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Family Law Glossary

Absent Parent – Child Support Agency term for parent no longer living in same household with his/her children.

Acknowledgement of Service – Standard Court form sent out to respondent with the divorce petition. The responding party is required to acknowledge receipt of the petition and to indicate whether or not they intend to defend it.

Adultery – voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and another person who is not their spouse, while the marriage is still valid. If cited as a reason for the divorce it must have been brought to the petitioner’s knowledge within the last 6 months.

Affidavit – A written statement of evidence confirmed to be true by either being sworn on the Bible or affirmed.

Ancillary relief – The financial claim that a married person can pursue through the courts when petitioning for a divorce/judicial separation/nullity (e.g. for maintenance, capital sum or property adjustment).

Answer – the formal defence to the divorce petition.

Barrister – A member of a branch of the legal profession, the bar, that has rights of audience before all courts. In complex cases a solicitor may instruct a barrister to advise or deal with court cases.

Calderbank letter – a letter that is marked “Without Prejudice”, usually written to put forward an offer of settlement to the other party. The letter is not shown to the Judge until he has made the decision when, if the offer is better than the judge’s decision, the person can argue that the other side should pay the costs incurred since the offer was made.

Child of the Family – A child who has been treated as a child of the family by a married couple. It includes not only the couple’s joint children, but also step children who have lived with the family.

Clean Break – A financial settlement which means that neither party has any further financial claim against the other during their lifetimes or on their deaths.

Cohabitation – A couple living together in a relationship when unmarried.

Conciliation – The same as mediation. It is not the same as reconciliation.

Consent Order – An agreement, especially financial, between the parties, which has been made finally binding and enforceable by the Court making them into an Order. If the contents are agreed by all the parties involved it can be submitted to the Court and the order asked to be made by Consent.

Contact – Formerly known as “Access”. The arrangements for the absent person to spend time or contact with their children.

Co-Respondent – A person named in a divorce petition as the person with whom adultery was committed. It is not necessary to name the co-respondent in a divorce petition unless it is the petitioner’s intention to claim costs from them.

CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory Support Services) Officer – Person who prepares an independent report to assist a Court when it is asked to decide the arrangements which would be in the best interests of the children. The officer will normally discuss the problem with both parents and the children.

Counsel – An alternative term for a barrister.

CSA – Child Support Agency. Government department who are responsible for ensuring that absent parents pay maintenance for their children.

Custody – No longer used but previously referred to the parent who had main rights over the children.

Decree Absolute – Final Court Order dissolving a marriage.

Decree Nisi – Stage in divorce proceedings where Court has certified there are grounds fro a divorce and indicates that the marriage can be dissolved unless sufficient cause is shown to the contrary.

District Judge – County Court Judge who deals with most of the divorce proceedings and usually with financial matters.

Domicile – Legal relationship that exists between an individual and a country. Usual arises from an individual residing there with a view to making it their permanent home.

Ear Marking Order – An Order by the Court directing that a pension company must pay a share of someone’s pension rights to their spouse. These Orders are somewhat limited and have now been supplemented with pension sharing orders which have given Courts even greater powers over the division of pensions.

Equity – The net value of a property after the mortgage debts and expenses connected to its sale have been discounted.

Ex Parte – A Court application made by one party without notification of the other party.

Family Lawyers – Solicitors in England and Wales accredited to the Law Society of England and Wales in connection with specialist family law work. May also refer to members of  Resolution who have specialist knowledge in family law.

Family Proceedings Court – Division of the Magistrates Court which will deal with Family Law matters.

Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment – Second Court appointment in financial proceedings.

First Directions Appointment – First Court appointment in financial proceedings.

Childrens Guardian – Appointed person whose duty it is to safe guard/protect/manage the interest of a child or person with mental disability.

Injunction – Court Order restraining a person from carrying out a course of action or directing a course of action to be complied with. Failure to carry out terms of the order may be punishable by imprisonment.

Joint Tenants – A matrimonial home can be held by a husband and wife either as “tenants in common” or as “joint tenants”. Joint Tenants means that if one spouse would die the property would automatically transfer to the survivor. If the parties are divorcing, it is necessary to consider severing the Joint Tenancy so they may become “Tenants in Common”. Their share of the property would the pass as per the instructions in their Will rather that automatically to the other person.

Judicial Separation – Alternative to Divorce this Court Order confirms that the parties are judicially separated. It does not bring a marriage to an end but does enable Courts to look at the finances between the parties (it does not allow them to deal with pensions). Often used where the parties would have strong reasons for not wanting a divorce.

