Divorce Dictionary

The glossary of terms below is intended as a guide to help you navigate some of the legal jargon you might be exposed to during your divorce. This list was compiled on the basis of the British legal system but some of the terms will also be applicable in other jurisdictions.

The below is simply a list of definitions and does not constitute legal advice of any kind.

Divorce jargon and dictionary


Access - also now called 'contact', although old term still commonly used. Usually refers to allowing a child to stay with the parent with whom they do not mostly live, but could relate to grandparents and others or contact via phone calls, emails and letters.

Acknowledgement of Service – When a divorce petition or an application relating to children is issued, the recipient will be sent an acknowledgement of service by the court to complete to acknowledge the petition or application and state their agreement or disagreement to what is being asked for.

Adjournment – where a court hearing is postponed to another day.

Adultery – a voluntary sexual intercourse between a man and woman who are not married to each other but one of whom at least is a married person.

Advocate – a barrister or a solicitor representing a party in a hearing before a court.

Affidavit – A formal, written statement that is sworn to be true by the person writing it. Usually, it is sworn before a solicitor other than your own or an authorised Court Officer.

Affirm – to solemnly promise to tell the truth. This can also be in the form of an Affidavit.

Amicable Divorce – a divorce proceeding based on a common commitment by both parties to seek a resolution outside of court.

Ancillary Relief (Financial Orders) – The part of the divorce process that resolves financial disputes between the parties, now known as financial remedy proceedings.

Annual Accounts – businesses’ financial details during the year covered by the accounts.

Annulment – to end an invalid marriage.

Answer - an answer is a defence from the Respondent to a divorce petition.

Antenuptial Agreement – a legal agreement entered into to regulate the financial affairs between parties before marriage in the event of a future separation or divorce. Commonly referred to as a Pre-Nuptial or Pre-Marital Agreement.

Appeal – a request to challenge and overturn a lower court’s decision.

Application – a method of commencing divorce proceedings.

Applicant - this is the person who applies for a divorce petition from the courts.

Arbitration - instead of going to court, the parties can choose an arbitrator to rule on some or all of the issues in dispute. The arbitrator's decision (called an award) is then made into a binding court order.

Asset – is something which is owned, for example, a building, property or cash at the bank.

Assign – to transfer and asset and / or ownership to another person.

Assignment – the formal transfer of rights to an asset to another person.


Balance Sheet – a summary of a company’s financial position.

Barrister – a member of the bar: the branch of the legal profession which has rights of audience before all courts.

Beneficial Interest – where someone has the benefit of a certain asset.

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

Bonus Shares – this can be free shares that the company offers to shareholders.

Brief to Counsel – a document prepared by a Solicitor which contains the instructions for a Barrister to follow when acting for the Solicitor’s client in Court or providing specialist advice.


CAFCASS – Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services. Government Agency which looks after the interest of children involved in family proceedings. It works with children and their families, and then advises the courts on what it considers to be in the children’s best interests. CAFCASS only works in the family courts.

Capital Gain – the profit / gain if an asset is sold or disposed of.

Capital Gains Tax – a tax which can be charged on certain capital gains.

Cash Equivalent Value (CEV) - Value of the rights accrued within a pension scheme (previously called cash equivalent transfer value).

Certificate of Incorporation – a certificate to state a company has been incorporated.

Chargeable event – an event which may create a tax liability.

Child – a person under 18 years of age.

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

Child Arrangements Order – this type of order replaces ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ orders. This type of order will regulate with whom a child is to live and have contact with any person.

Children and Family Reporter - an officer appointed by Cafcass to provide a welfare report on a child. The report includes the child's wishes and also a recommendation on what the officer thinks would be in the child's best interests.

Child Support Agency (CSA) – a government agency responsible for the calculation, collection and payment of child support maintenance.

Child Support Maintenance – the amount of maintenance the parent not living with their child must pay.

Civil Partnership – same sex couples may enter into civil partnerships to create the same rights and obligations as a marriage.

Clean Break – A financial settlement where both spouses agree that they will make no more financial claims against one another in future.

Cohabitation – parties living together as husband and wife who are not married.

Collaborative Law - collaborative approach to dealing with finances and childcare arrangements, etc. The couple and their lawyers pledge to work together to negotiate an agreement without going to court.

Common Law Marriage – when two people live together, as if they were married, but without having married or entered a civil partnership. This 'marriage' is a myth legally-speaking, as common law marriage is not a legally recognised status and common law spouses do not get automatic rights like couples who are married or in a civil partnership.

Conciliation - also known as mediation, this is the process of two parties discussing their dispute through a neutral party.

Conditional order – formerly known as Decree Nisi. A legal order that states the date that the marriage will end, unless either party provides a good reason for the divorce to not be granted.

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

Consent Order – an Order of the court setting out the terms of an agreement between the parties.

Contact Order – this is now a child arrangement  order of the court which sets out the contact which a child is to have with a non-resident parent.

Contempt of Court – this is where a party is in breach of a court Order and is punishable by fine or imprisonment or both.

Co-Respondent - a co-respondent is the person who the Respondent has allegedly engaged in adultery with.

