Glossary of legal terms

Acknowledgement of service

When a respondent confirms that a divorce or dissolution petition has been received, he/she fills in, signs and sends back the acknowledgement of service to confirm in writing that the petition was received.

Adjourned sine die

When a court case has no date fixed for it to continue.


Postponing a court hearing.


To take another person’s child into your family and legally raise him or her as your own child.

Adoption order

An order giving parental responsibility for a child to adopters made on their application to the court. The order extinguishes the parental responsibility which any person had for the child immediately before the making of the order.


Sexual intercourse with an individual of the opposite sex other than your spouse.


A barrister or a solicitor representing a party in a hearing before a court.


This is a statement in writing and on oath sworn before a person who has authority to administer it.

Ancillary relief

An old term usually used in the context of financial proceedings and financial orders which can be made by the court. This is now known as ‘financial remedy proceedings’.


To end an invalid marriage.

Ante-nuptial agreement

See ‘pre-nuptial agreements’.


Asking a court to overturn a lower court’s decision. If the decision of a court is disputed, it may be possible to ask a higher court to consider the case again by lodging an appeal.


A member of the bar; the branch of a legal profession which has rights of audience before all courts. They are instructed by solicitors and are also known as counsel.

Beneficial interest

Even though an asset may be legally owned by one person, the beneficial owner may be somebody else. A common situation is in respect of a trust or settlement.


The offence committed by someone who is already married but still goes through a marriage ceremony with somebody else.


A document prepared by a solicitor which contains the instructions for a barrister to follow when acting for the solicitor’s client in court.

Case management conference

A hearing to consider the directions necessary to ensure a fair hearing takes place and to timetable proceedings to ensure that the final hearing takes place in good time.


A person under the age of 18.

Child abduction

The unauthorised removal of a child from the care of a person with whom he or she normally lives.

Child Support Agency

A government body responsible for supervising the assessment and payment of maintenance for children.

Circuit judge

A judge who sits in the County Court and/or Crown Court.

Civil partnership

Same sex couples may enter into a civil partnership which brings about the same rights and obligations as marriage. Civil partnerships are terminated in a similar process to divorce.

Clean break

In financial remedy proceedings the court has a duty, when exercising its powers to make an order, to consider whether it would be appropriate to exercise those powers so that the financial obligations of each party towards the other will be terminated as soon as the court considers just and reasonable.


A couple living together as husband and wife or as a same sex couples.

Committal to prison

Sending a person to prison for breaching a court order.


A structured process in which parties to a dispute meet voluntarily with one or more impartial third party to help them explore the possibilities of reaching agreement without having the power to impose a settlement upon them, or the responsibility to advise any party individually.

Consent order

A term used for an order setting out a formal agreement between the parties, whether this is within divorce proceedings or Children Act proceedings.


This term is used to refer to the amount of time a child spends with his/her parents or perhaps even grandparents – previously known as ‘access.’

Contact centre

Is a supervised venue that exists to support and promote contact between parents, grandparents, guardians and children that do not live together.

Contact order

An order requiring the person with whom a child lives, or is to live, to allow the child to visit or stay with the person named in the order.


Within divorce proceedings the co-respondent is the person with whom the respondent has committed adultery. It is not necessary for a co-respondent to be named within the divorce proceedings based upon adultery.

County Court

A court dealing with civil matters which can hear family cases, usually by district judges and/or circuit judges.

Decree absolute

The final order of the court within divorce proceedings which brings the marriage to an end.

Decree nisi

A provisional order of the court which orders that a marriage should be dissolved and which is issued prior to decree absolute. The order indicates the court is satisfied that the grounds for divorce have been established. This is not a final certificate of divorce.


Similar to divorce for married couples, dissolution refers to the dissolution of a civil partnership. See dissolution of civil partnership for more information.


Dissolution of marriage.


The place where a person lives.


A person with a high level of knowledge or skill, a specialist usually instructed to give or prepare evidence to the court on matters within his/her expertise.

Family Proceedings Court

A magistrates’ court dealing with family cases.

Final hearing

The hearing at which the court will make the final determination in relation to any application before it.

Financial dispute resolution hearing

This is a hearing in financial remedy proceedings where the court assists the parties in discussion and negotiation in order to reach a settlement. The court is unable to force an agreement on the parties at this hearing.

