Posts Tagged ‘legal terms explained’


Monday, March 19th, 2012

Absent Parent

This has caused some ill feeling. This term was used in the Child Support Act 1991 to refer to the parent not living in the same household as the child. Non-resident parent is now usually used.

access This is an old term which has been replaced by the term contact.

Acknowledgement of Service form Form

sent by the court to the respondent (and co-respondent if any) with the petition, with questions about his or her intentions and wishes in response to the petition. It has to be returned to the court thus establishing service of the petition.


Sexual intercourse while you are married, at any time before a decree absolute, with someone of the opposite sex who is not your husband or wife.


A formal statement, sworn on oath to be true by the person making it. (These can often cause trouble as facts can sometimes get distorted or exaggerated. Solicitors and judges have probably read similar statements before. Try not to get too angry if you are on the receiving end and be guided by your solicitor.)

Ancillary Relief

A general term for the possible financial orders that a court can make in addition to a petition for divorce or judicial separation.


The formal defence to a divorce petition. Strict time rules apply here.


A document giving broad details of the order sought from the court.


The Children And Family Court Advisory And Support Services for England and Wales. You will meet one of these officers if you apply to the court for any order affecting your child, for example contact or residence.

Calderbank Letter

This used to be a solicitor’s ‘without prejudice’ letter which accompanied a settlement offer. If the offer was rejected and the same offer or less made at a hearing, there was a risk of having to pay the costs of the one who made the offer. NB This has now been stopped (April 2006) and the Courts now assume that each party will pay his/her own costs. But this is at the Courts’ discretion and a Judge can still order one party to pay the other’s costs under certain circumstances.

Care and Attention

If your case becomes more complex or has to be dealt with urgently, this is a term to describe the extra legal charge imposed by your solicitor.


This is the name for the offices of barristers.

In chambers

This term is when the district judge or judge considers an application in private. This is less formal than open court.


A charge on a property is like an additional mortgage. It gives the holder of the charge security as he has to be paid out of the proceeds of the eventual sale of the house. In family law, it is usually levied when there is a legal funding fee to be paid back and there isn’t enough capital in the settlement to do this.

Clean Break

A one-off order that deals with all the finances between a husband and wife. There can be no subsequent claim for any maintenance even if circumstances change.
(There can be no clean-break regarding children, this is just between spouses.)


This is a type of mediation usually in court which helps couples to sort out arrangements for children rather than financial issues. If it is outside of the court process,
it is usually known as mediation.

Conflict of Interests

Solicitors use this term when, for example, they are unable to represent you due to other professional relationships.

Consent Order

An order made by a court in terms agreed by both husband and wife.

Contact (formerly referred to as access)

The arrangement for the child to visit or stay with the parent who longer lives with the child. Indirect contact means the exchange of letters or phone calls. Contact orders can also be made in favour of others, for example grandparents.


The person with whom the respondent has committed adultery. It is no longer legally required for this person to be named and this can sometimes cause less acrimony.


Another name for a barrister, e.g., a meeting with counsel.

Court Welfare Officer

The previous name for the person used by the court to prepare a report about the best interests of a child when there is a dispute. The new term is a CAFCASS reporter.


When a decree is given to the petitioner on the basis of the petition and to the respondent on the basis of the answer.


This is when the respondent argues different grounds for the divorce from those of the petitioner.


No longer used.

Decree Nisi

A provisional order showing that the court is satisfied that the grounds for divorce have been established.

Decree Absolute

This is the final court order bringing the marriage to an end.

Directions for Trial

A time in the divorce proceedings when the judge considers the petition and affidavit and asks for further information to be provided if needed in his opinion before a decree nisi is pronounced. This is also a stage in the children’s applications when the district judge considers the statement of arrangements and asks for further evidence he may need before making any order.


The process of providing full financial details, including income, assets and liabilities. This is either done voluntarily, or the court can order it. This must be full and frank.

District Judge

A county court judge responsible for dealing with most aspects of divorce including the financial matters.


The domicile of origin is normally where you are born unless a new domicile of choice is adopted by taking up permanent residence in another country.

Duxbury Calculation

A tool used in a clean break situation, a formula to calculate the lump sum necessary based on the amount of maintenance payable and life expectancy.


Refers to the net value of a property after mortgages or other charges are paid.


A document shown in court which is usually sworn with an affidavit.

ex parte

Usually an urgent application to the court which is made without prior notification to the other side.

Family Proceedings Court

A division of the Magistrates Court where family law matters are dealt with.


When documents are left with the court for sealing and service.

Financial Dispute Resolution

Appointment Under the new financial procedures, this is the second court appointment when the judge considers all offers made including those on a without prejudice basis.

First Appointment

The first court meeting when the judge considers what other information is needed to determine financial matters.


