Family Law Glossary

A glossary of common family law-related terms. Please feel free to link to this page, wherever you wish to provide free information to the public.

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Adoption Order - An order giving parental responsibility for a child to approved adopters, made on their application to the court. The order severs the legal ties between a birth parent and the child, so that the adoptive parent(s) become the child's legal parent(s) throughout life.

Adultery - Defined as “consensual sexual intercourse between a married person and a person of the opposite sex, not being the other’s spouse”. Note that it is still adultery even if the husband and wife are living separately. One of the five ways of proving that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, for the purpose of divorce proceedings, under the current system.

Affidavit - A document to which the writer swears (usually on a Bible) that the contents are true. Note that making a false statement in an affidavit amounts to perjury.

Ancillary Relief - Old term for financial remedies on divorce. See Financial Remedies.

Answer - A document that must be filed with the court by a Respondent who is defending divorce proceedings, setting out their response to the allegations contained in the Petition. See also Cross Petition.

Applicant - The party issuing an application to the court, such as an application for a Child Arrangements Order, or a Financial Remedies application.

Arbitration - A form of private dispute resolution in which the parties enter into an agreement under which they appoint a suitably qualified person (an “arbitrator”) to adjudicate a dispute and make an award that will be binding upon the parties. Can be used to resolve financial disputes and disputes concerning children. For further information, and to find an arbitrator, see here.

Attachment of Earnings - Method of enforcement of (usually) maintenance orders or child support, whereby the debtor’s employer is required to deduct a regular sum of money from the debtor’s earnings.


Barder Event - An event that occurs after a financial remedies order is made which changes a fundamental aspect of the order, such that the order should be set aside.


CAFCASS - The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service - looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings. In child arrangements proceedings the court will normally order that a CAFCASS officer prepare a Welfare Report (see below). For more information about CAFCASS see their website, here.

Calderbank Offer - A proposal that is made 'without prejudice save as to costs', meaning that if the proposal is not beaten by the other party then the maker of the proposal can show the proposal to the court and request the court to order the other party to pay their costs from the date of the offer, on the basis that those costs would not have been incurred if the offer had been accepted. See also Without Prejudice, below.

Care Order - An order placing a child in the care of a designated local authority.

Care Plan - Local authority plan showing how the child’s needs would be met in care, including their health, education and contact with family members. Known as a care and support plan in Wales.

Cash Equivalent Transfer Value ('CETV') - A means of valuing a pension, required by the court in any financial remedy proceedings where a party has a pension. The amount that could be transferred out of that pension fund into another. Note that the CETV is not always the best way to value a pension - expert advice should always be sought.

Child Arrangements Order - Order setting out with whom the child should live, and if with only one parent, what contact the child should have with the other parent. See also Contact Order. If you wish to apply for a Child Arrangements Order you can do so online, here.

Child Arrangements Programme ('CAP') - A set of court rules that apply where a dispute arises between separated parents and/or families about arrangements concerning children. The CAP can be found here

Child Protection Register - Confidential list of all children in the local area who have been identified as being at risk of significant harm. 

Child Support - Also known as child maintenance, child support is a regular payment to the parent with whom the child(ren) is/are living (the ‘Parent With Care’ (‘PWC’)) from the other parent (the ‘Non-Resident Parent’ (‘NRP’)). It is calculated in accordance with a formula. You can calculate your child maintenance here.

Civil Partnership - A legal relationship between two people, formed when they register as civil partners of each other. Originally intended only for same-sex couples, civil partnership is also now available for opposite-sex couples. For a table setting out the differences between marriage and civil partnership, see here.

Clean Break Order- A financial remedies order dismissing all, or all further, claims of a financial nature by either party against the other, including maintenance claims, so that thereafter neither party can apply to the court for any further financial orders against the other.

Cohabitation Agreement - A written agreement entered into by a cohabiting couple, setting out how their assets should be divided in the event that they separate.

Cohabitation Rights - The concept of giving limited rights to cohabitants to make financial claims against one another on relationship breakdown. No such rights currently exist under English law, but the Law Commission recommended the introduction of a scheme of rights for cohabitants in 2007 - see here. The Government did not take forward the recommendation.

Common Law Marriage - The erroneous idea that a cohabiting couple attain the status of marriage, and the rights that go with it, simply by living together for a certain length of time. They don’t. See also Cohabitation Rights.

Consent Order - A court order made with the agreement of both parties. Usually refers to an agreed financial remedies order. Note that the order must still be approved by the court, which is not obliged to approve it merely because the parties agree.

Collaborative Law - A form of alternate dispute resolution where specially trained lawyers acting for each party endeavour to resolve cases via meetings. 

