Family Law Jargon buster

We know some of the language used by lawyers and the courts can be unclear and possibly intimidating.

Family Law is frequently reviewed and updated. This sometimes brings with it a change in references and terminology. Custody, for example, is now an outdated term; it changed from ‘Custody’ to ‘Residence’ and is currently ‘Child Arrangements’. The considerations of the court essentially remain the same, but it can be confusing when these terms are used interchangeably.

See our jargon buster below for an explanation of some of the more commonly used terms.

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  • Acknowledgement of service

    This is the document the Respondent to a divorce is asked to send back to the court to confirm they have received the divorce papers. With the new online divorce process this can be done online though the court portal.


    CAFCASS stands for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. CAFCASS officers are independent advisers to the court, often social workers or people with experience in acting as what used to be known as a ‘Guardian ad Litem’ now a ‘children’s guardian; professionals experience in child welfare. The CAFCASS officer will make recommendations to the court regarding what is in the child’s best interests by way of a written report (known as a section 7 report in most cases or section 37 report if the court wants the local authority to advise as to whether there are child protection issues which may require intervention from the local authority/social services)

  • Child arrangement order

    A child arrangements order is an order specifying the arrangements for children; where they live and how often they see the other parent. Sometimes called a section 8 order (as it is provided for by section 8 of the Children Act 1989). Terms such as residence and contact and custody are no longer used for orders relating to children but these are all orders made under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 so there are still court orders that are headed ‘residence order’ or ‘contact order’ because they were made by the court before the term child arrangement order was introduced.

  • Civil partnership

    This is a legal union between a same-sex couple, giving them the same legal rights as a heterosexual couple. The breakdown of a civil partnership is dealt with in the same way as a divorce (known as a dissolution when relating to a civil partnership) so the court can make the same financial orders, regarding sale or transfer of assets for example, in the same way as in divorce proceedings.

  • Clean Break order

    This is an order known formally as a ‘Financial Remedy Order”. It is an order made by the court (either by the parties agreeing it or the court making a decision) within divorce proceedings that terminates any ongoing financial responsibility between the parties to a divorce and terminates the possibility of any future financial claims. The clean break order may simply state that each party retains assets in their names and any future claim is terminated or it may set out what is to be done, ie the house transferred, or sold and proceeds divided, a pension share and/or or lump sum payment and thereafter any potential future claims are terminated.

  • Conditional order

    The conditional order of divorce or (dissolution if you have a civil partnership) is what used to be known as Decree Nisi and is the first formal stage of divorce. It means the court has considered your application for a divorce and accepted you are entitled to a divorce or dissolution. You will remain legally married until the Final Order (what used to be known as Decree Absolute) which can be applied for at the earliest 6 weeks after the date of the conditional order.

  • Consent order

    If the parties are agreed on the division of assets on divorce then they can apply to the court for a consent order. This may or may not be a clean break order, depending on whether there is any ongoing financial obligation. The court can approve a consent (agreed) order without the need for any court hearings to take place.

  • Decree Nisi

    From 6th April 2022 decree nisi was renamed a conditional order.
    The decree nisi/conditional order of divorce or (dissolution if you have a civil partnership) is the first formal stage of divorce and it means the court has considered your application for a divorce and accepted you are entitled to a divorce or dissolution. You will remain legally married until the Final Order (what used to be known as Decree Absolute) which can be applied for at the earliest 6 weeks after the date of the conditional order (Decree Nisi)

  • Decree Absolute

    From 6th April 2022 decree absolute was renamed a final order.
    This is the legal ending of the contract of marriage. Once this has been granted, your marriage has been dissolved and you are legally single.

  • Divorce

    Divorce is the legal process for ending a marriage. The divorce itself does not include settling finances or arrangements for any children of the marriage. The divorce gives the court jurisdiction to make financial orders (financial remedy / clean break orders) and this ability of the court remains even after you are divorced so alongside your divorce you should obtain a financial order to make sure any agreements on division of assets are legally binding and enforceable and also that the other party cannot make any financial claim on you in the future.

  • Domicile

    Domicile is a legal point which takes into account where a person was born, where they are living now and where they plan to live. It would normally follow from your parents’ nationality and/or domicile but it can be changed. It may be important in divorces with an international element ie where parties have different nationalities or live overseas as it could mean there is a choice of countries to issue divorce proceedings in.

  • Final Order

    From 6th April 2022 Decree Absolute was renamed a final order.
    This is the legal ending of the contract of marriage. Once this has been granted, your marriage has been dissolved and you are legally single.

  • FM1 form

    This is the form you need to be signed by a mediator before you can make an application to the court. You do not have to mediate but you do have to attend an initial mediation meeting (MIAM), on your own, so the mediator can give you information about mediation, if you decide not to proceed with mediation, the other party refuses to mediate, or the mediator considers your case is not appropriate for mediation then the mediator will sign the FM1 form which will be part of your application to court.

  • Form E

    The Form E, also called your ‘financial statement’ collects details of all the assets and liabilities in the marriage including property and pensions. You have to attach documents in support of the figures you enter in the form such as bank statements, valuations and redemption statements. This is the form the court will order you to complete if you cannot agree about the financial aspects of your divorce and need the court to assist. It has become good practice to exchange the Form E voluntarily at the earliest opportunity so that discussions on an appropriate settlement can take place with all the relevant information having been provided.

