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Divorce Terminology

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Absent Parent
The parent not living in the same household as the qualifying child as defined by the Child Support Act 1991
Acknowledgement of Service
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; its return to the Court establishes service of the petition
Adultery
Sexual intercourse with a third party prior to the granting of the decree absolute
Affidavit
A written statement containing evidence given on oath or by affirmation. The evidence in the affidavit need not be expressed in any formal way but should be set out in numbered paragraphs in the first person. If the person making the affidavit wishes to refer to any document, this document should be attached ('exhibited') to the affidavit
Ancillary Relief
A financial or property adjustment order made by a Court as ancillary to a petition for divorce or separation.
Answer
The defence to a divorce petition, denying the allegations in the petition or cross petition; strict time limits apply for filing an answer
Application
A document giving details, in broad terms, of the order sought from the Court. All applications within divorce proceedings are started by filing a notice of application. Standard Forms are available at divorce court offices; they include a space for the place, date and time of the hearing of the application, to be completed by the Court office.
Bailiff
A Sheriff's officer who serves writs and summonses, makes arrests and makes sure sentences of the court are carried out.
Bankrupt
any person judged insolvent by the court, their property being administered for the benefit of the creditors.
Barrister
A lawyer who has been called to the Bar and who is qualified to plead in the Higher Courts.
Bigamy
A criminal offence committed when someone still legally married marries someone else.
Bona Fide
true or genuine, given in good faith.
Brief
A document containing all the facts and points of law of a case by which a barrister is instructed by a solicitor to represent a client.
Calderbank Letter
A 'without prejudice' letter making an offer of settlement prior to the case going to hearing. If the offer is rejected by the other party and the Court awards the same or less then there is the risk of having to pay the other party's costs from the date the offer was made as well as one's own.
Care and Attention
A term used to describe an increase in a solicitor's bill which some solicitors apply if a case has been complex or has had to be dealt with especially quickly
Care and Control
An old order pre-dating the Children Act 1989 - care and control orders are no longer made. It means the responsibility for looking after and making everyday decisions about a child and providing the child's main home base
Charge on Property
Security entitling the holder of the charge to be paid out of the proceeds of sale when a house (or other property) is eventually sold
Chattels
A legal term used for personal effects, usually of a house, like furniture, paintings, jewellery and ornaments
Clean Break
A once and for all order that deals with all financial issues between spouses, provides for the dismissal of maintenance claims and is not capable of subsequent variations even if circumstances change.
Co-Habitation
Living together when unmarried
Conciliation
A process of mediation to help a couple reach agreement on issues related to divorce; usually about the arrangements for children as opposed to financial issues. Conciliation can be 'in-court' as part of the Court process to try to help parties settle their differences over the children, or 'voluntary' i.e. provided by an independent service for which fees are payable
Conflict of Interest
When a solicitor cannot act for a potential client because he would be unable to discharge his duty to the client because of a pre-existing professional relationship with another client or a duty owed to another
Consent Order
Order made by a Court in terms agreed by both parties
Contact (or Access)
An order under the Children Act for the child to visit or stay with the parent with whom the child is not living or exchange letters, cards, telephone calls; contact orders may also be made in favour of non-parents, e.g. grandparents
Co-Respondent
The person with whom the respondent has committed adultery
Counsel
Barrister
Cross-Decrees
When a petitioner is granted a decree on the basis of the petition and the respondent on the basis of the answer
Cross-Petition
When the respondent puts forward different reasons for the breakdown of the marriage from the petitioner's, and seeks a divorce on those facts
Custody
The right formerly granted by a court for one parent (or both) to make major decisions for a child, such as education. Custody orders predate the Children Act and are no longer made
Decree Absolute
The order made by the Court dissolving the marriage.
