Family Law Jargon Explained

Acknowledgement of Service: a document signed to officially confirm that divorce papers have been received. The respondent makes clear that they understand that their ex-partner is petitioning for divorce by filling in and returning the document.

Adjournment: The suspension of court proceedings.

Adultery: Engaging in sexual relations with an individual who is not your husband/wife (applies even after separation).

Affirm: The alternative of swearing the truth of the document on the Bible or other holy book when giving evidence at court. By affirming you

  • Promise to disclose the whole truth in court
  • Promise to disclose the whole truth in an affidavit

Ancillary relief: a process separate to the divorce itself whereby the financial arrangements for the divorcing couple are made.

Appeal: asking a higher court to reconsider the judgement made by a less senior court. If the appeal is accepted the court may overturn the decision.

Asset: A financial resource such as a house, saved money, car or antique which can is tangibly owned.

Assign: to officially hand an asset over to another person e.g. signing a property into someone else’s name.

Attachment of Earnings: when deductions are made from someone’s earnings at the behest of the court. Maintenance orders are often enforced in this way, with employers paying wages to the court rather than the employee, which in turn pays the person owed.

Brief: a set of instructions drafted by the solicitor which they give to the barrister who will act on their behalf in court.

Chambers: the offices used by judges and barristers outside court. When court hearings are ‘heard in chambers’, it means that they are held in such offices and are closed to the public.

Child Support Agency: polices child maintenance payments and chases debtors. The CSA is an arm of the Department of Social Security.

Civil Partnership: a union entered into by a same sex couple which carries the same rights and conditions as a marriage but with a different legal definition. Civil partnership dissolution is akin to the steps taken for divorce. For more information about civil partnership dissolution click here

Cohabitation: when an opposite or same-sex couple live together in the same household like a married couple but without being civil partners or husband and wife. Currently, this is not a formally recognised in English law.

Common-Law Marriage: a term often used to describe a co-habiting couple but it carries no formal legal recognition having been rejected midway through the 18th century.

Consent Order: a document finalising the terms of separation agreed by both sides of the divorce, including financial and property arrangements etc.

Contact Order: formally states how much contact any children involved in the divorce will have with each parent.

Counsel: another term for a barrister

Custody: until 1991, parents sought “custody” of their children. English law now refers to “residence”, so when parents seek to assume primary care of their children, they try and obtain a “residence order”.

Decree Absolute: the court order which formally finalises the divorce.

Decree Nisi: a court order granted when the court is satisfied that the petitioner is entitled to a divorce.

Disbursement: a sum of money paid by a solicitor on a client’s behalf which will be claimed back when the client is invoiced.

Divorce Petition: the initial request made to legally separate a married couple.

Domicile: the permanent country of residence for someone who is now living elsewhere.

Domicile of Choice: the country in which someone currently resides and intends to make their permanent country of residence. For more information about overseas divorce click here

Domicile of Origin: The country in which a newborn child is deemed to have permanent residence. This will normally be the father’s domicile but if the father is deceased, it will be the domicile of the mother.

Ex Parte: Often known as a ‘without notice’ application, this is a suit brought by one person or party alone, without the consent or knowledge of the other party.

Expert Witness: a specialist in a particular area such as a medicine or accountancy, who is asked to give their professional view of a particular case in court.

Family Mediation: where a non-partisan individual works with a couple undergoing separation to settle their dispute outside court and finalise the divorce or civil partnership dissolution. Financial settlements and child contact plans can be finalised through this process.For more information about family mediation click here

Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing: or FDR, forms part of the ancillary relief process. At this hearing, parties overseen by a family judge debate the terms of a financial settlement, however a binding judgement is not made and no evidence is given.

Form E: disclosed the financial details of a party which are relevant to the ancillary relief process.

Freezing Order: an order issued by the High Court which prevents assets from being transferred, redistributed or spent by parties to a family dispute.

Injunction: legally prohibits certain actions. For example, it may stop a party to divorce proceedings from touching certain assets or visiting the family home.

Joint and Several Liability: where two or more individuals are required to pay a debt and are liable for failure to pay the debt both individually and collectively.

Joint Tenancy: where two or more claimants have equal shares and interest in land/property.

Judge in Chambers: a hearing which is held in private legal offices and therefore is not open to the public.

Jurisdiction: about the court’s power and scope:

  • The geographical territory in which the court has authority
  • The power it holds to act on certain cases
  • The power is has to dispense court orders

Litigation: pursuing legal action through courts.

Maintenance: also known as periodical payments. This is money paid regularly to an ex partner post-divorce to safeguard the well being of the spouse and any children.

Matrimonial Home: the place of residence inhabited by the husband and wife whilst they were married.

Non-Molestation Order: generally imposed to protect one party from another in order to prevent the subject from abusing, threatening or intimidating the vulnerable. A restraint upon behaviour.

Oath: this is sworn to verify the truth of a statement

Occupation Order: an order establishing who is entitled to inhabit a property. One party will be granted permission to inhabit the property whilst the other will banned from doing so.

Prenuptial Agreement: an agreement drawn up by a couple before marriage which sets out the terms for the division of financial assets in the event of divorce. If the agreement fulfils certain criteria and is well-drafted, the court is likely to respect it during divorce proceedings, despite such agreements not holding official recognition in English law. For more information about prenuptial agreements click here.

Post Nuptial Agreement: performs the same function as a prenuptial agreement but it is drawn up after the couple marry rather than before.or more information about post-nuptial agreements click here

Prohibited Steps Order: forbids a certain act.

Residence Order: the order detailing the court’s decision about where children should live post divorce. Explains what the decision is and why it’s been made.

Respondent: The individual against whom action is being taken.

Specific Issue Order: relates to the particular child arrangements e.g. which school a child will attend, which religion they are educated in, or whether they should receive specific medical treatment.

Statement of Information: details the finances or each of the parties to proceedings.

Undertaking:  a promise made during the legal process by a partner or one of their lawyers for example which can becomes legally enforceable.

Unreasonable Behaviour: an action or set of actions by partner in a marriage or civil partnership that renders the other partners position in the union untenable. Such behaviour therefore provides sufficient grounds for commencing divorce proceedings or dissolving a civil partnership.

Without Prejudice: if this is marked on a document, that document will hold no significance as a contract or agreement.

Witness: a person who:

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  • Gives their version of events in a court of law
  • Is present to view someone sign a document, and signs themselves to certify the validity of the signature.

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