Contact Centre - A neutral place where children of separated families can enjoy contact with their non-resident parents and sometimes other family members. Often used by courts as a place to re-establish contact between a child and a parent. You can find a contact centre here.

Contact Order - An order requiring the person with whom a child lives, or is to live, to allow the child to visit or to stay with the person named in the order, or to allow such other contact between the child and that person (e.g. telephone/Skype contact) as the court specifies. Now comes under 'Child Arrangements Order'.

Co-Respondent - The person named by the Petitioner as having committed adultery with the Respondent. The Co-Respondent is a party to the divorce proceedings.

Cross Petition - A document filed by a Respondent who wishes to defend the divorce and cross-petition, alleging that the breakdown of the marriage was due to a different reason to that alleged by the Petitioner in the Petition. Usually combined with an Answer – see above.

Custody - Very old term for with whom the child should live. No longer in use. See 'Child Arrangements Order'.


Decree Absolute - The order finalising the divorce.

Decree Nisi - The order stating that the Petitioner (or the Respondent, in the case of a divorce proceeding on a cross petition) is entitled to the divorce.

Deprivation of Liberty - Taking a person's freedom away. In a family law context this may involve the placement of looked-after children in secure accommodation - see section 25 of the Children Act 1989.

Desertion - Separation without consent or good reason, and where the deserting spouse has no intention of returning.

Directions - Orders of the court, usually setting out how the case will proceed.

Divorce - The process of dissolving a marriage, as against a civil partnership, for which the process is called 'dissolution'. If you wish to issue divorce proceedings you can do so online, here.

Divorce Centre - A regional centre where divorces are processed. Note that applications within the proceedings, such as for a financial remedies order, are still dealt with by the local court. Find your nearest Divorce Centre here.

DNA Test - Scientific test, usually used to determine paternity of a child.

Domestic Abuse - An incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer. If you are a victim of abuse you can find help via the National Domestic Abuse Helpline.

Domicile - The country in which you live, or would be living if you were not (temporarily) living where you are currently - i.e. the country to which you intend to return, having not emigrated on a permanent basis.


Emergency Protection Order ('EPO') - An urgent order authorising the removal of a child from its parents for up to eight days.


Fact-finding Hearing - A hearing during which the court will adjudicate as to the truth of factual allegations made by either party.

Family Drug and Alcohol Court (‘FDAC’) - Specialist court which aims to help parents stabilise/stop using drugs/alcohol and, where possible, to keep families together. For more information, see here.

Family Procedure Rules - The rules governing family court proceedings. Can be found here.

Financial Dispute Resolution hearing ('FDR') - A hearing within an application for financial remedies, at which the parties should use their best endeavours to settle the matter by agreement, with the help of the court.

Financial Remedies - The financial/property settlement in connection with divorce proceedings. See also Section 25 Factors, for the matters that the court takes into account when deciding a financial remedies application.

Financial Remedies Court - Specialist courts that deal with financial remedy applications. For more information, see here.

First Directions Appointment ('FDA') - The first court hearing in financial remedy proceedings. Used by the court to give directions as to the future conduct of the proceedings, including the filing of evidence and further hearings.

First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment ('FHDRA') - The first hearing in an application for a Child Arrangements Order, at which the court will encourage the parties to resolve the matter by agreement.

Form E Financial Statement - A form setting out details of the means (income, outgoings, and capital assets) of a party. Each party is required to complete a Form E in financial remedy proceedings. For an example, see here.

Foster Parent - A person who officially take a child into their family for a period of time, without becoming the child's legal parents. 

Freezing Injunction - An order which prevents or sets aside the disposal of any property or asset.


Habitual Residence - The country in which you habitually (as against temporarily) reside.

Hague Convention - Usually refers to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction 1980 (see here), but may also refer to the Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children 1996 (see here).

Hair Strand Test - Test carried out on hair sample, used to determine drug/alcohol abuse.

Hybrid Hearing - A court hearing in which some of the parties take part remotely (see Remote Hearing), and some physically attend the court.


Injunction - An order requiring a party to do, or to refrain from doing, certain acts. In family law, most commonly refers to domestic abuse orders – see Non-molestation order and Occupation order.

Irretrievable Breakdown (of marriage) - The ground for divorce, under the present divorce system. Must be proved by proving adultery, unreasonable behaviour, two years’ desertion, two years’ separation with the other party’s consent, or five years’ separation.


Judicial Separation - A decree by the court that the parties to a marriage are 'judicially separated'. In practice this means little of itself, but it does entitle the parties to apply for a financial remedies order.

Jurisdiction - Before a court can deal with a matter, it must have jurisdiction, i.e. the power to deal with the matter. Particularly relevant in cases with an international element, when the party issuing the proceedings must prove that the English court has jurisdiction, rather than (or as well as) a foreign court.


