You are through to the Family Site of Bird Belderbos & Mee. Click here for our main site.

Glossary of Legal Terms

Here you will find an explanation of some of the terminology used in the family courts.

Acknowledgement of Service

A form completed by the Respondent to confirm that a divorce or dissolution petition has been received.

Adultery

The act of sexual intercourse by an individual who is married with someone of the opposite sex who is not the individual’s spouse.

Annul

To end an invalid marriage

Beneficial interest

Even though an asset may be legally owned by one person, the beneficial owner may be somebody else.  A common situation is in respect of a trust or settlement.

Bigamy

The offence of marrying while already being married to someone else

Child arrangements orders

New term under the Children and Families Act replacing contact and residence orders. Instead, bringing the two together, as “child arrangements orders”. Child arrangements orders are defined as: “an order regulating the arrangements relating to any of the following: (a) with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact and(b) when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person.  See Contact and Residence.

Child maintenance

Also known as child periodical payments. Regular payments made by a non-resident parent to the person or parent with care of the child to meet the day-to-day living expenses of a child of the family following marriage or relationship breakdown. Child maintenance payments can be agreed between the parents, assessed by the Child Support Agency (CSA) or ordered by the court in prescribed circumstances or where the CSA does not have jurisdiction.

Chronology

A document setting out significant dates that relate to a marriage or civil partnership, to assist the judge at a First Appointment. It is prepared by each applicant and respondent in proceedings for a financial remedy lodged at court 14 days before the First Appointment and served on the other party (rule 9.14 (5), Family Procedure Rules 2010).

Civil Partnership

A legal status acquired by same-sex couples who register as civil partners, which gives them the same legal rights as married couples.

Civil Partnership Agreement

Also known as a registration agreement. An agreement entered into by a couple after their civil partnership has been registered that seeks to determine how their assets should be divided if the civil partnership is dissolved. Set out how the couple wish to regulate their financial assets during the civil partnership (not all agreements do this).

Clean Break

An arrangement of a couple’s finances that allows the parties to separate without any further financial responsibility for each other. The court has a statutory duty to consider if a clean break is appropriate under section 25A of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

Cohabitation

A living arrangement whereby a couple who is not married or a couple who is in a civil partnership live together in the same household. The term can apply to opposite sex or same-sex couples. The law gives cohabiting couples fewer rights on separation or death than for civil partners or married couples. At present there is no specific legal definition of what amounts to cohabitation

Contact

An order requiring the person with whom a child lives, or is to live, to allow the child to visit or stay with the person named in the order, or for that person and the child otherwise to have contact with each other referred to as a Child Arrangements Order since 22nd April 2014

Corespondent

A person named in a divorce or dissolution petition because he has committed adultery or has had an improper association with the respondent to the petition. It is unusual to name the co-respondent and is considered aggressive and unnecessary.

Concise Statement of Issues

Also known as a statement of issues, this is a document that describes the principal issues between the parties, to assist the judge at a First Appointment (FA). It is prepared by each applicant and respondent in proceedings for a financial remedy, lodged at court 14 days before the FA and served on the other party (rule 9.14(5), Family Procedure Rules 2010).

Conditional Order

The first court order in the dissolution process of a civil partnership. It confirms that the petitioner (or applicant) has established that the civil partnership has broken down. It is the equivalent to a decree nisi in divorce cases.

Consent Order

An order confirming an agreement between the parties.

Decree Absolute

The final court order in divorce proceedings. It means the marriage is legally at an end, and the parties are free to remarry. For the equivalent for civil partnerships, see final order.

Decree nisi

The first court order in divorce proceedings. It confirms that the petitioner has established that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and is entitled to obtain the decree absolute. For the equivalent for civil partnerships, see conditional order.

Decree of Judicial separation

A formal marital separation in which marital obligations come to an end. It has three main effects, the parties are no longer obliged to live together, the court can make many of the financial orders and children orders that can be made on divorce and one party can no longer benefit from the will of the other party unless a new will is made.

Decree of Nullity

Declares a marriage is void or voidable. Unlike divorce, it is not necessary to have been married for one year to obtain a decree of nullity.

Deemed service

When a document or an application is legally treated as having been served on a person, irrespective of whether it actually arrived (Part 6, Family Procedure Rules 2010). If an application for deemed service of a divorce petition is successful, the judge will direct that the acknowledgment of service shall be deemed to have been served by the respondent.

Desertion

A fact that may be used to prove the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage or civil partnership and therefore secure a decree of divorce or dissolution order. To establish desertion, a practitioner must show a separation, with an intention by the Respondent to separate, that there was no consent by the Petitioner nor a just cause for the Respondent to leave, that it is continuous and that it immediately precedes the date the petition is filed in court.

Directions hearing

A hearing at which the court considers what has happened so far in a case and issues instructions about what should happen before the next court hearing.

Dissolution

Termination of a civil partnership. The procedure is broadly the same as for divorce. Dissolution proceedings have been renamed civil partnership proceedings in the Family Procedure Rules (FPR).

Dissolution Order

A court order that dissolves a civil partnership on the ground that it has broken down irretrievably (section 37 (1),Civil Partnership Act 2004). The Family Procedure Rules (FPR) refer to a civil partnership order rather than a dissolution order.