  • Habitual residence

    This refers to a person’s usual place of residence; ie the country they normally live in and have a connection with. It is relevant in cases relating to children as the English courts can only make orders in respect of children who are habitually resident in this country. Considerations such as whether the child is registered with a GP, is enrolled in school etc will be relevant. A person has been said to be habitually resident in the country with which they have a “firm and established connection”. This can be a complex area of law and expert advice should be sought on habitual residence if it is not immediately apparent.

  • HR1 form

    Also known as a Home Rights Notice. This form is used to enter a caution on the title deeds to the family home, much like a mortgage company has a caution or charge. It is used by a party to a marriage who is not named on the title deeds so that their ‘home rights’ are registered formally. This will prevent the party whose name is on the title deeds from selling, transferring or securing any finance against the property until any financial issues pertaining to the divorce have been resolved.

  • Marriage

    Marriage is a legal contract between two individuals. It creates the concept of joint assets and liabilities and a financial obligation to each other.

  • Mediation

    This is an option for couples unable to reach agreements concerning their children and finances. A mediator cannot provide legal advice but will give both parties information about how the court would approach matters and assist them by facilitating discussions to reach a compromise and avoid the need for the court to make a decision. You have to refer to a mediator, who will decide if your case is appropriate for mediation and if so, mediate if both parties agree. Before you can refer matters to the court to decide, whether the issues relate to children or financial matters, a mediator has to sign a form for you (a FM1 form) which forms part of your application to court.

  • MIAM

    This stands for Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) this is an initial meeting with a mediator (alone, not with the other person) the mediator will discuss your situation with you and assess whether the case is suitable for mediation and then, if you are wishing to mediate, they will invite the other person for a MIAM also and then set up mediation sessions with both of you.

  • Parental responsibility

    This refers to the established rights and responsibilities a parent has for his or her child before, during and after the divorce proceedings. Parental responsibility is shared by parents who have it and it means they need to consult and agree on important issues relating to their child such as choice of school, changing name, any religious upbringing and medical treatment.

  • Petition / Application

    From 6th April 2022 the divorce petition was renamed a divorce application.
    This is the main document in divorce proceedings. It is a factual document setting out names and addresses and date of the marriage, there is no longer any need to set out reasons for the divorce other than to confirm that the marriage has broken down irretrievably (a ‘no-fault’ divorce). The document also contains an option to request financial claims, ie claims for maintenance, pension-sharing orders and orders concerning other assets of the marriage such as the house. These claims are only theoretical claims, they have to be made ‘live’ by sending the court an additional form and fee but it is usually advisable to request these ‘theoretical’ claims so that the court can make a consent order without the requirement for an additional separate claim. It also reduces the fee for the court to approve an financial order if these claims are put in the divorce application.

  • Petitioner / Applicant

    The party who files the application for divorce used to be known as the petitioner. Since April 2022 the person issuing the application is known as the applicant.

  • Pre-nuptial agreement

    A pre-nuptial agreement is a document in which a couple set out their rights in relation to any property, debts, income and other assets purchased together or acquired individually (eg, through inheritance), or that they have bought into a relationship. A pre-nuptial agreement must be made in contemplation of marriage. You can, instead of, or in addition to a pre-nuptial agreement, enter into a similar agreement after you have been married, this would be a post-nuptial agreement.

  • Prohibited steps

    This is a court order that specifies prohibited actions of the parents, such as moving out of the country or changing the child’s surname.

  • Respondent

    The respondent is the other party in the divorce. This will be you if your partner is the one applying for divorce.

  • Separation agreement

    This is for couples who may or may not have been married but who intend to separate and want a legal document drawn up to confirm arrangements for their finances.

  • Specific Issue

    A Specific Issue Order is an order of the court determining an issue relating to the exercise of parental responsibility. If parents are unable to agree in important issues relating to a child, their name, religion, education or medical treatment for example then application can be made for the court to make a decision. An application for a Specific Issue Order may be made alongside a Prohibited Steps Order, for example asking the court to make an order prohibiting the removal of a child from their current school until the court makes a decision about moving to a new school.


    This refers to the Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996. A TOLATA application would be made where parties jointly own a property and can not agree on what their shares are, or where one party is not named on the title deeds of a property but is claiming an interest in that property and wants the court to determine what if any interest they have. The court can order a sale of the property and determine how the proceeds are to be divided. This is a complex area of law and legal advice should be sought as the costs implications can be significant; if you are unsuccessful you may have to pay the other party’s legal costs as well as your own.


Lisa was fabulous - always very responsive, professional and gave sound and sensitive advice throughout to help me navigate my divorce. Always felt I was in good hands and would thoroughly recommend.
Mr B.S.
Thank you so very much for your expert advice and guidance over the past 3 years. As I say I just can’t believe what an amazing effect it has had on me since walking from the court yesterday! I don’t mind saying as I walked back to the car park I shed a few tears of total relief of my nightmares finally coming to an end! Life can now start again and I can look forward with so much more positivity and control of it.
Mr J.S.
My matter was a fairly long process due to other parties involved. However Heritage Park and Lisa made it much more simple and stuck to all aspects to resolve them in a timely manner. Always friendly always professional and always keeping me updated in all aspects. Lisa guided me through the process in a way that made it understandable at all stages. Let’s face it matrimonial matters can be stressful but Lisa was always available to help and give clear advice. Costs were always explained and the breakdown of them always fully itemised throughout the process. I would recommend Heritage Park to anyone who needs the right advice and help to guide them through the process. Thank you.
Mr J.ST.

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