Legal Aid - Helps pay for legal advice, mediation or representation in court. Not available for most private law family matters (i.e. cases not involving a local authority), but you can find out if you are eligible here.

Legal Services Payment Order ('LSPO') - An order or orders requiring one party to the marriage to pay to the other (“the applicant”) an amount for the purpose of enabling the applicant to obtain legal services for the purposes of the proceedings.

Lump Sum Order - An order requiring one party to pay to the other a lump sum of money, whether in one go or by instalments.


Maintenance Pending Suit - A temporary maintenance order, to last until a final financial remedies order has been made.

Matrimonial Assets (or Matrimonial Property) - Assets of the marriage that fall to be divided between the parties on divorce, as against assets that will remain the property of the owning party. Usually refers to assets acquired during the marriage.

Mediation - A process whereby a trained mediator will help a divorcing or separating couple agree arrangements for children and/or a financial/property settlement. Entering into mediation is purely voluntary. To find a mediator near you, go here.

MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) - A first meeting with a mediator, to explain how mediation works, and to assess whether the case is suitable for mediation. Before making an application to court all applicants must first attend a MIAM, unless they are exempt.


No-fault divorce - A divorce system that does not require one party to attribute blame for the breakdown of the marriage to the other party. A system of no-fault divorce is to be introduced in England and Wales, expected in Autumn 2021.

Non-molestation Order - A court order prohibiting one party from molesting, harassing or pestering the other party.

No Order Principle - The principle that where a court is considering whether or not to make one or more orders under the Children Act 1989 with respect to a child, it shall not make the order or any of the orders unless it considers that doing so would be better for the child than making no order at all.

Nuffield Family Justice Observatory - "The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory exists to find and fill the gaps in our understanding of the family justice system, highlight the areas where change will have the biggest impact, and foster collaboration to make that change happen." For further information, see their website.

Nullity - A decree by the court annulling a marriage, on the grounds that it is either void or voidable. A void marriage, for example where the parties are within the prohibited degrees of relationship, has the effect of treating the marriage as having never taken place. A voidable marriage, for example because the marriage was never consummated, is valid unless and until a decree of nullity is granted.


Occupation Order - An order requiring a party to vacate or not to return to the matrimonial home. Previously known as an ‘ouster order’.

Offsetting - An arrangement whereby one party retains or receives a larger share of one asset, in return for the other party retaining another asset. Usually used in connection with pensions, whereby, for example, a wife may have a larger share of the former matrimonial home, in return for the husband retaining his pension.


Parental Responsibility - Defined as "all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property". Always acquired by the mother. Shared by both parents where they are married, or where the father has acquired it, for example by agreement or court order.

Party Cited - A non-spouse who is made party to the divorce proceedings because the respondent alleges that they have committed adultery with the Petitioner.

Periodical payments - Another term for maintenance.

Pension Attachment Order - An order stating that one party will receive part of the other party’s pension, when the other party receives it.

Pension Inquiry Form (Form P) - Form setting out the information needed when a pension sharing order or a pension attachment order may be made. For an example, see here.

Pension Sharing Order - An order transferring all or part of one party’s pension into a pension belonging to the other party.

Petitioner - The party who issues the divorce proceedings. The other party will be the ‘Respondent’.

Police Protection - Where the police have reasonable cause to believe that a child is at risk of significant harm they may remove the child from the parents. No child may be kept in police protection for more than 72 hours, and the police must notify the local authority as soon as is reasonably practicable after taking a child into police protection.

Power of Arrest - A power attached to an order that enables the police to arrest a person whom they have reasonable cause to suspect of being in breach of the order. A power of arrest may be attached to an Occupation Order.

Practice Direction 12J ('PD12J') - Sets out what the court is required to do in any children case in which it is alleged or admitted, or there is other reason to believe, that the child or a party has experienced domestic abuse perpetrated by another party or that there is a risk of such abuse. PD12J can be found here.

Pre-nuptial Agreement - A written agreem`ent entered into by a couple prior to getting married, setting out how their assets should be divided in the event of a divorce. Pre-nuptial agreements are not binding upon the courts of England and Wales, but they will normally be upheld, unless the court considers that that would not be fair.

Presumption of Parental Involvement - The presumption that the involvement of a parent in a child's life will further the child's welfare, unless the contrary is shown.

Private Law - Term used to refer to family proceedings, particularly children proceedings, that do not involve a local authority. See also Public Law.

Prohibited Steps Order - Defined as “an order that no step which could be taken by a parent in meeting his parental responsibility for a child, and which is of a kind specified in the order, shall be taken by any person without the consent of the court”, for example an order prohibiting a parent from taking any step that may result in the child being known by a new name.