Divorce Petition

An application for the legal dissolution of a marriage. This is now known as an application for a matrimonial order in the Family Procedure Rules 2010 though most practitioners are still referring to the traditional terminology. There a standard petition for divorce proceedings and this petition can be used for all five facts supporting the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

Domicile

The place where a person lives.

Family Law Protocol

A statement of best practice in family law matters published by the Law Society.

Family Proceedings Rules

The Family Procedure Rules 2010 (FPR) (previously Family Proceedings Rules 1991), govern the procedures used in family courts in England and Wales. The FPR were introduced by statutory instrument and are effective from 6 April 2011. The rules are split into 36 parts, together with the practice directions, certain pre-action protocols and a complete set of forms.

Final Order

The final court order in the procedure for dissolution of a civil partnership. It means the civil partnership is legally at an end and the parties are free to enter into another civil partnership. For the equivalent for marriage, see decree absolute.

Financial Remedy Proceedings

Proceedings whereby the financial aspects of a divorce are resolved

Form A

A form used to apply for a Financial Remedy

Form C

Notice of a First Appointment (FA) in proceedings for a financial remedy that must be given to the parties by the court (Family Procedure Rule (FPR) 9.12).

Form E

A financial statement signed by each party in advance of the First Appointment (FA) in proceedings for financial orders (or financial relief after an overseas divorce or dissolution of civil partnership) in the county court or High Court. It requires the parties to set out their financial circumstances in detail with supporting documents.

Form G

A form that states whether a party considers that the First Appointment (FA) can proceed as a financial dispute resolution hearing. It is prepared by each applicant and respondent in financial remedy proceedings, lodged at court 14 days before the FA and served on the other party

Grave Hardship

A defence that is only available to a respondent to a divorce or dissolution based on five years’ separation. The respondent can ask the court not to grant the divorce or dissolution on the grounds that it will result in grave financial or other hardship. It would, in all the circumstances, be wrong to dissolve the marriage or civil partnership.

Habitual Residence

The country in which a person has established the permanent or habitual centre of his interests. This is usually the country where the person lives or spends the majority of his time.

Inheritance Act Claim

The Inheritance Act 1975 gives spouses, former spouses and children (as well as others) the right to claim capital or monthly sums from the estate of a person who has died. It is invariably based on circumstances where the deceased was maintaining the applicant at the date of death. The Inheritance Act 1975 gives the family courts the power to terminate the right to make those claims in the future when hearing the financial claims at the time of divorce.

Joint lives policy

A life assurance policy on more than one person’s life. The policy pays out on the first death.

Judicial Separation

A formal separation of a married couple. Judicial separation has three main effects; The parties are no longer obliged to live together. The court may make many of the financial and children orders that can be made on divorce. The other party can no longer benefit from the will of the other party, unless a new will is made.

Lump sum order

In financial remedy proceedings, an order that one party to the marriage pay the other party a fixed sum of money in either one payment or by instalments.

The Matrimonial Home

The house that a married couple occupy together, as their main home.

Matrimonial Proceedings

Also known as divorce proceedings. Proceedings for ending a marriage or civil partnership.

Matrimonial Property

Also known as marital property. Generally speaking, all property acquired by the parties after the marriage or civil partnership, unless it is excluded property. Excluded property is usually property inherited by a party or received by that party as a gift, as well as pre-marital property.

Mediation

MIAM

Mediation Information Assessment meeting. A meeting between a party and a mediator to find out if there are alternative ways to find solutions to a problem

Non matrimonial property

Property that is unlikely to be shared between the parties on the breakdown of the marriage or civil partnership unless it is required to meet needs. Generally non-matrimonial property is: Acquired by one party before the marriage. Acquired by one party by gift. Inherited by one party.

Nullity

A decree of nullity is a legal statement asserting that a marriage is not valid. This is available in circumstances where a marriage is void or voidable. Unlike divorce, it is not necessary to have been married for one year to obtain a decree of nullity.

Pension Sharing

The division of a pension fund between two spouses. On divorce, a proportion of a pension is debited from the pension fund and credited to a pension fund in the spouse’s name.

Periodical Payments

A financial provision order under section 21(1) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (MCA 1973). On divorce, nullity or judicial separation, the court can make an order that one party pay the other periodical payments (section 23(1)(a), MCA 1973) or that one party pay the other periodical payments for the benefit of a child or children of the family (section 23(1)(d), MCA 1973).The equivalent provisions for civil partnerships are contained in Schedule 5 to the Civil Partnership Act 2004.Periodical payments orders are also one of the financial provision orders that can be made for the benefit of children

Petition for the dissolution of a Civil Partnership

Also known as an application for a civil partnership order (under the Family Procedure Rules 2010) and a dissolution petition. The petition is the document that starts proceedings to dissolve a civil partnership. A petition for the dissolution of a civil partnership is to be read as a reference to a petition for a civil partnership order, and includes a petition by a respondent asking for such an order.

Petitioner

The person who applies for a divorce dissolution of a civil partnership, annulment or judicial separation.

