be split between the spouses in the event of separation or divorce. Also known as a pre-marital agreement or contract. A well-written contract agreed by both parties can determine the outcome of a divorce.

Prayer Section of the matrimonial order application in which the applicant sets out the orders that they are seeking from the court (eg a divorce, order for legal costs, etc).

Process server Someone employed to deliver court papers to the named recipient. To prove that the papers have been served, the process server will normally swear an affidavit which will be sent to the court.

Prohibited steps order Prohibits something being done to a child (eg changing a child's surname or taking the child abroad).

Property adjustment order Where the court deals with property owned by the spouses (eg requiring a family home to be transferred into the sole name of one of the spouses or sold).

Questionnaire List of questions asking for further details about a person's financial circumstances, usually made in response to gaps or omissions in someone's Form E.

Relevant child Child of the marriage, either aged under 16 at the time of decree nisi or aged between 16 and 18 and in full-time education or training. A disabled and dependent child of the marriage of any age will always be considered a relevant child.

Residence order Term previously used for a court order specifying who a child will live with. Now replaced by child arrangements orders.

Respondent Person who receives matrimonial order application or other application to court.

Separation agreement Document that sets out the arrangements between a couple after separation. Sometimes used when a divorcing couple are waiting for the two years' separation to pass.

Service Formal process by which court documents are sent to and received by the party to whom they are addressed.

Special procedure In fact, this is the normal procedure for most divorces. When divorces/matrimonial proceedings are undefended, the decree nisi and decree absolute can be issued without either spouse having to appear at court.

Specific issue order Determines a specific issue relating to a child (eg naming the school that a child is to attend).

Statement of truth Short formal statement confirming contents of a written document are true.

Tenants in common Way of owning property jointly. If one of the owners dies, their share is dealt with under the terms of their will. See also joint tenancy.

Two years' separation One of the five valid reasons for getting a divorce. The divorcing couple has lived apart for two years and the other spouse consents to divorce.

Unreasonable behaviour One of the five valid reasons for getting a divorce. Particulars of the behaviour have to be set out in the matrimonial order application.

Without prejudice Correspondence or documents marked "without prejudice" cannot be shown to the court (unless there is a without prejudice hearing). The objective is to encourage discussions about settlement.

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