Decree Nisi
Document issued once the Court is satisfied that the grounds of divorce are established, allowing the petitioner to apply to have the decree made absolute after a further six weeks and one day. It does not end the marriage
Directions for Trial
The stage of divorce proceedings when the district judge considers the petition and affidavit in support, and requests further information if required, before giving his certificate for a decree nisi to be granted. Financial proceedings and applications about the children also have a direction for trial stage, when the district judge considers what further evidence will be required and makes orders accordingly
Disclosure
Full information about all matters relevant to any financial application; each spouse has a duty to give full and frank disclosure which if they fail to abide by may render a later Court order invalid.
Discovery
Procedure by which each party supplies to the other a list of documents relevant to an application and allows the other party to inspect them
District Judge
Judicial officer appointed by the Lord Chancellor; responsible for dealing with most applications to a divorce court (formerly called a registrar)
Divorce Order
To be introduced under the Family Law Act, the order dissolving the marriage
Exhibit
Document referred to in, sworn with, and attached to an affidavit; usually identified by initials and a number
Ex Parte
An application made directly to the court without prior notice to the party or parties
Family Hearing Centre
A County Court with the power to deal with the administrative processes of divorce and any contested applications under the Children Act for relief
Filing
Leaving documents - petition and accompanying documents, affidavits, notices of application etc with the Court Office for sealing, and subsequent service
Green Form
Popular term for the legal aid scheme under which a limited amount of legal advice and assistance is given
Hearsay Evidence
A fact reported to a witness, as opposed to being known by the witness; second hand knowledge; hearsay evidence can be accepted by the court in family proceedings
Injunction
Order by the court telling someone what he or she must do or must refrain from doing; the penalty for disobedience can be imprisonment
Intestacy
Dying without a valid will
Legal Aid
Government funded scheme which was administered by the Legal Aid Board based on financial eligibility and merits of case. Now called "Community Legal Service Fund" administered by the Legal Services Commission (Scottish Legal Aid Board in Scotland).
Liable Relative Proceedings
Proceedings taken by the Department of Social Security against the person legally responsibility for maintaining wife or husband and/or children who has failed to do so; usually predates the Child Support Act 1991
Matrimonial Home Rights
Rights of occupation of a family home (or a home intended to be occupied as a family home) which last until decree absolute - to be introduced by the Family Law Act 1996
Mesher Order
If this is granted, then the court can order that the sale of the property can be deferred for a certain period of time, for instance until the children are no longer dependent.
Mediation
An alternative form of dispute resolution over issues arising in the wake of separation or divorce. Comprehensive mediation covers problems over both the children and finances; other mediation (or conciliation) services may deal with child related disputes alone. Mediation may be offered by lawyer mediators or family mediators alone or both together.
Minutes of Order
Draft terms of agreement placed before the Court with a request that a consent order be made in those terms
Nominal Order
An order for a nominal amount of maintenance made if, at the time an order for maintenance was made, payment could not be made or was not needed. This is done so that if circumstances change, there is an order on the court's file which can be reviewed and increased.
