Glossary of legal terms

Specific terms are used in the legal process which can be confusing and unfamiliar. Set out below are some definitions to help you on the way.


Acknowledgment of service

A form which has to be filled in and returned to confirm receipt of an application (especially the divorce petition/ application).


A decision to postpone a hearing or action.

Adoption Order

A type of order that transfers parental responsibility from birth parents to new parents and cuts the legal ties between the child and the birth parents.


A statement of facts, which has been sworn on oath to be true by the person making it, normally in front of a solicitor, also sometimes known as a sworn statement. Not necessarily the same as a witness statement/statement of evidence for which please see below.


Someone who acts on behalf of someone else, eg, an estate agent who acts on behalf of someone selling a property.


Where two or more people make decisions.


Claim made against someone, with or without proof.

Alternative dispute resolution

A name for ways of resolving differences without the need to go to court. Also referred to as ‘out of court dispute resolution’.

Ancillary relief

The old term for the range of financial orders which the court has power to make following the start of divorce proceedings.  Now known as ‘financial remedies’.

Ante-nuptial agreement

See pre–nuptial agreement


A response to a divorce petition or application, and only required if a divorce is being defended.


The person applying to the court for something.


A request to the court that it does something, including a request for a divorce now that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 has come into force.

Application for directions for trial

A request that the court tell you what should happen next.


A way of resolving differences without going to court, where a jointly instructed third party makes a binding decision. Think of it more like a ‘private court’.



The legal status of someone who is unable to pay debts owed.


A  lawyer who specialises in representing people in legal cases by speaking for them in court, giving specialist advice and drafting complicated legal paperwork (also referred to as Counsel).


Someone who is entitled to a benefit, usually referring to a gift in a will.

Breach of an order

Doing something specifically forbidden by a court order.

Brussels II Revised

A treaty designed to make it easier to go to court within the European Union; it covers divorce, separation and annulment of marriage, parental responsibility, including child arrangements, enforcement of child arrangement  orders, and special rules concerning child abduction. Note that cases in the UK that have been started since the Brexit transitional period ended are not covered.


C100 Form

The form that is used by someone to apply for orders that relate to children.


Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service – the organisation responsible for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children involved in family court cases.

Cafcass officer

An officer working for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service – supposed to be involved from an early stage in parental disputes concerning children – sometimes required to report to the court on the child’s views and best interests.


Child Arrangements Programme (Practice Direction 12B) – this is a form that sets out the outline rules of procedure where a dispute arises between separated parents and/or families about arrangements concerning children.


The legal or emotional ability to understand and engage.

Certificate of entitlement to a decree

A document produced by the court to confirm that you are entitled to a divorce, giving a date for the grant of a decree nisi/conditional order.


Cash Equivalent Value or Cash Equivalent Transfer Value –  the figure which is used to value a pension in divorce cases and used by the court when considering whether to share pensions in some way.


A collection of independent and self employed barristers who share the cost of premises, admin and a brand name.


Personal belongings that can be moved from one place to another.

Child abduction

The illegal removal of a child under the age of 16 out of the UK without the consent of those with parental responsibility or the permission of the court.

Child arrangements order  (CAO)

A court order setting out the arrangements for a child or children; also known as a section 8 order, because the making of such orders is governed by section 8 of the Children Act 1989.

Child Arrangements Programme

See CAP.

Child of the family

A child who has been treated as a member of the family – usually natural children, but may include adopted children and step-children (although not foster children).

Child of the marriage

A child who is the child of both of the parties.

Child maintenance

Regular payments made to support a child of the family.

Child Maintenance Service

The government organisation responsible for running the child maintenance system in Great Britain

Child support

The original name for child maintenance, administered by a special government agency, not the courts, the amount of which is decided by applying a formula to the family situation.

Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service

see Cafcass

Children and family court reporter

An officer working for Cafcass.

Children’s Guardian

An independent person appointed to act for a child in children cases, who helps a court focus on what is best for a child or young person. They will usually also appoint a solicitor to act on behalf of that child or young person.

Civil partnership

A legal relationship originally solely for same-sex couples but now available to all couples, with all the characteristics of marriage.

