What are the common legal terms, phrases, words and other legal jargon that I need to understand during my split? Here we have a divorce and family law glossary to allow you to understand what can be a complicated area of the law.

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Acknowledgment of service

An acknowledgement of service is a formal acknowledgement by one person that a second party has begun legal proceedings which concern them.


An adjournment is the postponement of a court hearing until a later date.


Adultery means forming a sexual relationship with a third party while married, legally adultery could only be committed between a male and female, one of whom was married. However, since the introduction of no-fault divorce in April 2022 there is no need to make allegations of adultery within divorce proceedings.

Ancillary Relief

An older term used to describe an application for financial relief following presentation of an application for divorce, or civil partnership dissolution.


The applicant is the person who applies for a divorce.


Arbitration is an out of court process. A qualified solicitor or barrister is appointed to decide a point, this could be a single matter or the whole dispute. This person is either a retired judge, barrister or senior solicitor. The outcome of arbitration is treated as a binding court order and called an ‘award’. Arbitration is available where both parties consent and for disputes involving money or property disputes or some disputes regarding children.



A barrister is a lawyer who specialises in representing cases in court. They are normally hired by solicitors rather than directly by clients.



The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service or Cafcass is a public body which independently advises the family court cases involving children in order to ensure they are safe and the court acts in the best interests of the children.


The cash equivalent value sometimes referred to as the cash equivalent (CEV or CE) refers to the capitalised value of pension benefits for divorce purposes.

Child Abduction

In family law, child abduction normally refers to the removal of a child or children by one parent without the consent of the other parent.

Child Arrangements

Child arrangements are the agreed details of where a child will live following a divorce or separation, along with how often he or she will see their other parent.

Child Maintenance

Child maintenance is money paid following a divorce or separation by the parent with whom a child or children do not normally live, this parent is sometimes referred to as the non-resident parent or the absent parent. The money paid is intended to cover the child's living costs.

Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is the government body with responsibility for the payment of child maintenance. It is the successor to the Child Support Agency. There is no requirement for either party to contact the CMS to calculate maintenance as the parents can reach an agreement between them. There are tools on the CMS website to help parents to do this.

Child Support

Child support is an alternative name for child maintenance.

Child Support Agency

The Child Support Agency was a government body with responsibility for the payment of child maintenance, the 'absent' parent paid child maintenance to the parent who had care of the child. It was abolished in 2012 and replaced by the Child Maintenance Service.

Children Act 1989

The Children Act 1989 is the principal piece of legislation concerning the rights and welfare of children in England and Wales.

Civil partnership

Civil partnerships are legal unions with a similar function to marriage. They were originally devised as an alternative to marriage for same sex couples but are now also available to opposite sex couples.

Clean Break

A clean break is a form of divorce which brings to an end any and all financial obligations between the former couple.

Cohabitation Agreement

A cohabitation agreement is a formal agreement between a cohabiting couple concerning the details of their relationship and what would happen if they later separate.

Cohabiting / Cohabitation

Cohabitation refers to couples who live together without being married. This was once rare but has become very common in recent decades.

Collaborative Law

Collaborative law is a process in which a couple who plan to divorce meet with a team of specially trained lawyers, advisors and financial experts to try and work out a deal. The parties agree that if they fail to do so, they cannot call upon the same lawyers or advisors for any subsequent court proceedings.

Conditional order of divorce civil or partnership dissolution

A conditional order is the penultimate stage in the process. It is a provisional order stating that the divorce/dissolution can be finalised and the marriage/civil partnership formerly brought to a close.

A consent order is a legally binding financial agreement between a divorcing couple, setting out exactly how their assets and property will be divided. The agreement should be drafted by a solicitor, barrister or mediator and sent to the court for approval.


Following divorce or separation, children will live with one parent on a day-to-day basis. The term ‘contact’ refers to the time the other parent spends with the child.


A person’s counsel is their legal representative: i.e. their solicitor or barrister.


The term custody refers to which a parent a child will live with on a day-to-day basis following divorce or separation. Although still in common parlance, the term is no longer used in official family law proceedings or documents. It has instead been replaced by a Child Arrangements Order, living with order.


Declaration of Trust

A declaration of trust is a formal document stating that one or more people hold assets ‘on trust’ for themselves or a third party: this means that they legally own those assets on behalf of that third party. Often used when two people live together as a cohabiting couple and want to recognise an unequal financial contribution to the property they own together.