Non-Molestation
Order to prohibit one person from assaulting, harassing or interfering with another
Notice of Application
Forms on which applications to the court are made, beginning with the words 'take notice that' and containing full details of what is applied for
Ouster
Order excluding one spouse from the matrimonial home (or from a part of it)
Parental Responsibility
The bundle of rights and duties that parents have towards their children; mothers and married fathers have parental responsibilities automatically, while non-married fathers may acquire it by formal Parental Responsibility agreement or court order; others (such as guardians) can also acquire parental responsibility
Parent with Care
A term in the Child Support Act 1991 to mean the parent with whom the child has his or her home and who usually provides day to day care for the child
Penal Notice
A warning endorsed on a court order, notifying the recipient that he or she is liable to committal to prison for breach of the order
Pending Suit
While the divorce is still continuing (i.e. before decree absolute)
Petitioner
The person who initiates divorce proceedings by filing the petition
Pleadings
Formal statements or documents containing a summary of the issues in the case
Prayer
Formal request in the petition, or answer, for the courts orders for which the petitioner or respondent seeks; for example, dissolution of the marriage, orders under the Children Act, costs, ancillary relief
Prohibited Steps Order
Court order under the Children Act restricting a person's exercise of parental responsibility (e.g. preventing a parent from removing a child from the country without the other parent's consent or court permission)
Qualifying Child
A term from the Child Support Act 1991 to mean a child under 16 or under 19 and in full time non advanced education - one of his or her parents must be an 'absent parent'
Questionnaire
List of questions delivered by one spouse to the other requiring further information and/or documentation about finances, in accordance with that person's duty of disclosure; also referred to as 'request under rule 2.63', the rule of court permitting such a questionnaire
Recovered or Preserved
Gained or retained (money or property) in the course of legal proceedings
Relevant Child
Child of the family under 16 years of age at the date of the decree nisi or between 16 and 18 years of age receiving instruction at an educational establishment or undergoing training for a trade, profession or vocation (or up to any age if disabled or dependent)
Reply
Document filed by the petitioner in response to an answer and/or a cross petition from the respondent, containing the petitioner's defence
Reserved Costs
When decision on amount of costs to be awarded is deferred until a later hearing
Residence Order
An order under the Children Act which settles the arrangements about with whom a child will live; residence orders can be split between parents (or others) or shared, e.g. in favour of a parent and step parent
Respondent
The spouse who is not the petitioner
Rule 2.63
The rule of court relating to the statement of information which has to be supplied to the court for a financial consent order to be made
Sealing by the Court
The court's stamping of a document when it is filed at the court office or for an order or decree when it is issued
Section 41 Appointment
Or 'Children's appointment' - this was a short hearing before a judge for certificate of satisfaction in respect of arrangements for any relevant children before decree nisi could be pronounced. They are no longer made since the Children Act came into force
Secured Provision
When some income producing asset of the payer is put under the control of trustees and, if necessary, the income diverted to the payee to provide the maintenance
Separation Order
An order introduced by the Family Law Act 1996 which provides for the formal legal separation of the spouses
Service
The method by which the petition, notices of application, orders and decrees are supplied to the parties concerned; certain documents need to be served personally, others are served through the post, some by or on behalf of the person issuing them and some by the court
Special Procedure
In an undefended divorce, the decree can be issued without either petitioner or respondent having to appear (or be represented) at the court; the facts submitted by the petitioner in the petition and verified on affidavit are considered by the District Judge. When he or she is satisfied that the facts in the petition are proved and the grounds for a divorce exists, he or she issues a certificate to that effect and fixes a date for the formal pronouncement of the decree nisi by the Judge. A copy of the decree is sent through the post to both husband and wife by the court office
Specific issue Order
An order under the Children Act resolving some particular dispute about the children's upbringing
Statement of Arrangements
Form which has to be filed with the petition if there are relevant children of the family, setting out arrangements proposed for them in the future; this should be agreed with the respondent and countersigned if possible before the divorce is started
Statutory Charge
The amount payable by a legally aided person out of any property or cash that was recovered or preserved in the proceedings, where contributions to the legal aid fund are not sufficient to meet the legal costs of the case
Summons
Demand issued by a court for a person against whom a claim or complaint has been made to appear at the court at a specific time
Undefended Divorce
Where the dissolution of the marriage and how it is to be achieved are not disputed (even if there is a dispute about related matters such as finances or children)
Undertaking
Promise to the court to do or not to do something which is outside the court's powers to order but is incorporated within a court order so that it is enforceable; the court has no power of its own to vary an undertaking
Unfunded Scheme
A pension scheme where the employee has a right or expectation to a pension benefit secured only by an undertaking from the employer, for example in a contract of employment; no advance financial provision is made via a trust fund or other insurance contract
Without Prejudice
Phrase used to prevent communications in the negotiation process being made known to the court if those negotiations fail to produce agreement; however, Calderbank offers and responses to them can be disclosed to the court in evidence over costs