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Getting divorced legal glossary

Getting divorced and the related legal matters can be confusing. That’s why we believe in providing clear advice that’s easy to understand, without all the legal jargon. Here we’ve translated some of the legal terms often used when talking to lawyers into plain English.

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A
Adopted child or childrenA child who is raised by a parent or parents who have legally taken over the legal role and legal rights and responsibilities from their natural parents.
AdoptionThe legal process of taking over the legal role and legal rights and responsibilities for raising a child. This is to replace their natural parents, who must usually consent. The court will allow this when it is considered to be in the best interests of the child.
Ancillary relief or financial reliefSorting out the financial arrangements (including the distribution of money, savings, home , other property, pension and maintenance payments for children) when getting divorced.
Annulment of marriageApplying for the marriage to be treated as never having happened. This is different from divorce which means bringing the marriage to an end. To apply for annulment you need to be able to show that the marriage was never valid in the first place or has become invalid.
B
Before marriage agreementA document recording what the couple has agreed they would like to happen if their marriage or civil partnership ends. This is also known as a pre-nuptial agreement.
C
Care orderA court decision where the children have been abused or at risk of harm.
Change of name deedA legal document, which proves a formal change of name.
Child Arrangements orderA court decision covering the arrangements and frequency for seeing the children and who a child lives with (this can be shared). The aim is to provide certainty for all concerned, especially the children.
Child maintenanceThis is the amount of monthly money paid to support a child. It is payable by one parent to the person responsible for day to day care of their child, to contribute to the child’s everyday living costs. If either parent applies, it will be set by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) using a formula, and will be legally binding (as the law considers it important that payments are made regularly).
Child Maintenance Service (CMS) or Child Support Agency (CSA)CMS is the new name for the CSA. It is a free (optional) service from the government which sets maintenance payments between parents who have separated. Any arrangement reached using the CMS is legally binding. Also, the CMS can take responsibility for collecting payments and dealing with any missed payments.
Children and family court advisory and support service (Cafcass)Organisation of independent advisors who produce reports for the courts on what arrangements are best for the children of a family. They will usually arrange to see both parents and will want to talk to the children as well. They will then prepare their report for the judge.
Civil partnershipThe legally recognised ‘living together relationship of a same sex couple that has been formally registered. From 2014 same sex couples can get married.
Clean break agreementAn agreement for the finances on divorce or dissolution that leads to the couple becoming financially independent of the other. It may be suitable after a short marriage or civil partnership, where there are no children (or the children are grown up) and both partners are financially self-sufficient or it is reasonable to expect them both to take steps to become self-sufficient.
Cohabitation agreementA document recording the terms agreed for how people (where there has been no marriage or civil partnership) will live together, and what will happen if they separate. This can prevent misunderstandings and arguments later down the line. This is also known as a living together agreement.
CohabitingLiving together as a couple (where there has been no marriage or civil partnership).
Collaborative lawA process enabling couples, who have decided to end their marriage or civil partnership to work with their lawyers as a team, in order to reach agreement without going to court.
Conditional orderThe stage where a judge considers the forms completed by the couple, to see if they meet the criteria for a divorce or dissolution and that they are happy with what has been agreed. If the judge considers the couple are ready to for a dissolution or divorce, they will make this order, which then leads to a sort of ‘cooling off’ period. This is also known as a decree nisi.
ContactArrangements and frequency for seeing the children. This also used to be called ‘access’. The correct term is now “Child Arrangements”
Contact orderA court decision which sets out the frequency and arrangements for people allowed to see their children. The correct term is now “Child Arrangements Order”
Contested divorce or dissolutionWhere one party does not agree to getting divorced or ending their civil partnership. This is rare. Usually this means they will argue that the reason given for the divorce, as claimed by their partner, is not satisfied. This is also called ‘defended’.
CustodyArrangements for seeing the children. Also known as contact or Child Arrangements.
D
Decree absoluteThe final stage of getting a divorce, where it becomes official. This can also be known as a final order. It means your marriage is officially ended, with the court approving the arrangements for your children. However separate court proceedings can continue afterwards in relation to your finances - how you distribute your home, money, possessions, savings and pension.
Decree nisiThe stage where a judge considers the forms completed by the couple, to see if they meet the criteria for a divorce or dissolution and that they are happy with what has been agreed. If the judge considers the couple is ready to for a dissolution or divorce, they will make this order, which then leads to a sort of ‘cooling off’ period. This is also known as a conditional order.
Deed of separationA formal agreement recording agreement for financial matters and children often used if divorce proceedings are not going to start for a while.
Defended divorce or dissolutionWhere one party does not agree to getting divorced or ending their civil partnership. This is rare. Usually this means they will argue that the that the reason given for the divorce, as claimed by their partner, is not satisfied. This is also called ‘contested’.
DissolutionThe ending or ‘divorce’ of a same sex couple’s civil partnership. The full process also includes sorting out the arrangements for the finances, property and children.
DivorceBringing the legal end to a marriage. The full divorce process also includes sorting out the arrangements for the finances, property and children.
Domestic abuse or domestic violenceIt can be threatening or controlling behaviour. Or it can be violent or abusive behaviour. It may be between the couple or family members. The types of abuse can include: psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional.
E
Emergency protection orderA court decision for the arrangement for children to protect them from being abused where they are considered to be at risk of harm.
F
Facts of divorceTo be granted a divorce it is necessary to show that the “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”. To prove this you must be able to show that your circumstances satisfy one of the facts required by law: adultery (does not apply to dissolution), unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years separation (where you both agree to divorce) or five years separation.
