Divorce jargon buster

It’s not unusual for clients to leave their divorce lawyer’s office somewhat bewildered. The legal process can be hard to get to grips with and it isn’t helped by having to learn what can seem like a whole new language. With this in mind, we’ve put together a divorce jargon buster.

Financial relief – the term given to resolve the financial issues arising out of a divorce or judicial separation.

The following A to Z sets out some words and phrases you may hear during your divorce or civil dissolution process that you may not be familiar with. It is by no means exhaustive but is hopefully a useful starting point.

Acknowledgment of service – a form completed by the Respondent (see below) and sent to the court to confirm receipt of the petition and whether the Respondent intends to consent to or contest the divorce.

Affidavit – a written statement made under oath.

Child arrangements order – a court order that sets out who is responsible for the care of a child (or children). It will specify matters such as where the child is to live, when a child spends time with each parent, and when and what other types of contact takes place (such as phone calls).

Clean break order – a court order that dismisses each party's financial claims against the other.

Collaborative law – a voluntary process used to reach a settlement without the need to go to court. Each person voluntarily discloses relevant information and the parties and their respective collaborative lawyers meet to negotiate a settlement.

Consent order – an order made by a judge in family proceedings that sets out terms agreed by the parties without the need for a court hearing.

Decree absolute – the legal document that formally ends a marriage. This can be applied for 43 days after the decree nisi (see below) has been issued.

Decree nisi – an order by the court stating the court sees no reason why the parties can't divorce.

Disclosure – the process by which the parties share details of their financial position with the other.

District judge – a full-time judge in the county court. District judges deal with most family and divorce cases.

Financial relief – the term given to resolve the financial issues arising out of a divorce or judicial separation.

Financial Remedy Order (sometimes called a Financial Order) – an order setting out the terms of the financial settlement.

Grounds for divorce – there is only one legal ground for divorce, which is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This is proved by establishing one of the following five facts:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • Two years separation with consent
  • Five years separation (no consent required)

FDA (First Directions Appointment or First Appointment) – the first hearing in the financial proceedings. Usually, the court will set a timetable and directions for resolving issues between the parties.

FDR hearing (Financial Dispute Resolution hearing or appointment) – the second court appointment in financial proceedings, which takes place when the parties cannot reach agreement after the FDA. It's a without prejudice (see below) hearing, the purpose of which is to help the parties settle their financial dispute and avoid a full trial.

Judicial separation – a legal separation that allows the parties to live apart without getting divorced or ending their civil partnership. To obtain one, you don't need to show that the marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down.

Lump sum – a one-off payment made by one party to the other (sometimes paid in instalments). This may be, for example, where one party continues to live in the matrimonial home and makes a lump sum payment to the other as compensation.

Maintenance – ongoing payments made by one party to the other either as a result of an agreement or court order.

Mediation – a flexible process where an independent, trained mediator helps the parties agree issues such as arrangements for children and financial matters.

Parental responsibility – the legal rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority a parent has for their child and the child's property. If you have parental responsibility, you have the right to make decisions about your child's care and upbringing to include, (but not limited to), health, education religion, schooling, change of name, and leaving the jurisdiction of England and Wales.

Petition – the document used to start divorce proceedings. It's the form by which one spouse or civil partner applies to the court to divorce the other or dissolve their civil partnership.

Petitioner – the person who files the petition (see above).

Post-nuptial agreement – the same as a pre-nuptial agreement (see below) except it is entered into after the marriage has begun.

Pre-nuptial agreement (or pre-nup) – an agreement entered into before marriage that sets out how the parties divide their assets and income, and deal with other issues (such as care of their children) if they divorce or dissolve their civil partnership. Although not strictly enforceable under English law, a judge will take a pre-nup into account provided certain pre-conditions are satisfied.

Respondent – the party against whom the petition is filed.

Without prejudice – in divorce proceedings it refers to statements made either verbally or in writing that cannot be referred to in court proceedings. It is used to stop statements made in a genuine attempt to settle proceedings being used against the party who made them.

If you would like to discuss any issue relating to divorce or judicial separation, please contact me now at [email protected].