Costs order - the court can order one spouse to pay the other's legal costs. During a divorce, it is quite common for the respondent to contribute towards the applicant's costs.

Counsel – a Barrister.

Creditor – a person to whom money is owed.

Cross-petition - the name given to a petition filed by the Respondent to a divorce petition.

Custody – this term no specifically refers to “residence” i.e. with whom a child lives. There are now ‘child arrangement orders’.


Debt – monies that are owed.

Debtor – someone who owes money.

Directions order - court order directing how the case will proceed (eg hearing timings and what evidence needs to be submitted).

Disbursement – a payment made to a professional person for services rendered e.g. barrister, accountant etc.

Disclosure - process of providing complete financial details about a person's capital, income, assets and liabilities. Can be voluntary or by court order. Usually done by filling in a Form E.

Dissolution - the term used for the ending of a civil partnership (equivalent to divorce in marriage).

Divorce – the legal end to a marriage and / or the process to bring about the end of a marriage.

Divorce Petition – a divorce petition is the document that a spouse send to the Court to begin the divorce process. The person lodging the petition is known as the Petitioner, and the recipient is called the Respondent.

Domicile – the country and place which is your permanent home.

Domicile of Choice – a country in which you make a new home intending it to be permanent.

Domicile of Origin – the domicile which a new born child has. This is usually the father’s domicile or, if the father is dead, the mother’s domicile.

i.e. with whom a child lives. There are now ‘child arrangement orders’.


Equity in a property - property net value after mortgages or other charges are paid.

Ex –parte – now called “a without notice” application where the application is made to the court without the other party being aware of it.

Expert witness – an expert in a particular field who is to provide a report, opinion or evidence to a court.


Family Court – there is now a single Family Court (previously the County Court or Magistrates’ Court).

Family Division – a section of the high court dealing with Family Law cases.

Family Mediator - A family mediator is a neutral third party who helps families resolve disputes outside of court. The mediator facilitates discussions between opposing parties and ensures that everyone is able to air their concerns and perspectives. The goal is to help all parties come to a mutually acceptable solution.

Final Hearing – The hearing at which the Court will make the final determination in relation to any application before it.

Final Order – formerly known as Decree Absolute. This is a legal order that official ends the marriage, meaning both parties are free to remarry.

Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) Hearing – this hearing takes place within financial proceedings on divorce. It is often referred to as a “FDR” hearing and it is where parties attempt to negotiate a financial settlement before a Judge and with assistance from the Judge. The Judge is privy to without prejudice offers between the parties but the Judge cannot impose a final decision upon them.

Financial Remedy Orders - formerly called an ‘ancillary relief order’, this is applying for a financial settlement, whether that is a lump sum, regular maintenance payments or ownership of property or assets. Find out more on our Financial Orders page in our Advice Centre.

First Directions Appointment – First hearing in ancillary relief proceedings (now 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.

Floating Charge – a charge to provide security for monies lent to a company.

Form A – The application for a financial remedy.

Form E – the statement setting out financial information and documents in support within financial proceedings.

Form G - sent to the court before the FDA appointment, confirming whether the FDA and FDR hearings can be combined.

Forms H and H1 - submitted to the court before each court hearing; provides details of each party's costs and payments towards them.

Freezing Order – an Order made by the court to prevent another party from disposing or adversely dealing with assets.


Guardian – a person appointed to look after the interests of a child.

Grounds for divorce - before 6 April 2022 and ‘no-fault’ divorce, these were the five valid reasons that could be used to show that a marriage had irretrievably broken down.


Hague Convention – a convention signed by a number of countries to enforce rights of custody and prevent wrongful removal of children.

High Court – consists of three divisions;-

(1) Queens Bench Division
(2) Chancery Division
(3) Family Division.

High Conflict Divorce – a divorce where one or both spouses engage in negative behaviours to intentionally derail the process or inflict unnecessary emotional pain on one another.


In Chambers - discussions or hearings that take place in private where the public are not allowed in.

Injunction – an Order preventing a person from taking a specific step or action.


Joint and Several Liability – two or more people are responsible for repaying a debt.

Joint tenancy - common form of property joint ownership. If one party dies, the survivor will own the entire property. See also tenants in common.

Judge – a person who is to adjudicate and make a decision in a court case.

Judgment – a decision by a court.

Judicial Separation – The Court approving formal separation of parties to a marriage but not actually dissolving the marriage. Often used when religion will not allow divorce proceedings.

Jurisdiction - this is the official power to make legal decisions.


Liabilities – the debt that a person or organisation owes to another.

Life Assurance Policy – contract between the policy holder and the insurance company often to pay out in the event of death.

Life Assured – the person whose life is assured by the life assurance policy.

Litigant – a person involved in a court case or legal proceedings.

Litigation – the process of taking legal action before a court within proceedings.

Lump Sum Order – in ancillary relief proceedings (financial remedy proceedings) an Order that one party to the marriage pay the other party a fixed sum of money in either one payment or by installments.


Maintenance – child support or monies to be paid to another party / spouse and legally referred to as “periodical payments”.