Disclosure means revealing all relevant documents and details during a legal process like divorce. In most cases full disclosure is a legal requirement.


Divorce is the legal procedure required to end a marriage and fairly divide assets and property.

Divorce Petition (Application)

A divorce application (formally, 'petition') is a formal application to end a marriage.


Ex parte

An ex parte legal order is one made without involving or hearing from an affected third party – this is normally done for reasons of speed or safety. These orders are rare and will be followed up with a hearing involving both parties. More frequently referred to as without notice legal orders.



In family law the term ‘fair’ can refer to full consideration or acknowledgement of the contributions made by each party to a marriage.

Family Lawyer

A family lawyer is a legal professional who specialises in family law – i.e. law concerning family relationships and marriage. The term lawyer doesn't refer to a regulated individual, it may be that the person who calls themselves a lawyer rather than a barrister or solicitor may not have any legal qualifications or be regulated by a recognised regulator.

Family Solicitor

A family solicitor is a solicitor who specialises in law concerning family relationships, marriage and divorce. Solicitors are lawyers who work directly with clients. Solicitors are regulated by the SRA.


The first directions appointment or FDA is the first hearing that takes place in a family court when a couple are unable to agree on the financial aspects of a divorce and therefore wish a court to impose a settlement. At an FDA, specific subsequent steps will be set out, with an associated timeframe.


The financial dispute resolution hearing or FDR is the second hearing to take place in family court when a divorcing couple have failed to reach agreement. Its purpose is to encourage negotiation on financial matters.


An FHDRA (first hearing and dispute resolution appointment) is the very first hearing in a family court case. They are held to identify the key issues in dispute and to encourage negotiation between the parties.

File / Filing

Filing is the formal submission of a legal document in an ongoing case or application.

Final Hearing

At the final hearing in a family court case a judge will consider all the evidence that has been presented in order to reach a conclusion and issue a judgement. The term often refers to cases involving children.

Final order of divorce

The final order of divorce is the last stage in the process, bringing the marriage to a formal conclusion. This stage was formerly known as the decree absolute.

Financial Remedy

Financial remedies are those aspects of a divorce or civil partnership dissolution which concern the division of money and assets. These were formerly known as ‘ancillary relief’.

Financial Remedy Order

A financial remedy order is a legal order issued by a family court specifying how money and assets should be divided between a divorcing couple.

Form A

In divorce, Form A is a standard form completed in order to make a financial claim.

Form E

The Form E is an important document completed by both parties to a divorce setting out their financial circumstances in detail, along with supporting documentation. This allows a fair division of money and assets to be made.

Form G

Form G is used to confirm that both parties to a divorce dispute wish to proceed to the next stage.

Form H

Form H is an ongoing estimate of costs that must be completed by both parties at each stage of financial remedy proceedings.

Former Matrimonial Home

The former matrimonial home is the property in which a former couple normally lived prior to divorce.


Interim Maintenance

Interim maintenance is temporary maintenance paid prior to the completion of a divorce in cases of financial hardship.


Joint divorce application

Under the Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, both partners can apply for a divorce together, there is no need for one partner to 'divorce the other'.

Judicial Separation

Judicial separation is a rarely used form of legal separation in which an estranged couple remain formally married to each other, but they are able to legally resolve most financial matters between them. Couples who have a religious objection to divorce may apply for this. If a couple is within the first year of marriage and their relationship breaks down, they may choose to go through a Judicial Separation as they can't divorce in this period.


Jurisdiction is the legal authority of the courts and judges in a particular country, under the laws in place there.


Leave to Remove

Leave to remove means that a family court has granted a parent permission to take a child or children outside the jurisdiction of England and Wales – i.e. to another country.

Litigant in Person

A litigant in person is someone who takes part in legal proceedings without representation by a lawyer. This is normally done for financial reasons.

Lump Sum

A lump sum is a single payment made in settlement of a financial claim in divorce.



Maintenance is the payment of money on an ongoing basis following a divorce or separation. This may be child maintenance, to support the upkeep of children, or spousal maintenance. The latter is paid following divorce when there is good reason to believe the recipient will have difficulty supporting themselves.

Maintenance Pending Suit

Maintenance pending suit, also known as interim maintenance, is provisional maintenance sometimes paid by the wealthier spouse before the completion of a divorce if their estranged partner is experiencing financial difficulties.

Marital Home

The marital home is the property in which a couple live.

Matrimonial Causes Act 1973

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 is the principal piece of legislation concerning marriage and divorce in England and Wales.