Public Funding – A fund administered by the Legal Services Commission (formerly Legal Aid Board) which provides facilities for the fees and expenses of counsel, solicitors or other legal representatives.

Legal Services Commission – Organisation that administers the Community Legal Services Fund, replacing the Legal Aid Board.

Litigation – Legal Proceedings.

Maintenance – Regular payments from one party of a marriage to another to provide for the other party or children. Can be by agreement or by a Court Order. Can be for children or spousal.

Maintenance Pending Suit – Temporary order for maintenance to be paid within divorce proceedings until the proceedings are finalised.

Matrimonial Home – Any property in which a married couple live together, whether or not they own or rent it.

Matrimonial Home Right – When a married couple’s home is in the sole name of one of the spouses, the other spouse can register that they have a right of occupation in the property at the Land Registry. This gives them some protection against the property being sold without their knowledge.

Mediation – Process where the parties to the marriage (Husband and Wife) see a neutral third party to help them reach their own decisions by negotiation. The purpose of mediation is not to advise but to assist the parties to reach an agreement on the issues between them.

Non-Molestation Order – An order made by the Court to prevent one person from using or threatening violence, pestering, intimidating or harassing another person.

Nullity – where a Court declares a marriage “void” or annulled i.e. declared never to have existed. Only available on very limited grounds.

Order – Direction by Court which must be obeyed.

Occupation Order – an order made by the Court confirming a persons right to occupy a property or excluding a person from occupying a property.

Parental Responsibility – The rights and responsibilities that a parent has over their child, such as determining issues about their education. If the parents are married they both automatically get parental responsibility. If the parents are not married then it is only the mother who has it, unless the child was born after 1st December 2003 and the fathers name is on the birth certificate, in which case both parents have it. If the father does not have it he can apply to the Court for it or be granted it by the Mother.

Parent with Care – Parent with whom the child lives and who usually cares for the child on a day to day basis.

Party – Any participants in a court action or proceedings. In divorce proceedings it is usually the husband and wife.

Periodical Payments – maintenance, can be for children or spousal.

Petition – The document commencing the divorce. It sets out the details of the parties, the reason for the breakdown of the marriage and it outlines the financial claims being made.

Petitioner – The person who starts a court action for divorce, judicial separation or nullity.

Power of Arrest – An Order attached to some injunctions to allow the police to arrest a person who has broken the terms of an order.

Prayer – The part of the petition which asks the Court to make orders in favour of the petitioner.

Prohibited Steps Order – Order prohibiting specific steps in relation to a child e.g. change of surname.

Property Adjustment Order – The Court has the power on a divorce to adjust the ownership of property, including the transfer of the house from one spouse to the other, or from the joint names of both spouses into the name of one.

Queens Council (QC) – A senior barrister of at least ten years standing may apply to become Queens Counsel. QC’s undertake very important work and are referred to as ‘silks’ due to the Court gowns they wear.

Residence – the term that refers to with whom the child will live with.

Residence Order – Order confirming who a child will live with.

Request for Directions – Application to the Court for a decree nisi.

Respondent – The person being divorced on whom a petition or originating application will be served.

Separation Agreement – On separating, parties may record in writing the agreements that they have reached.

Service – The process by which court documents are formerly sent to the party they are addressed to. It is usual for them to be sent to the party’s solicitors

Solicitor – A qualified member of the legal profession. They will mainly advise their client and prepare their case before representing them in Court.

Statement of Arrangements – Standard Court form that needs to be completed and submitted with a divorce petition in England and Wales confirming the arrangements that are being made for the Children.

Statutory Charge – If a party recovers or preserves money or property following a dispute as a result of work which has been financed by the Legal Services Commission (Public Funding) then the party may be obliged to repay those costs from the monies or property that has been recovered or preserved.

Tenants in Common – If a property is held by two or more people as tenants in common it means that each party owns a specific share in the property (often 50% each). If either party dies their share will be inherited in accordance with their Will rather than to the other owner.

Unreasonable behaviour – A Court will need to be shown that the marriage has irretrievably broken down before it will grant a divorce. Unreasonable behaviour is one of the most common grounds which alleges that one of the parties has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot be expected to continue to live with them

Ward of Court – A Court Order that the custody of a child will be held by the Court. As long as the child remains a ward of court, all decisions regarding the minor’s upbringing must be approved by the court.

Without prejudice – If an offer of settlement is being made and is marked as being “Without Prejudice”, it means that if the offer is not accepted the fact that the offer has been made cannot be referred to in the Court. This means parties can concede matters in negotiations whilst reserving the right to argue the point if the mater goes to Court.