Maintenance Pending Suit – in financial remedy proceedings a party can apply for interim periodical payments which the court may Order before the conclusion of the proceedings.

Matrimonial Home – the family home where a husband and wife lived together when married.

Mediation – this is where trained, independent mediators facilitate discussions between married couples to help resolve disputes without using the court system.

Mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) - couples are expected to attend a MIAM meeting to ensure they understand and have considered the mediation process before commencing any court proceedings about children, finance or dissolving the marriage.

Memorandum and Articles of Association – the memorandum gives details of the company’s name, its purposes and share capital. The articles set out the members’ rights and the Directors’ powers.

Mortgage – where a property is used as security for a debt.

Mortgagee – the lender / organisation which provides the money and which is secured by a mortgage.

Mortgagor – a party who borrows money from the mortgagee.


No-Fault Divorce - no-fault divorce is a divorce which doesn’t require either party involved to blame the other for the breakdown of the relationship. No-fault divorce came into force in the UK on 6th April 2022.

No Order Principle – under s.1 of the Children Act 1989, a court must not make an Order unless it considers that making an Order is in the child’s best interest.

Non-Molestation Order – a type of injunction Order to forbid the other person from using or threatening to use violence and / or from intimidating or pestering another.

Nullity – a void or voidable marriage on the grounds including:-

• at least one of the parties was under age at the time of the marriage
• the parties are within the prohibited degrees of relationship e.g. brother and sister
• either party was already married
• the parties are not respectively male and female
• a polygamous married outside England and Wales but either party being domiciled in England and Wales
• marriage not consummated due to incapacity of either party or wilful refusal
• either party to the marriage did not validly consent to it whether through duress, mistake, unsoundness of mind or otherwise.


Oath – swearing the truth of a statement.

Occupation Order – an Order regulating occupation of a home. It includes the power to either allow a person back into a home or to exclude a person from a home and/or from a defined area in which the home is included.

Order – a direction, instruction or command of the court.


Parental Involvement – there is now a principle of that both parents should be involved in a child’s life following divorce or separation.

Parental Responsibility – 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.

Pension Earmarking – 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 – 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.

Permission to remove - application to the court for permission to remove a child permanently from England and Wales. Previously called leave to remove.

Pre Nuptial Agreement – an agreement entered into between parties before a marriage often to regulate financial affairs should they separate or divorce.

Process server - someone employed to deliver court papers to the named recipient. To prove that the papers have been served, the process server will normally swear an affidavit which will be sent to the court.

Post Nuptial Agreement – this is similar to a Pre Nuptial Agreement but is entered into during the course of the marriage and not before.

Prohibited Steps Order – an Order made within children proceedings to prohibit or forbid a certain act.

Property Adjustment Order – in the financial remedy proceedings an Order that a party to 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.


Questionnaire - list of questions asking for further details about a person's financial circumstances, usually made in response to gaps or omissions in someone's Form E.


Residence Order – There is now a child arrangement order being an order of the court which deal with whom a child should live and spend time with the other parent.

Respondent – The Respondent is the spouse who receives the divorce petition from the other spouse.


Sale of 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 further order for the sale of such property as may be specified in the order.

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.

Section 8 Order – Order under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989, namely residence order, contact order, prohibited steps order or specific issue order.

Separation – when parties end a relationship and it is not necessarily limited to physical separation.

Separation Agreement - document that sets out the arrangements between a couple after separation.

Service - formal process by which court documents are sent to and received by the party to whom they are addressed.

Solicitor – a lawyer who advises a party and provides legal advice.

Specific Issue Order – an Order giving directions for the purpose of determining a specific questions which has arisen, or which may arise, in connection with any aspect of parental responsibility for a child for example, in relation to name, education, school and so no.

Statement of Arrangements – This is no longer required in divorces (previously it was a form used with the divorce petition when starting this process and where there are children).

Statement of Truth - this is a formal statement that confirms the contents within any written document relevant to the process are true. This is either signed and dated by the person who makes the document, or a solicitor on his/her behalf.

Statement of Information – a statement setting out details of parties’ finances in summary form and filed when a Consent Order is lodged at court setting out the terms of a financial settlement.


Transferee – the person who receives e.g. an asset where it is transferred to them.

Transferor – the person who transfers e.g. an asset to another person (the transferee).

Trust – a financial arrangement under which a property / asset is held by named people for another party.


Undertaking – a formal and binding promise to the court which can be enforced as a contempt of court.

Unreasonable Behaviour – behaviour by a married party with whom the other feels it is intolerable.


Ward of Court – usually a minor child who is protected by the High Court.

Welfare Checklist – under s.3 of the Children Act 1989, where a court is considering whether to make a Section 8 order it is directed to have regard to the following particular circumstances:

• the ascertainable wishes and feeling of the child
• his physical, emotional and educational needs
• the likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances
• his age, sex, background, and any other characteristics which the court considers relevant
• any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering
• how capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs
• the range of powers available to the court under the Act

Will – a legal document where a person leaves money / assets in the event of death.

Without Prejudice – a document which is marked as so cannot be referred to within court proceedings and is commonly used when a person makes an offer.