Clean break

An arrangement of a couple’s finances that allows couples to separate without any further financial responsibility for each other.


Living with someone without being married or in a civil partnership.

Conditional order

This is the part of a divorce that confirms that the applicant has established the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage and is the new name for a ‘decree nisi’. It is important because it allows the court to make a financial remedies order.

Consent order

An order confirming an agreement between the parties.

Contact Centre

A safe place for children to spend time with a parent or family member they do not live with.

Contact order

The former name for  child arrangements order.

Contact activity directions

Instructions from the court requiring a parent to take part in an activity that promotes a relationship with a child, such as counselling, parenting programmes, anger management classes, domestic violence perpetrator programmes or mediation information sessions.

Contempt of court

Any behaviour that undermines or prejudices court proceedings– in family cases it usually takes the form of non-compliance with a court order or undertaking given to the court.


The legal process involved in buying, selling or remortgaging a property.


The legal expenses of a court case.


See Barrister


Decree absolute

The old name for the final court order in the divorce process, which ends the marriage, leaving each person free to re-marry. Now known as the Final Order.

Decree nisi

See Conditional Order


Instructions from the court about what each person, their lawyers, or any experts should do, and when, before the next court hearing.

Directions appointment

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


Documents or information relevant to the case that one person should provide to the other.


Showing or giving the other person documents or information relevant to the case.


The civil partnership equivalent of a divorce; the legal end of the relationship.

Domestic abuse

Physical or sexual abuse, violent or threatening behaviour, controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse, psychological, emotional or other abuse. One incident of abuse is as serious as a course of conduct.


The country which a person regards as their home country, whether or not they are currently living in that country and which is important as special legal status is associated with domicile; a person may be able to get divorced in their country of domicile, even if they have not lived there during the marriage.

Duxbury fund

A lump sum payment intended to provide an income for a certain number of years, usually for the rest of the recipient’s life.

Early Intervention Team

A multidisciplinary team that provides care for people experiencing episodes of psychosis.  The range of ages provided for usually depends on the area in which you live.

Ex parte application

The old term for an application to the court in which only one side has the opportunity to put their case now – known as a ‘without notice’ application and the other person may not be present.

Enforcement order

An order imposing an punishment for breaching a court order.


European Economic Area.


Family assistance order

An order to provide short term support for a family who have been in court proceedings.

Family Court

The court that deals with decisions about children and young people or their families, and which includes the arrangements for children and divorce and finances.

Family court reporter

Another name for a CAFCASS officer.

Family group conference

A meeting in which everyone involved in a child’s life come together to discuss their wellbeing and safety.

Family Procedure Rules

The rules that set out how family law cases must be run, and which must be followed whether a solicitor is instructed to help or not.

Family provision

Provision made for close family and dependents from the assets of someone, or the estate of someone who has died without themselves making reasonable provision – awarded by the court, at the court’s discretion.


The common abbreviation for a ‘financial dispute resolution appointment’. This is usually the second court appointment where the judge looks at all the relevant information, including offers made by each person, to assist them in reaching an agreement. The participants are given a guide from the judge on that day, of what the final outcome might be, and are encouraged to try and resolve it together.

Fee earners

Employees or consultants of a firm that offers services such as legal advice, mediation or similar.


Bringing a document to the attention of the court, who will place it ‘on the file’, usually by delivery to the court.

Final order

The final court order in the divorce process, formerly known as the Decree Absolute – it means the marriage is at an end, and the parties are free to re-marry.

Financial dispute resolution appointment


Financial remedies

The range of financial orders for families that the court has power to make and which are only for people obtaining a divorce, previously known as ancillary relief.

First appointment

The first court appointment under the procedure for obtaining financial relief – a judge decides what information each side should produce and timetables the case.  Also referred to as a First Directions Appointment or, FDA.

Form A

An application for financial remedies; this is one of the two forms that usually needs to be signed by accredited family mediators.

Form E

A signed statement of property and income. Although this is a court form, it is often used for disclosure of assets where participants are hoping to negotiate on a voluntary basis.

Foster care/r

People who give temporary homes to children and young people who need a safe place to live.

Freezing order

A special court order preventing someone from disposing of any of their assets – can apply to assets held abroad – some lawyers still use the old term, ‘Mareva injunction’.



