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Get to Grips with Legal Terminology

Common Legal Words and Terms used during divorce and family law cases

If you are considering a divorce, or are currently going through a divorce, you will likely have read some articles on the divorce process and have some idea on what steps you need to take.

If your research has taken you to a variety of resources, or you are already in the process of a divorce, you may be feeling a little confused by various legal terms because you don’t fully understand the meaning of them.

At Watson Thomas Solicitors, we like to present clear options to our clients so they feel confident in their decision and with the path they choose to take. Sometimes, however, the legalities of a divorce demand highly detailed case documentation and evidence in Court to be presented, and this can be a little overwhelming to those outside of the legal profession.

Below is a list of legal terms below which are commonly used during divorce cases and which we hope will give some clarity to any aspects of your case that you don’t fully understand. If you do require further clarification, and don’t currently have a Solicitor acting on your behalf, then please do call us on 01252 622 422 or visit www.watson-thomas.co.uk. We offer free initial consultations.

Acknowledgment of Service – a form sent by the Court with the divorce petition that the respondent and any co-respondent must sign and return to the Court to confirm they have received the petition and saying whether or not they agree to the divorce.
Spousal Maintenance – (or Periodical Payments) a payment of support provided by one spouse to the other
Annulment – a marriage is dissolved in a legal proceeding in which the marriage is declared void, as though it never took place.
Appeal – a legal action where the losing party requests that a higher court review the decision.
Arbitration – an alternative to a judge deciding the case – parties can choose an arbitrator to rule on all or just some of the issues in dispute. The arbitrator’s decision is made into a binding court order.
Cafcass – Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service – a Cafcass officer may assist the court or provide a report for the court on what orders or action should be taken in the children’s best interests.
CETV – Cash Equivalent Transfer Value – the value of rights accrued within a pension scheme
Chattels – personal valuables and effects such as jewellery, art, furniture.
Clean Break – An order that deals with all financial issues between spouses and provides for the dismissal of financial claims, including maintenance. The Order cannot be reversed or changed.
Charge on Property – security entitling the holder of the charge to be paid out of the proceeds of sales when a house (or other property) is eventually sold.
Collaborative Law – A process that allows people to resolve their family law disputes face to face with the benefit of open legal advice.
Co-Respondent – a person with whom the respondent is alleged to have committed adultery.
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 gives different reasons for the breakdown of the marriage from the petitioner’s and seeks a divorce on those facts.
CMS – Child Maintenance Service (replaced CSA, Child Support Agency in 2013). Its role is to ensure that parents living apart from their children contribute financially to their upkeep by paying child maintenance.
Decree Absolute – The final order of the court which terminates the marriage
Decree Nisi – Document issued once the court is satisfied that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. 6 weeks and 1 day after Decree Nisi has been pronounced, the applicant can apply to the court to make Decree Nisi Absolute and the marriage is then terminated.
Dissolution – the legal end of a marriage
Duxbury Calculation – used to assist the decision as to whether or not a clean break is possible. The lump sum payment calculated that the recipient needs in order to spend the rest of their life at a certain standard of living.
Ex Parte – an application made directly to the court without prior notice to the party or parties.
FDA – First Directions Appointment – the first court appointment in financial cases which tends to be mainly administrative.
FDR – Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment – 2nd court appointment under the standard procedure in Financial Proceedings. Opportunity for the parties to negotiate on a ‘without prejudice’ basis and with the help of the Judge.
FHDRA – a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment, the first court appointment in a private law children application
Final Hearing – The trial and final court appearance in all proceedings.
Grounds for Divorce – the legal basis for a divorce, of which there are five grounds. Two year Separation, Five Year Separation, Unreasonable Behaviour, Adultery and Desertion.
Interim Maintenance – payments made by one spouse to the other for financial support while the divorce action is pending
Irretrievable Breakdown – All divorces must show that there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage as evidence by one of the Grounds for Divorce.
Judgment – A Court’s decision
Judicial Separation – a formal separation sanctioned by the court which enables the court to make orders about money and property (other than pensions) but does not actually terminate the marriage.Litigant in person – a person acting on their own behalf without assistance from a solicitor
Matrimonial Home Rights – rights of occupation of a family home, registered when the property is held in the sole name of one party, which last until decree absolute.
McKenzie friend – a person who assists a litigant in person in the courtroom
Mediation – a mediator facilitates discussions between both parties to guide towards a practical solution.
Mesher Order – court can order that the sale of the property is deferred for a certain period of time, e.g until the children are no longer dependent.
MIAM – Mediation Information Assessment Meeting – compulsory meeting the Applicant (and ideally the Respondent) should attend before issuing children or finance proceedings, unless either party qualifies for an exemption.
Occupation Order – can exclude a person from the family home or a certain part of it for set period of time.
Order – a direction by the court that is legally binding and enforceable
Power of Arrest – breach of court order that allows the police to arrest the respondent and bring them back to court.
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 Agreement – contractual document that deals with the arrangements between a couple after their separation. Sometimes this is used when a divorcing couple are waiting for the 2 year’s separation to elapse.
Strike Out – the court ordering that written material or evidence may no longer be relied upon.
Summons – a demand issued by the Court requiring someone to appear in court and/or bring documents
Term Order – maintenance or periodical payments made for a specific length of time.
Without Prejudice – documents marked with this stamp cannot be shown to the court, the only exception being in the FDR hearing, because this is a without prejudice hearing.