A court order which tells someone to refrain from doing something. Penalties for not abiding by the order can include imprisonment in some cases.


A term used when someone dies without making a will.

Judicial Separation

A court order ending in a decree of judicial separation which enables the court to make orders about finances and other orders similar to divorce cases.

Legal Aid

The old term for government help with legal fees based on financial eligibility and the merits of the case. Now replaced by Community legal Service funding.

Maintenance Application Form and Maintenance Enquiry Form

These are standard forms sent out to both parents by the CSA (Child Support Agency).

Maintenance Money

one spouse pays to the other for ongoing financial support on a regular basis, either just for the spouse or for children too.

Maintenance Pending Suit

If the divorce may take some time, temporary maintenance can be requested pending the end of the divorce.

Matrimonial Home (usually referred to as the ex matrimonial home)

A property where the married couple live together. It can either be rented or owned.

Matrimonial Home Rights

These are the rights of occupation of both spouses to live in the family home until the decree absolute. If there is domestic abuse or violence (refer to our articles in Child Aid and this section for information), you should seek immediate advice from your solicitor or the police as the courts have powers to alter this arrangement in some cases.

MacKenzie friend

this is a lay helper who can go with you into court, with the court’s permission, but he does not have the right to address the court directly or examine a witness.


This is a method of coming to agreements about children and/or finances with the help of a trained mediator/s.

Minutes of Order

This is when draft terms of agreement go before the court with a request that a consent order be made in the same terms.


This is usually a bank or building society, but it can be anyone, that lends you money to buy a property on the security of the property.


This is the borrower who obtains the mortgage.

Nominal Order

This is an order for maintenance when it is not needed or cannot be paid under
present circumstances. This can cause some confusion but the order is made, say for 50 pence a year, so that if circumstances change, the court can review this order which remains on file.


This order is to prohibit someone assaulting, harassing or interfering with another person.

Non-Resident Parent

The CSA now uses this term instead of absent parent, meaning the parent living away from the child.

Occupation Order

An order which regulates occupation rights to the matrimonial home. A spouse can be excluded from the home or from a certain part of it.

Parental Responsibility

This means the rights and responsibilities that mothers and married fathers have to their children. This continues during and after the divorce process.
( Non-married fathers can acquire this through marriage to the child’s mother, through the courts or through a Parental Responsibility agreement, as can guardians and others.)

Parent with Care

A CSA term to denote the parent who has the child at home and provides day to day care.

Penal Notice

This is a court warning usually contained in a court order, notifying the
recipient that a breach of the order will result in committal to prison.

Pending Suit

This means while the divorce is in process and before the decree absolute.

Periodical Payments

Another term for maintenance.


This is the document requesting a divorce or a judicial separation.


The person who starts the divorce proceedings by filing the petition(leaving the documents at court).


Documents or formal statements summarising the issues of the case.


The part of the petition or answer which asks the court to make orders in favour of the petitioner or respondent.

Prohibited Steps Order

This is a court order used to prohibit something being done to a child, being taken out of the country for example.

Property Adjustment Order

An order that a spouse should transfer a property to the other.

Qualifying Child

A CSA term meaning a child under 17 or under 19 if in full-time education.

Recovered or Preserved

Money or property gained or retained during legal proceedings.

Relevant Child

A child of the marriage under 16 at the time of the decree nisi or between 16 and 18 if in full-time education or training for a trade. A disabled and dependant child of any age is considered.


A document filed by the petitioner in response to to an answer.

Request for Directions

An application to the court for a decree nisi.

Reserved Costs

This is when a decision about costs will be made later during proceedings.

Residence Order

A court order made to say with whom the child will live.


The spouse who receives the petition for divorce or judicial separation

Sealing by the Court

The court stamps a document filed at the court office or stamps an order or decree when issued.

Secured Provision

When an asset which provides income is put under the jurisdiction of trustees and used to provide maintenance.

Separation Agreement

A document setting out the terms agreed usually before divorce proceedings. A solicitor should be consulted before signing.


The process by which court documents are formally sent to one spouse.

Special Procedure

When a divorce is undefended, the decree can be issued without either spouse having to appear at court.

Specific Issue Order

An order determining a specific issue relating to a child, for example when parents cannot agree about schooling or medical treatment.

Statement of Arrangements

The form sent to the court with the petition if there are any children. It sets out proposed arrangements for the children. If possible, this should be agreed between both parents and signed.

Statutory Charge

If you are receiving public funding (legal aid), this is the amount to be paid if the funding did not cover all your legal costs. Various rules apply.


A court demand for a person to appear in court at a specified time.


divorce Proceedings by agreement or when there is no answer.

Without Prejudice

This is a way of preventing the court at the final hearing from knowing about any negotiations which did not result in an agreement. You may see this term at the start of a letter. Calderbank offers and their responses ,however, may be disclosed to the court on the question of costs.