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Family Law Glossary


An act of sexual intercourse between a male and female not married to each other when at least one of them is married.

Ancillary Relief

This is the previous term for financial remedy and is no longer used, although you may still hear it referred to in describing all the financial claims that one spouse can make against the other when going through divorce or judicial separation, including the claims for property, capital (including pensions) and income.


A person legally appointed or empowered to act for another.


This stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. For more details see: www.cafcass.gov.uk


Previously called the Child Support Agency, the Child Maintenance Service governs the financial support towards your child’s everyday living costs when you’ve separated from the other parent.

Child arrangements

These are the arrangements made for your child(ren) on separation, determining where they are going to live and how they are going to split their time between each parent. Such arrangements were previously called Residence and Contact.

Child of the family

A child who is born of both parties of a marriage or civil partnership or any other child who has been treated by the parties of the marriage or civil partnership as a child of their family.

Civil Partnership

A legally recognised union of same sex couples with rights similar to those of marriage

Clean Break Order

The principle that upon divorce spouses should try to settle their financial affairs in a final manner.


A supplement modifying a will or revoking provision of it.

Cohabitation Agreement

Is a form of legal agreement reached between a couple who have chosen to live together (whether they are heterosexual or homosexual) which sets out the rights and responsibilities one has in respect of outgoings including mortgage and support of children.


Or Cohabitee. Living together as husband and wife. Married persons generally have rights to expect their spouses to live with them. Unmarried people living together as husband and wife (cohabitants) do not usually have the status of a married couple.

Common law spouse

This does not exist in law. The term is often used to describe people who are living together as a couple but who are not married. Living together does not give you the same automatic claims as if you are married.

Conditional order

A stage within the dissolution proceedings similar to that of decree nisi within divorce proceedings.

Custody / Access

Then known as Residence and Contact, and now called Child Arrangements. If you can’t agree on the arrangements for your children then you can apply to the Court to decide the matter. People other than parents (such as Grandparents) can apply for such an order but the procedure and prospects of success with vary depending on who is making the application.

Declaration of Trust

A document stating that certain assets are held by one or more persons for themselves or others (or a combination of both) and setting out the entitlement of each of those persons to the assets or their sale proceeds.

Decree nisi

Or a Decree Absolute. In a divorce, the decree nisi (Latin for 'unless') is the formal decision of a judge that the court is satisfied that there are grounds for a divorce. A specific court date is fixed for the decree to be pronounced but rarely does anyone need to attend court. The decree nisi does not mean that you are divorced. Save in exceptional circumstances, at least 6 weeks (+ 1 day) must pass before the person seeking the divorce can apply for the decree nisi to be made absolute.


The failure of a husband or wife to cohabit with his or her spouse for an unknown reason to the spouse.

Civil Partnership Dissolution

The legal termination of a civil partnership and the obligations created by the civil partnership.

Divorce procedure

The legal termination of a marriage and the obligations created by marriage other than a decree of nullity or presumption of death.

Final order

The final order equivalent to the decree absolute within divorce proceedings the last stage of the civil partnership dissolution.

Financial remedy

This used to be called Ancillary Relief and refers to an application to the Court to determine the finances of a marriage where the parties are not able to reach a settlement by agreement.

Former marital home

The home in which the husband and wife or civil partners last lived together during the subsistence of their relationship.


Someone legally appointed to manage the affairs of a person incapable of acting for himself, as a minor or a person of unsound mind.

Home Rights Restriction

A restriction on the Land Registry title which prevents the sole owner and spouse disposing of the marital home without knowledge of the other effective until decree absolute pronounced.

Interim Periodical Payments Order

A periodical payments order made in the interim before a final decision is made by the Court for a periodical payments order. Sometimes known as maintenance pending suit


A person who has died without having made a will and whose estate will therefore be administered in accordance with the rules of Intestacy which dictate not only who should administer the estate but also who is entitled to benefit from it and in what proportions.

Irretrievable Breakdown (Marital Breakdown)

The deterioration of a marriage to the extent that the Court will grant a divorce. The breakdown must be irretrievable.

Joint property

Assets held by more than one person.

Joint tenancy

Joint property held on the terms that if the joint property is sold, the joint tenants will share the sale proceeds equally between them - if one of the joint tenants dies, the joint property will pass automatically in its entirety to the surviving joint tenants. A gift of the joint tenant's share of joint property by Will is not effective.

Lasting Power of Attorney

A legal document that you (the Donor) make using a special form. It allows you to choose someone (the Attorney) who you trust to make decisions on your behalf. This will be about things such as your property, financial affairs or health and welfare at a time in the future when you no longer wish to make those decisions or you may lack the mental capacity to make those decisions yourself. An LPA can only be used after it is registered with the Office of the Public Guardian.

For married couples there are 3 main types of separation: Where a couple agree to live separately (often with the intention of divorcing at a later stage). Judicial separation which is similar to a divorce except that the marriage is not dissolved and the couple remain married even though separated. And finally, divorce. These same principles apply for same sex couples.

Lump Sum Order

A payment to a spouse by the other of a lump sum of cash in consideration of marital assets.


Payments made either weekly or monthly by one spouse for the upkeep of the other spouse or a child. Maintenance can also be paid for the benefit of a child where the couple are not married, in addition to Child Maintenance Service payments where the paying parent has significant income.


Mediation is a way of resolving issues that have arisen as a result of separation or divorce. Couples are helped by an independent mediator to explore the available options and find solutions to their disputes. It can deal with sorting out the future arrangements for the care and upbringing of children and/or sorting out a financial settlement regardless of whether or not the couple have been married. Mediation offers an effective alternative to lengthy and expensive Court proceedings.

Parental Responsibility

Concerns the legal rights and responsibilities you have for your child. A mother automatically has parental responsibility. A father has it if he was married to the mother at the time of the birth or subsequently married the mother, or he is are listed as the child’s father on the birth certificate (for children born after December 2003).

Petition and prayer

A divorce case (or judicial separation) is started by sending a petition to the court. It sets out the details of the people concerned and any relevant children. It has to confirm that the petitioner thinks that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The petition must specify which of the 5 grounds (facts) is relevant.

Prenuptial Agreement

An agreement entered into before marriage, usually to limit claims one spouse can make on divorce from another.

Prohibited Steps Order

Prohibits certain specified steps being taken without the consent of the Court to be made against anyone regardless of whether he or she has parental responsibility for the child.


Previously called Custody and Access, now called Child Arrangements.

Separation Agreement

This is an agreement you can reach with your spouse or former partner (and will form a contract between the two of you) governing the terms of your separation where you are not proceeding with a divorce (either now or in the future).

Severance of Joint Tenancy

An operation whereby a property owned as tenants in common, the title is severed resulting in a joint tenancy. Allowing each party to leave their interest in the property under a Will or intestacy. A husband or wife, considered in relation to their partner.

Specific Issue Order

Deals with any specific issues concerning the child’s upbringing such as education or medical treatment.

Tenancy in Common

Equitable ownership of land by two or more persons in equal or unequal undivided shares. Each co-owner may sell or dispose of his or her share by Will and a share does not pass automatically by the right of survivorship on the death of co-owner but forms part of the estate.


A person to whom legal title to property is entrusted to hold or use for another’s benefit.


A promise, especially in legal proceedings, that creates an obligation. To break such a promise will be a breach of disciplinary rules. Such as a company or partnership or sole trader.

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