Final orderThe final stage of getting a divorce or civil partnership where it becomes official. It means your marriage is officially ended, with the court approving the arrangements for your children. This can also be known as a decree absolute. Although it is called a Final order, separate court proceedings can continue afterwards in relation to your finances - how you distribute your home, money, possessions, savings and pension.
Financial applicationsThe request of a party to a divorce or dissolution. It will then be considered by the judge who decides what financial order to make in the particular circumstances.
Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) hearingAn informal hearing of a financial dispute during divorce or dissolution. Both former partners must usually attend in person. The judge will try to help them reach agreement on the matters in dispute. If agreement is not possible there will be a final hearing where the judge decides on another day.
Foster childA child who does not have the usual support and protection of their natural parents. Instead the local authority or court places the child with a person or family to be cared for (food, housing, clothing and education). Most foster parents are paid.
G
Ground for divorceTo be granted a divorce (end of marriage) or dissolution (end of civil partnership) you need to show your relationship has reached the stage of “irretrievable break down” and that your circumstances fit with one of the specified situations or facts required by law: adultery (does not apply to dissolution), unreasonable behaviour, two years desertion or two years separation (where you both agree to divorce) or five years separation.
I
Irretrievable breakdown of marriageWhen a marriage or civil partnership cannot be saved. To be granted a divorce or dissolution the relationship needs to have reached this stage. It is demonstrated by at least one of the five facts or situations required by law that give the couple ‘ground for divorce’.
L
Living together agreementA document recording the terms agreed for how people (where there has been no marriage or civil partnership) will live together, and what will happen if they separate. This can prevent misunderstandings and arguments later down the line. This is also known as a cohabitation agreement.
M
Maintenance or maintenance paymentsFinancial support paid from one person to another.
Maintenance pending suitA short-term order of the court to help out financially until the financial arrangements of the divorce or dissolution are finalised. Sometimes this applies when one partner is working and the other partner has no income and is looking after children of the family.
Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM)This is a meeting with an independent mediator. It is used to explore whether or not your situation is suitable for mediation or any other method of dispute resolution like collaborative law. It can also identify whether there are any other services that may be needed to help you and your family (such as counselling). Before you can start a case in court for the judge to decide for you the financial outcome of your divorce or the arrangements for the children you must attend such a meeting.
Mediation (in a divorce)Process where a trained independent person is used to help resolve disputes between the separating couple. Mediation will not try to get the couple back together. Mediators do not offer counselling or legal advice. Instead, divorce mediation is a method of helping the couple to move on by reaching agreement on arrangements for the children, home and finances.
P
Parental responsibilityAll the rights and the duties, which a parent has in relation to their child. These are automatically given to the mother. They are usually given to the father when he registers his child's birth. They are sometimes given to others such as grandparents.
Pension attachment orderA decision of a judge in sorting out the finances of a couple on divorce or dissolution. The judge decides how pension payments will be shared; this ensures the pension company makes the payments in accordance with the judge’s decision.
Pension compensation orderA decision of a judge in sorting out the finances of a couple on divorce or dissolution. The judge decides how pension payments will be shared; this covers the division of a pension that is in the pension protection fund.
Pension sharing orderA decision of a judge in sorting out the finances of a couple on divorce or dissolution. The judge decides how pension payments will be shared; perhaps because the pension contributions were made from joint money during marriage but the pension is only in the name of one partner.
PetitionThe form the person starting a divorce or dissolution must complete and send to court to start the process of ending their legal relationship.
PetitionerThe person starting the divorce or dissolution process.
Pre-nuptial agreementA document recording what the couple has agreed they would like to happen if their marriage or civil partnership ends. This is also known as a before marriage agreement.
Prohibited steps orderA court decision preventing actions from being taken, such as taking a child abroad or changing the child's school or the child's name.
Property adjustment orderAs part of the financial arrangements of a divorce or dissolution a judge can decide to transfer a property owned by one party or them together into the ownership of just the other.
R
ResidenceWho a child lives with (this can be shared). This also to be called ‘custody’. The correct term is now “Child Arrangements”
Residence orderA court decision which says who a child will live with (often shared). The correct term is now “Child Arrangements Order”
RespondentThe person responding to a divorce or dissolution.
S
Secured provision orderWhere a judge orders regular payments to be made from one partner to the other and it is secured against an asset. For example, secured against a property. This would mean that if the payments stop, the other partner can force the sale of the property so they are paid the missed payments.
SeparationEnding of a relationship. This covers divorce or marriage and dissolution of a same sex civil partnership. However separation also covers a couple who were not married. If not married, the couple will not need a divorce, but will still need to sort out the arrangements for their children and for their finances.
Special procedureThis is where the court may be prepared to deal with a divorce without the need for those involved to attend a full hearing.
Specific issue orderA court decision setting out details of how a particular issue should be dealt with. For example, obtaining permission to take a child on holiday or in relation to medical treatment to be given to a child.
U
Uncontested divorce or dissolutionWhere the couple agree (do not contest) that their legal relationship (marriage or civil partnership) should come to an end. Whilst they agree to divorce they may still dispute some of the financial issues or arrangements for the children. This is also called ‘undefended’.
Undefended divorce or dissolutionWhere the couple agree that their legal relationship (marriage or civil partnership) should come to an end. The divorce petition is therefore not defended. Whilst they agree to divorce they may still dispute some of the financial issues or arrangements for the children. This is also called ‘uncontested’.
W
WardshipWhere a child’s natural parents are absent or unfit to look after the child, then that child can become a ‘ward of a court’. This means the child is protected by the court. The court will usually appoint a guardian to be the person the child lives and who makes decisions about their education and any medical treatment.

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