See Children’s Guardian

Guardian’s report

The report that the Children’s Guardian writes which gives information about the young person’s wishes and feelings, and makes recommendations about what is best for them.


Habitual residence/habitually resident

The country in which a person or child is actually living.

Hague proceedings

This usually relates to child abduction proceedings where a request is made for the return of a child to the country from which they have been taken.


A pattern of unwanted actions and behaviour that upsets, frightens or intimidates the victim, and which can take many forms, from frequent texts to late night visits.


A meeting or appointment, often in a court, where the facts of a case are discussed and looked at.


In chambers

A court hearing conducted in private, excluding members of the public (the press is usually entitled to attend, although reporting restrictions may apply).


A court order that forbids or prevents someone from doing something.


Money or property that pass to someone upon death.


Being unable to pay debts, or where debts are more than assets.

Interim maintenance

Regular income payments by one party to another, awarded by the court during the proceedings, which will continue only until the final hearing, also known as ‘maintenance pending suit’.

Interim order

An order made before the final decision in the case.


The legal rules applied to the property owned by a person who has died without making a valid will.


The court’s stamping of a document to show that the fee has been paid, and that the document has gone onto the court file.


Joint tenancy

A form of joint ownership of land in which both sides share the whole title to the property if one dies the survivor will own the entire property.


The person who is in charge of a court hearing, and hears evidence and legal argument, assesses the case and often makes the final decision.

Judicial separation

A formal separation of a married couple, allowing the court to make many of the orders that can be made on divorce – without the marriage coming to an end.


The authority of the court to make a decision on a particular issue.


Kinship care

The name given to various types of arrangements, where children live with people other than their parents. For example, foster care, SGO or a private arrangement.



A solicitor, a barrister, a legal executive.

Legal aid

Government funding that pays for certain categories of legal help and assistance. It is assessed according to income and capital, and sometimes the merits of a case.


Processing a case through the courts that has not been resolved through negotiation or other out of court methods.

Litigant in person

Someone who represents themselves.

Lump sum

A payment of a sum of money.



Regular income payments to support a former spouse or civil partner.

Maintenance pending suit

Regular income payments by one party to another, awarded by the court during the proceedings, which will continue only until the final hearing.

Matrimonial home

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


An application, information or an issue that needs to be considered.


A way of resolving differences without going to court.


Non-molestation order

An order that stops someone from harassing or being abusive to someone else.

Non-resident parent

The parent who does not have their child living with them for the majority of the time.


A formal notification of some step to be taken in a legal process.

Notice of proceedings

Formal notification that proceedings have been issued.


A declaration that no legal marriage has ever existed between the parties (unlike a divorce, which brings a legal marriage to an end).

Nuptial settlement

A trust for the benefit of one or both of the parties, created because of the marriage, or in some way related to the marriage, whether made before the marriage (pre–nuptial) or after the wedding (post–nuptial).


Occupation order

An order for one person to leave a property, or parts of it. It may also restrict that person from returning to within an area of the property.


Something that can be referred to a court, that will not be kept private or hidden.


The final decision made.


Parent with care

The parent with whom the child is living for the majority of the time.

Parental responsibility

A parent’s rights, duties and responsibilities for their child and the child’s property.

Parental responsibility order

An order giving a person parental responsibility (ie other parent or step-parent).

Parties to the proceedings

The people required to appear before the court, who are bound by the court’s judgment whether they appear or not.

Penal notice

An explicit warning on a court order that breach of the order may result in committal to prison.

Pension attachment/earmarking

A court order instructing pension trustees to pay a proportion of a Pension to a former spouse when the pension is taken.

Pension offsetting

Taking a pension fund into consideration as one of the assets, to be ‘traded off’ against other assets, rather than interfering with ownership of the pension fund.

Pension on Divorce Expert (PODE)

A PODE usually provides the pension report where one has been ordered, in financial relief proceedings.

Pension sharing

The division of a pension fund between two spouses. Requires a court order. Upon 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

Regular income payments – another term for maintenance.


The old name for an application for a divorce or judicial separation.


The old name for a person who applies for a divorce or judicial separation, now known as an applicant.