Matrimonial Home Rights

Matrimonial home rights entitle a divorcing spouse to remain in the couple’s home even if the property is owned by their soon-to-be-ex husband or wife. This right is granted by the Family Law Act 1996.

McKenzie Friend

A McKenzie Friend is an informal courtroom advisor. They are not normally legally qualified.


Mediation is a process in which an independent, professionally trained mediator helps a divorcing couple to work out the arrangements for children and finances following separation. A mediator can facilitate settlement discussions, but cannot give legal advice because they are not qualified lawyers.

Mediation information assessment meeting (MIAM)

A MIAM is a meeting at which a divorce couple are introduced to the possibilities presented by mediation and consider whether it would be suitable for their own case.


Non-Molestation Order

A non-molestation order is a type of injunction forbidding the subject from contacting, approaching, or harassing the person to which the order was granted. They are typically sought by victims of domestic violence or abuse.


When applied to marriage, the legal concept of nullity means that no legally valid marriage took place, even if a ceremony was conducted.


Occupation Order

An occupation order is an injunction which grants one party to a marriage exclusive rights to enter and live in the family home. The other spouse is obliged to leave. Typically, these are granted in cases of alleged domestic abuse.


In family law, an offer is a proposed financial settlement which the other party can accept or reject.

Order for Sale

Orders for sale are sometimes granted by the family courts when joint owners of a property cannot agree on a sale – for example, during a divorce. This enables the party granted the order to acquire the financial value of their share.


Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility is the legal status of being a parent. It entitles the holder to a say in significant issues concerning the child, such as their education or health, even if they do not live with the child on a day-to-day basis.

Pension Attachment

Pension attachment orders are issued by the family court to the trustees of a pension requiring them to pay a proportion of the pension to a former spouse or partner.

Pension Offsetting

Pension offsetting is the process by which the right to receive a present or future pension benefit is exchanged for capital now. This can be preferable where one party wishes to retain their pension intact and the other would prefer capital instead of pension benefits. This arrangement can be complex to calculate fairly as pensions are complex. The advice of a solicitor or specialist lawyer should be taken as well as the advice of a pension on divorce expert.

Periodical Payments

Periodical payments are money paid on a regular basis by the wealthier party in a marriage to their estranged or former spouse for their own use or to support the couple’s children – i.e. spousal or child maintenance.

Prenuptial Agreement

A prenuptial agreement is a formal agreement signed by a couple prior to marriage. It will concern aspects of the marriage and what would happen in the event of a divorce. A prenuptial agreement is not binding, though the court may it into account, especially if certain conditions have been met: for example, if both parties received independent legal advice before signing.


The term proceedings refers to the different stages of a legal case or process.

Prohibited Steps Order

A prohibited steps order is a legal order formally forbidding the recipient from taking a particular course of action – for example, taking a child abroad.

Property Adjustment Order

A property adjustment order is a legal order sometimes issued by the family courts to change or transfer the ownership of property.



In family law, questionnaires are requests for further information about certain assets which are issued in pursuit of a financial settlement.



Residence refers to where a child or children will live on a day-to-day basis following divorce or separation. It was formerly known as custody.


In the situation of a sole divorce application, the respondent is the spouse of the applicant – the person who initially files a divorce application.


Section 25 Factors

This refers to section 25 of a key piece of marital legislation, the Marital Causes Act 1973. This lists a number of factors which the family courts should take into account when deciding on a fair financial settlement. These include the current and future income of both parties and the standard of living enjoyed by the couple while they were married.


Service refers to the formal delivery of documents launching legal proceedings to a person who will be involved in or affected by those proceedings.

Shared Care

Shared care is an arrangement made between divorced or separated parents to share day-to-day care of their children on a more or less equal basis.

Specific Issue Order

A specific issue order is a court order concerning one particular family issue, typically matters concerning children.

Statement of Truth

A statement of truth is a confirmation within a legal document that the person making the submission believes it to be true.



Talaq is a traditional form of divorce still used in some Muslim communities. It can only be initiated by the husband.



An undertaking is a legally binding promise to the court to do a certain thing or follow a particular course of action. Sometimes an Undertaking is a promise not to do something.


Without Prejudice

Without prejudice refers to offers or concessions by one party made during the preliminary negotiations in a family court case. If these are declared to be ‘without prejudice’, they cannot be cited or used against them during any subsequent proceedings. This measure is intended to encourage cases to be settled outside court.

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