Jargon buster

JargonBelow are some simplified explanations of frequently-used family law phrases:

Acknowledgment of service

The form in divorce proceedings that a Respondent completes to confirm they have received the divorce petition.


One of the facts used to establish a marriage has “irretrievably broken down”. It involves voluntary sexual intercourse with someone of the opposite sex, who is not their spouse.


Formal defence to divorce petition if the respondent disputes the petition.


The party applying for a financial order to be made.

Application for a financial order

An application to court if financial settlement cannot be agreed between the parties. A fee of £255 is payable. The court will set a timetable for financial disclosure and the first court appointment.

Brussels II

EU regulation which harmonises divorce jurisdiction across Europe. Introduced the rule that the country where an application is first made has jurisdiction and will therefore hear the case.


Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. Non-departmental public body, independent of the courts, social services, education services, health authorities, whose role is to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and advise the family courts.

Child maintenance

Also known as child support, paid by one parent to the other for the benefit of the children, either directly or through the CSA.

Christmas order

An order for child maintenance which ousts the jurisdiction of the CSA.Automatically renewed every 12 months.

Clean break

A financial arrangement where it is agreed or ordered that the husband and wife will make no further claims against each other for further financial provision.

Cohabitation agreement

The agreement made at the start of a relationship as to how assets will be split should the relationship later break down. The agreement will not automatically be binding but is evidence of parties’ intentions, so may influence the court’s decision or deter litigation

Collaborative law

Process aimed at reaching settlement through solicitors without the need to apply to court.

Committal Proceedings

Application made to imprison a party for breach of an order.

Consent order

Order which gives effect to parties; agreement, provided it is approved by the judge.


Arrangements for the non-resident parent to spend time with a child – holidays, overnight stays etc (the commonly-known terms “access” and “visitation rights” are not correct and the term “contact” should be used).

Contact order

Order specifying contact arrangements with the non-resident parent it cannot be agreed between parents.


A party joined to divorce proceedings, relevant where adultery is the fact relied upon.  It is not recommended to name the party with whom the adultery was committed and is not necessary for the purposes of divorce proceedings.


Child Support Agency.  The government department that assess a non-resident parent’s maintenance obligations in respect of their children. Also known as CMEC.

Decree Absolute

The final stage of the divorce process, this is the court order which brings the marriage to an end.  Six weeks and one day after Decree Nisi is pronounced, the Petitioner may apply for the Decree Absolute. The Respondent must wait a further 3 months after this if the Petitioner does not apply.  A fee of £45 is payable to lodge the application for Decree Absolute.

Decree Nisi

The mid-way stage of the divorce process, indicating that the legal requirements for divorce have been satisfied. A financial order can be considered by the court at this stage.


The term used for the the breakdown of a civil partnership to bring it to a legal end (as a divorce brings a marriage to an end).

Directions hearing

Hearing at which the judge gives directions for the ongoing management of a case (eg documents to be provided, statements to be filed etc).


Each party in financial proceedings must fully disclose all income, capital assets, pensions, liabilities, business interests etc. Usually done on a Form E.


Termination of a civil partnership. Instead of a Decree Nisi, there is a conditional order and instead of a Decree Absolute, there is a final order. Otherwise the procedure is the same as for a divorcing couple.


The legal process by which a marriage is ended. Financial arrangements and children matters are dealt with separately by the court.

Domestic Abuse

Any violence or threat of violence inside or outside the home between family, household members or partners (existing or previous). Can include mental, emotional, financial, physical and sexual violence. Includes harassment, mental and psychological abuse.


Place of permanent residence.  An individual’s place of birth, the country they currently live in and where the individual plans to live in the future are all factors that are taken into account in determining domicile.

Family Procedure Rules 2010 (FPR)

The FPR govern all family law cases.

Family Proceedings Court

The section of the Magistrates Court that hears family cases. Three lay Magistrates or a District Judge will hear an FPC case.

Final hearing

The last hearing in the financial relief process. The judge will hear each party’s case and evidence from both parties and will then make a final court order dividing the parties’ finances.

Financial dispute resolution (FDR)

The second court appointment in the financial process. If no agreement is reached, the judge will give an indication of how the case should settle, and a date will be set for final hearing. If agreement is reached, this can be drawn up into a consent order.

First directions appointment (FDA)

The first court appointment in the financial process used to set the court timetable and give directions to move the case forward. This hearing can be combined with the FDR.

Five facts

The facts relied on to prove the marriage or civil partnership has broken down irretrievably.  These are adultery (not available on dissolution of a civil partnership), unreasonable behaviour, desertion (2 years), separation with consent (2 years), and separation without consent (5 years).

Form A

The form to issue an application for a financial order.

Form E

The form parties complete giving financial disclosure. Mandatory for financial proceedings at court and can be used for voluntary financial disclosure when attempting to settle without using the court route.

Habitual residence

A person’s usual place of residence.

Heads of Agreement

A document that is drawn up when a financial agreement has been reached by the parties but cannot be made into a consent order (e.g. because Decree Nisi has not been pronounced).

Indirect contact

All non face-to-face contact between a child subject and the non-resident parent. Can be ordered by the court where it is not appropriate for the child to have direct contact but with a parent, includes correspondence by letter, email or telephone.


Court order stopping someone from doing an act or compelling them to do an act. Failure to comply with this order can lead to contempt of court and result in imprisonment.

Joint lives basis

If maintenance is to be paid on a “joint lives” basis, it lasts until either party dies, the person receiving the regular payments remarries, or further order of the court.

Judicial separation

Formal separation sanctioned by the court which is not a divorce.  This can only be granted on the grounds that the marriage has broken down irretrievably and one of the five facts must be proved.