Polygamous marriage

Being married to more than one person at once. In certain circumstances they are recognised under English law as valid marriages. It is important to distinguish between:Actual polygamous marriages where one spouse is already married. Potentially polygamous marriages where under the law of the country in which the marriage took place one spouse may subsequently take another spouse.

Prenuptial agreement

Also known as an ante-nuptial agreement or a pre-marital agreement. An agreement entered into by a couple before the marriage has taken place that seeks to do either or both of the following: Determine how their assets should be divided in the event of divorce, dissolution or separation or otherwise regulate their financial affairs during the relationship.

Pre-civil partnership agreement

A legal agreement between two people who are about to become civil partners. The agreement sets out how the couple’s assets will be divided between them if their civil partnership later dissolves.

Property adjustment order

In financial remedy proceedings, an order that a party of the marriage shall transfer or settle such property specified in the order to or for the benefit of the other party or child of the family.

Qualifying Nuptial agreement

A term used by the Law Commission to refer to a marital property agreement which the Law Commission suggests should be enforceable, providing certain conditions are met (Law Commission: Marital Property Agreements (Law Com No 198)). This means an agreement could oust the court’s discretionary jurisdiction to decide how finances should be divided between a couple on divorce or dissolution of civil partnership. These agreements are not available under the current law.

Parent Plan

A written agreement between parents setting out how they are going to manage the care of their children and how they will exercise shared parental responsibility after relationship breakdown.

Prohibitive steps Order

An injunctive order prohibiting a person from exercising an aspect of their parental responsibility for a child (section 8, Children Act 1989). This frequently involves; Medical treatment, Change of name, an aspect of education such as a change of school.

Residence

A child lives with a parent or with another person under a residence order. Referred to as a Child Arrangements Order since 22nd April 2014.

Respondent

The party in the proceedings who is responding to the application. The term can be used specifically (referring to the Respondent to the divorce proceedings) or more generally when the reference is to the party responding to an application made by another, the Applicant.

Sears Tooth agreement

A deed that assigns the client’s settlement, or part of it, to the solicitor, to enable them to cover their costs incurred in acting for the client and out of which they will be paid first and in full, when the case is over (Sears Tooth (A Firm) v Payne Hicks Beach (A Firm) and others [1997] 2 FLR 116).

Secured periodical payments order

Payment secured by a capital deposit. A secured periodical payment order is a financial provision order (section 21(1), Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (MCA 1973)). On divorce, nullity or judicial separation, the court can make an order that one party pay the other secured periodical payments (section 23(1)(b), MCA 1973) or that one party pay the other secured periodical payments for the benefit of a child of the family (section 23(1)(e), MCA 1973). The equivalent provisions for civil partnerships are found under Schedule 5 to the Civil Partnership Act 2004.Secured periodical payments orders are also one of the financial provision orders that can be made for the benefit of children under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Children Act 1989.

Separation

The informal termination of the relationship between spouses or civil partners living together in the same household. Separation may or may not be followed by judicial separation, divorce or dissolution.

Separation agreement

The informal termination of the relationship between spouses or civil partners living together in the same household. Separation may or may not be followed by judicial separation, divorce or dissolution.

An agreement made when a couple are contemplating imminent separation or have already separated. The agreement sets out the agreed financial arrangements for the period of separation and usually sets out how the couple’s finances should be divided on a subsequent divorce or dissolution.

Sharing principle

The principle is derived from the basic concept of equality: a husband and wife are equal parties in a marriage and should share “the fruits of the matrimonial partnership” equally. In practical terms, this means the starting point for the division of finances in any divorce or dissolution is 50:50.

Specific Issue Order

An order made under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 to resolve a particular issue in dispute relating to a child. This could involve disputes about medical treatment, change of name, or an aspect of education, or whether the child can relocate within England and Wales or overseas.

Statement in support of petition

A sworn statement that must accompany a petitioner’s application for decree nisi. The statement is in question and answer format and poses a number of questions aimed at ensuring the contents of the petition and statement of arrangements remain true and correct and there have been no changes in circumstances which may affect the petitioner’s ability to rely on the relevant fact to support the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

Alternative service

Now known as alternative service under rules 6.19 and 6.35 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010.

Undertaking

A formal or binding promise to the court to do or not to do something.

Unreasonable behaviour

Is a fact which may be used to prove the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage/civil partnership and therefore secure a decree of divorce (Section 1(2), MCA 1973).

Void marriage

A marriage which is not valid and is treated as though it never existed.

Voidable marriage

A marriage that is missing one or more of the normal elements of a marriage. A voidable marriage exists until a decree of nullity is obtained. A respondent may successfully challenge the making of a decree of nullity if he can satisfy the court of the following:The petitioner, knowing that the marriage could be ended, led the respondent reasonably to believe she would not seek to end the marriage. And it would be unjust to the respondent to grant a decree of nullity.

Welfare checklist

A list of factors set out the Children Act 1989 (CA 1989) that a court has to consider before making a an order. The factors include:The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding).Physical, emotional and educational needs. The likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances. Age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant. Any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering. How capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs. The range of powers available to the court under the CA 1989 in the proceedings in question.