Property Adjustment Order - An order adjusting the ownership of matrimonial property, for example transferring jointly owned property to one party.

Public Law - Term used to refer to children proceedings that involve a local authority, in particular care proceedings. See also Private Law.


Quickie Divorce - A term often used in the popular media, suggesting that there is a quicker divorce procedure available to certain couples, especially celebrities. There isn’t. All divorcing couples must follow the same procedure. The term probably originated from the fact that a divorce is much quicker if undefended.


Relate - Offers counselling services for every type of relationship nationwide. Provides advice on marriage, LGBT issues, divorce and parenting. For further information, see here.

Remote Hearing - A court hearing carried out via telephone or video, without the necessity for the parties or their lawyers to physically attend court. The use of remote hearings increased significantly, following the introduction of social distancing measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. See also Hybrid Hearing.

Residence Order - Old term for an order that the child or children reside with a particular person or persons, usually one of the parents (or both, in the case of shared residence). Replaced by Child Arrangements Order.

Resolution - Association of family lawyers whose members follow a Code of Practice that promotes a constructive approach to family issues and considers the needs of the whole family. For more information, and to find a Resolution member, see here.

Respondent - The party who did not issue the proceedings. Note that the Respondent to a financial remedies application could also be the Petitioner in the divorce proceedings.


Section 25 Factors - A list of factors that the court should take into account when deciding a financial remedies application, including the income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future; the needs of the parties; and the contributions which each of the parties has made or is likely in the foreseeable future to make to the welfare of the family. The full list can be found in section 25(2) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, here. See also Sharing Principle, below.

Separation Deed - A document setting out agreed arrangements, in particular financial arrangements, between a married couple, when they separate. Used in situations where the couple do not immediately intend to divorce.

Sharing Principle - The principle used by the court when considering division of assets on divorce, whereby, as a general guide, an equal division of assets between husband and wife should be departed from only if, and to the extent that, there is good reason for doing so, for example because the needs of one party are greater than the needs of the other. See also Section 25 Factors.

Special Guardianship Order - An order appointing one or more individuals to be a child’s "special guardian" (or special guardians). Gives parental responsibility for the child, and the ability to make most decisions in relation to the child, to the special guardians, who will often be members of the child’s extended family. Often used as an alternative to an Adoption Order.

Specific Issue Order - Defined as “an order giving directions for the purpose of determining a specific question which has arisen, or which may arise, in connection with any aspect of parental responsibility for a child”, for example a dispute between the parents over their child’s schooling.

Supervision Order - An order placing a child under the supervision of a local authority. The child usually remains with the family, but a social worker will visit and monitor the family. Supervision orders usually last between six months and a year.

Supplemental Petition - A document setting out further allegations which occurred after the date of the original petition.


Threshold Criteria (or simply 'Threshold') - The facts that the local authority have to prove if they want the court to make a care order or a supervision order, usually by showing that the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm attributable to the care being given to the child not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to them. The Threshold is contained in section 31(2) of the Children Act, which can be found here.


Undertaking - A binding promise to the court to do, or not to do, something. 

Unreasonable Behaviour - Behaviour by one party such that the other party cannot reasonably be expected to live with them. One of the five ways of proving that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, for the purpose of divorce proceedings, under the current system.


Variation - Changing the terms of a court order, for example the amount to be paid under a maintenance order.


Wardship - A High Court order making a child a ward of court, meaning that no important step can be taken in the child’s life without the permission of the court. 

Welfare Checklist - A list of factors that the court must take into account when deciding whether to make an order relating to a child, including the ascertainable wishes of the child, the child's needs, the effect on the child of any change in their circumstances, and any harm that they have suffered or are at risk of suffering. The full list is set out in section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989, which can be found here.

Welfare Report - A report prepared for the court, usually by a CAFCASS officer, into the welfare of a child involved in child arrangements proceedings. The report will normally include a recommendation as to what order, or orders, if any, the court should make.

Without Prejudice - Words used in an offer of settlement to ensure that the offer cannot be shown to the court if it is not accepted. If the offer is accepted the protection of ‘without prejudice’ is gone. Note that ‘without prejudice’ proposals are not considered to be appropriate in proceedings relating to children.


Xydhias Agreement - An agreement between spouses setting out the general terms of financial arrangements on divorce, that will be upheld by the court despite not yet being incorporated into a court order.

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If there are any other terms that you think should be included in this glossary, please let me know via the Contact Me form in the sidebar on the left (if the sidebar is not visible click/tap the ≡ symbol to the left of the blog title at the top of the page).