See Pensions on Divorce Expert

Post-nuptial agreement

An agreement entered into after a marriage that sets out the way in which the parties will hold their assets while they are married, and sometimes to define what will happen if they divorce.

Pre-nuptial agreement

An agreement entered into before a marriage that sets out the way in which the parties will hold their assets when they are married, and sometimes to define what will happen if they divorce.

Private law

Cases brought by private individuals, rather than local authorities.

Prohibited steps order

An order preventing a parent from doing something specific without the consent of the court.

Property adjustment order

An order that one spouse or former spouse must transfer property to the other.

Public law

Cases that are brought by local authorities, rather than private individuals.


Reporting officer

A Cafcass officer who has been instructed to prepare a report for a court hearing.


The spouse who receives and responds to the application for a divorce, or the spouse who receives and responds to the notice claiming ancillary relief or the person receiving and responding to an application concerning children.

Rule 16.4

A reference to a rule in which difficult and complicated family law cases may mean a child becomes a party to the case, and thereby needs the assistance of a Children’s Guardian who will give an independent view to the court of what has been happening.


Safeguarding letter

A letter written by CAFCASS for the family court setting out the family background.

Section 37 report

A report produced by the local authority for a court about whether or not a child or young person is safe.

Section 7 report

A report produced by Cafcass for a court which looks at all the family circumstances, and often makes recommendations and can include the wishes and feelings of a child or young person.

Section 16A risk assessment

A duty held by Cafcass officers to investigate and prepare a risk assessment when there is a concern for the safety of a child.

Separation agreement

A document describing the terms on which the parties agree to separate – it is not legally binding, and if it is contested may be considered by the court in deciding what is fair and very likely to be treated as a significant factor.


Delivery of legal documents to either party or to their legal representative.

Social worker

Specially trained people who work for a local authority, and who help ensure that children and young people are safe and properly looked after.


Someone legally trained and qualified and who usually is a specialist in their particular area of law.

Special Guardianship Order (SGO)

This type of order allows someone who is not their parent to look after a child or young person. It gives them parental responsibility to make decisions about a child’s life.

Specific issue order

An order determining a specific question concerning a child, such as where they will go to school or whether they can move to a different part of the country or world.

Statement of Evidence or Witness Statement

A statement, which may be written or oral, and which sets out the evidence of the person giving it, which will form the basis of that person’s evidence in court.

Statement of issues

A document that sets out the issues in the case, and explains the matters on which the participants disagree, and which they are asking a court to decide.

Statement of means

A document setting out a person’s assets, income, debts and expenditure.

Statement of open proposals

The suggestions offered by each person before the final hearing, explaining what financial orders he or she thinks the court should make.

Statement of service

The form filed by the applicant to confirm that all documents have been properly served on the respondent.


Halting a case before the court has given a final judgment.

Supervised contact

Where someone’s time with a child is supervised by a third person, often carried out in a contact centre.

Supported contact

Often taking place in a contact centre, a person will have support available to them while they are spending time with a child.

Sworn statement

A statement of facts, whose truth has been confirmed, on oath, by the person making it; also known as an affidavit.



A form of property ownership in which separate shares are agreed – if one of the owners dies their share will form part of their estate and will not automatically belong to the survivor.


A person who has made a valid will.



A binding promise to the court to do, or not to do, a particular thing. Breach of an undertaking is the same as breach of an order and can be punished by the court in the same way.


Void marriage

A marriage which is not valid and cannot be recognised by the court.

Voidable marriage

A marriage which is missing one or more of the normal elements of a marriage, but which may be recognised by the court if it is just to do so.


Warning notice

A statement attached to a child arrangements order, explaining that the instructions contained in the order must be obeyed, with a warning of the possible consequences of a failure to comply; similar to a penal notice.


A legal document that declares a persons wished about how their money and property should be dealt with after their death.

Without notice application

An application to the court in which only one side has the opportunity to put their case – used to be known as an ex parte application – many lawyers still use the old term.

Without prejudice

A communication between the parties which forms part of a genuine attempt to negotiate on an issue and which cannot be used in court proceedings concerning the same issue – usually takes the form of an offer but may include admissions.