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Jargon Buster

A guide to some of the more common terms used in family law.

Access – more commonly known as ‘contact’ this is the parenting time arrangement that might be agreed between parents and children post separation.

Acknowledgement of Service – this standard form is completed by the Respondent to a divorce, signed and returned to court to confirm that they have received the petition of divorce.

Affidavit – a formal statement sworn on oath to be true by the person making it – usually in support of an application, for example for decree nisi or in relation to financial matters.

Ancillary – commonly refers to the financial aspects of the case. An application for ancillary relief is now known as an application to obtain ‘financial remedies.’

Cafcass officer – a person who prepares an independent report to assist the court in deciding what arrangements would be in the best interests of the children if there is an issue that is disputed and the court directs this.

CEV- this is the shorthand for cash equivalent value within a pension scheme and used to be known as the cash equivalent transfer value.

CSA- the Child Support Agency – see useful links – where parents cannot agree, the CSA determines the level of child maintenance according to a set formula.

Clean break - a financial arrangement where it is agreed or ordered that the husband and wife, or civil partners, will make no further financial claims against each other.

Collaborative practice – a process in which you, your partner and your lawyers agree to work together in a respectful, honest and open way to reach settlement without court intervention. Available for all issues, it is frequently quicker, cheaper and less destructive than court proceedings.

Common Law Husband and Wife – There is, in fact, no such thing as common law marriage so it is important to be aware that the rights and responsibilities of an unmarried couple who live together are very different from that of a husband and wife.

Consent Order – a court order made by agreement expressing settlement terms.

Contact – the arrangement by which a child sees their parent or other individual with whom he or she does not live.

Co-respondent – a person with whom the respondent is alleged to have committed adultery. The law no longer requires the Co respondent to be named in the divorce proceedings.

Decree Absolute – this is the final stage of the Divorce process that brings the marriage legally to an end.

Decree Nisi – this ‘middle’ stage of the divorce indicates that the court is satisfied that the ground for divorce has been established.

Directions – A court order directing how the case will progress and next steps that the court requires whether evidentially or in terms of timescales.

Disclosure – this is the process of sharing full financial and other information to include details of capital, income assets and liabilities. Disclosure takes place in mediation, collaborative process and litigation alike. In mediation and collaborative process the disclosure is voluntary. In proceedings, the court direct it. Form E is often used as the format for disclosure. 

District Judge – a county court judge who deals with most of the court proceedings and financial matters.

Divorce Process - (at a glance):

  1. Divorce petition sent to court and if you are not exempt from fees a payment of £410 (imminently to rise to £500) is paid to the court.
  2. Copy sent to your husband or wife.
  3. Husband or Wife completes Acknowledgement of service.
  4. If undefended you sign an affidavit to confirm the details are true
  5. Judge considers all the papers and decides if you have satisfied the grounds for divorce.
  6. Court sets date for decree nisi.
  7. 6 weeks and one day after the date for decree nisi you may apply for decree absolute. This time, the fee paid to the court is £40 if you are not exempt from fees.


Grounds for divorce – the ground for divorce is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage proved by one of the below:

Equity – this refers to the net value of a property after taking off any mortgages or charges.

FDA – the First Directions Appointment. The judge at this hearing will consider the steps that are necessary to progress the case to the next stage and direct what will happen next.

FDR – the Financial Dispute Resolution appointment. The second court appointment in financial proceedings. This appointment involves the judge assisting and guiding the parties with a view to encouraging a settlement and avoiding a final hearing. If this does not happen, then a different judge will decide the matter at final hearing.

Forms - the most common court forms in financial process are:


Joint tenancy – a tenancy arrangement in which both parties share the whole title to the property. This means that if one party dies the survivor will own the property.

Judicial Separation – a formal separation through court allowing the court to make.

Lump sum –  a fixed sum of money paid by one person to another either in one lot or by instalments.

Maintenance – payments on a regular basis by one spouse to another either by agreement or by court order.

Matrimonial home - sometimes abbreviated to FMH (former matrimonial home) any property that the couple have lived in whether or not they owned it.

Mediation – a voluntary process which seeks to facilitate settlement through discussion. Available for finance and children issues.

Parental Responsibility –  If the parents are married or if the child was born after 1 Dec 2003 and the father is named on the birth certificate both parents of the child have parental responsibility. Parental responsibility is the package of rights, duties and responsibilities which by law a parent of a child has in relation to that child. Aspects of parental responsibility include decisions about a child’s education, faith and medical treatment.

Particulars – the additional details required by the court when a petition is presented on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour or adultery. Care is needed to avoid grave upset in drafting these and best practice is to try and agree them in advance to avoid a defended case which can prove costly and is also heard in open court rather than before a judge privately.

Petition – the document by which you apply to court for a divorce or civil partnership dissolution.

Petitioner – the person who makes the application for a divorce or dissolution.

Pre Nup – a pre nuptial agreement is made in contemplation of marriage and sets out the terms which will apply between the parties if they subsequently divorce.

Residence – where and with whom a child lives on a day to day basis previously known as custody.

Respondent – the other person upon whom the petition is served – usually by the court through the post.

Statement of Arrangements – the form setting out the proposed arrangements for the children which is filed with the divorce petition.

Tenancy in Common – This is one way of owning property jointly. Separate and distinct shares can be agreed and if one of the owners dies their share does not revert to the other owner unlike joint tenancy but instead falls into their estate.

Without Prejudice – correspondence or documents that are marked ‘without prejudice’ cannot be shown to the court unless at an FDR hearing. This goes for mediation too – mediation is wholly confidential until the parties decide to enter into a binding agreement.


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