The country where proceedings will be started. The issuing party must have a connection with the country where they wish for the case to be heard. Governed by Brussels II.

Litigant in Person

Person who conducts their own case and represents themselves through the court process.

Lump sum order

An order that one party shall pay a fixed sum to the other party. This can either be one payment or a lump sum in instalments.


Payments made by one spouse to the other for their benefit (or for any children), usually paid monthly, either for a specified term or on a joint lives basis.

Maintenance pending suit

Interim maintenance paid by one party to the other temporarily until final financial settlement.

Matrimonial home

The main home where the parties live(d).

Matrimonial home rights

Where one spouse is the owner of the former matrimonial home, it is possible for the other to register a Home Rights Notice at the Land Registry. This means that if the owning spouse tries to sell/remortgage, a buyer or lender will be put on notice of the existing home rights.

McKenzie Friend

A person allowed to attend court to assist a litigant in person. They cannot speak on that person’s behalf.


Voluntary without prejudice discussions that take place between the parties in front of a neutral, qualified third party. Any agreement reached is not binding until parties have sought legal advice. See also MIAM.


Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. An initial meeting to assess whether parties are suitable for mediation. A requirement under the FPR 2010.  An applicant must get sign-off as to the (un)suitability for mediation before applyinh to court.

Mirror order

Where an order made in one country is transferred into terms identical to an order made in a separate jurisdiction, often in respect of contact or residence.

Non-molestation order

An order to stop conduct that has a degree of harassment. The parties must have a certain level of association, but need not be living together. Breach of a non-molestation order has criminal sanctions.

Non-resident parent

The parent with whom a child does not usually live.


Application to court that a marriage be annulled (declared void).  Can be granted within 12 months of the marriage but must be within reasonable time.

Occupation order

An injunction that determines use of/access to/occupation of a property. There must be a risk of significant harm to the applicant or a child. Breach of an occupation order has criminal sanctions.

Parent with care

Parent a child lives with, who has day-to-day care of a child.

Parental responsibility

Gives a person certain rights and responsibilities regarding a child, e.g. decisions re schooling, health care and religion. A mother will have automatic parental responsibility and so will the father where he is married to the child’s mother or is on the birth certificate.

Pension sharing order

Order that a pension be split so that it is shared by both parties.  A specific amount or percentage of the pension is transferred to the other spouse.

Periodical payments

See maintenance.


Document which starts the divorce / dissolution / judicial separation process.  Cannot be issued until 12 months after the marriage. Must state the marriage has irretrievably broken down because of one of the five facts.


Person who issues the divorce proceedings.

Power of arrest

Can be attached to a court order, giving the police the authority to arrest a person in breach of an order.

Prenuptial agreement / premarital agreement

A document made in anticipation of marriage, setting out the agreement reached by a couple in relation to financial arrangements.

Prohibited steps order

Order made by the court preventing a parent from taking an action involving a child, such as taking them abroad.

Property adjustment order

Order that one spouse should transfer their interest in a property to the other. Usually relates to a house or land, but can include personal property (car, furniture etc).


Where a child will live and with whom (the old term, which is no longer used, was “custody”)

Residence order

An order providing where a child will live.


Organisation of c.6,500 family lawyers who are committed to a constructive, non-confrontational approach to resolving family law disputes. Also campaigns for improvements to the family justice system.


The other party to the divorce proceedings.

s25 Matrimonial Causes Act factors

Factors that a court may take into account when dividing assets in financial relief proceedings. The most important factor is that of “needs” (i.e. re-housing needs), especially where there are limited assets involved.

s28(1A) bar

Bar on further applications being made for an increase on the length of time that maintenance is to be paid for.

Schedule 1 offender

A person who is classified as usually a risk to children, convicted of a criminal offence under schedule 1 Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (this includes sexual offences and offences against children).

Scott Schedule

Schedule of allegations raised by one party and responded to by other party often for purposes of a finding of fact hearing.

Section 8 order

One of four orders relating to children: contact order, prohibited steps order, residence order, and specific issue order.

Secured periodical payments order

Maintenance payments secured against an asset belonging to the paying party.

Separation agreement

Document setting out terms of separation agreed between parties, usually before divorce proceedings are considered. These agreements will usually be upheld by the court once a divorce has begun.

Shared residence order

A residence order made in favour of two or more parents. This does not mean that time should be split equally between each parent in whose favour the order is made.

Single joint expert

Typically an expert jointly appointed by the parties in relation to business and property valuations.

Specific issue order

An order relating to a specific issue regarding a child, e.g. schooling.

Spousal maintenance

Money paid from one spouse to the other usually in the form of income.

Statement in support

Once the respondent has filed the Acknowledgment of service form in divorce proceedings, the Petitioner completes a Statement in support to proceed to Decree Nisi.

Statement of arrangements

Where there are children of the family, this form will accompany the divorce petition. It lists information about the children. The court will not rule on the future of the children within the divorce process. A separate application would need to be made to court for this.

Statement of Information

This form sets out the parties’ circumstances and means so that the just can be satisfied that a consent order is fair.

Welfare checklist

The factors (set out in s1 Children Act 1989) that the court must take into account when making an order in respect of a child. These include the wishes and feelings of the child; physical, emotional and educational needs, effect of any change in circumstances, child’s age, sex, background and other relevant characteristics harm which the child is suffering (or at risk of suffering), capability of each parent of meeting child’s needs.

Welfare consideration

Under s1(1) Children Act 1989 the child’s welfare shall be of court’s paramount consideration in determining issues regarding children.

Without prejudice

Correspondence marked “without prejudice” is prevented from being shown to the court (unless an individual waives privilege). Often in relation to an offer of settlement in financial proceedings.





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