First directions appointment

This is the first hearing in financial remedy proceedings. The purpose of this hearing is to define the issues, save costs, make directions in relation to the future conduct of the case and, where possible, reach a settlement.

Financial remedy proceedings

A general term used in the context of financial proceedings and financial orders which can be made by the court. This used to be known as ‘ancillary relief proceedings’.

Form E

An obligatory sworn financial statement filed in financial remedy proceedings intended to encapsulate everything that the court needs to know about the financial position and what orders the parties are seeking.

Freezing injunction

An order which prevents or sets aside the disposition or transfer of any property or assets.

High Court

A civil court consisting of three divisions;

Queen’s Bench – civil disputes for recovery of money, including breach of contract, personal injuries, libel/slander.
Family – concerning matrimonial matters and proceedings relating to children.
Chancery – property matters including fraud and bankruptcy.

Inherent jurisdiction of the High Court

The general jurisdiction of the High Court is, broadly speaking, unrestricted and unlimited in all matters of law, which means that the High Court can make almost any order except in so far as any power has been taken away in unequivocal terms by statute.


A term used for an order of the court preventing or requiring action. Applications for such orders are usually made in emergency situations and can be made in respect of property or to protect a person.

Judicial separation

The court approving formal separation of parties to a marriage but not actually dissolving the marriage.

Lump sum order

In ancillary relief proceedings, an order that one party to the marriage pay the other party a fixed sum of money in either one payment or by instalments.


Money paid to support a spouse and/or children when a marriage or civil partnership has ended, otherwise known as ‘periodical payments’. Maintenance may be paid for a fixed period of time or indefinitely on what is known as a ‘joint lives basis.’ If spousal maintenance is paid on a joint-lives basis, it will automatically cease upon the re-marriage/civil partnership of the person receiving the maintenance or on the death of either party.

Maintenance pending suit/interim maintenance

A term used for financial provision whilst proceedings are ongoing and until such time as a final order is made.

Matrimonial home

The principal home in which parties to the marriage reside or resided.


Talking to two separate people or groups involved in a disagreement to try and help them to agree or find a solution to the problems.

Parental responsibility

Under Section 3 of the Children Act 1989 this is defined as all rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to a child and his/her property. See parental responsibility for more information.


A sum of money paid regularly by the Government or a private company to a person who does not work anymore because they have reached retirement age or because they have become ill.

Pension earmarking

An order in divorce or nullity proceedings allowing the court to order the pension scheme of one party to divert a portion of the pension or lump sum to the other party.

Pension sharing order

An order in divorce or nullity proceedings allowing the court to provide that one party’s shareable rights under a pension scheme (which may include any pension, lump sum or gratuity, given on or in anticipation of retirement) be subject to a pension sharing for the benefit of the other party through specifying a percentage value to be transferred. This order splits the pension before retirement.

Periodical payments order

In financial remedy proceedings an order that either party to the marriage shall make to the other such periodical payments, for such term, as may be specified by the order.


A method of commencing proceedings whereby the order required is expressed as a prayer e.g. in the divorce petition a prayer that the marriage be dissolved.

Pre-civil partnership agreement

A legal agreement between two people who are about to become civil partners. The agreement sets out how the couple’s assets will be divided between them if their civil partnership later dissolves. See pre-civil partnership agreements for more information.

Pre-nuptial agreement

A legal agreement between two people who are about to get married. The agreement sets out how the couple’s assets will be divided between them if they later divorce. Also known as ante-nuptial agreement. See pre-nuptial agreements for more information.

Property adjustment order

In financial remedy proceedings, an order that a party of the marriage shall transfer or settle such property specified in the order to or for the benefit of the other party or child of the family.

Saleof property order

In financial remedy proceedings, where a court makes a secured periodical payments order, lump sum order or property adjustment order, it may make a further order for the sale of such property as may be specified in the order.

Section 8 order

An order under section 8 of the Children Act 1989, namely residence order, contact order, prohibited steps order or specific issue order. See arrangements for children for further information.

Secured periodical payments order

In financial remedy proceedings an order that either party to the marriage shall secure to the other to the satisfaction of the court, such periodical payments for such term as may be specified in the order.


Member of the legal profession mainly concerned with advising clients and preparing their cases and representing them in some courts. May also act as advocates before certain courts or tribunals.


A formal or binding promise to the court to do or not to do something.

© 2022 – Mediation Matters London. All rights reserved.