Family Law Jargon Buster

The legal world uses a lot of terms that you won’t see in everyday life. In recent years there have been steps to cut out the old-fashioned Latin words and encourage the use of straight-forward, everyday language that people can understand and use whether they have legal training or not. In spite of this you might still see some terms that puzzle you or have a very specific definition unique to family law.

We’ve created this ‘jargon buster’ to explain some typical legal terms you might come across during your experience with family lawyers and the family courts.

Divorcecouple fighting


The petitioner is the person requesting the divorce. The other party is the Respondent.

Decree Nisi

A court order which allows a married couple to dissolve their marriage after a period of six weeks and one day. It does not dissolve the marriage but acts a ‘cooling off’ period and an opportunity for the respondent to appeal (which is very rare). No one has to attend court unless they want to lodge some objection to the divorce.

Decree Absolute

An application for a decree absolute can be made by the Petitioner after six weeks and one day from the date of the decree nisi. If the application is successful, the marriage will be formally dissolved and the parties will be free to re-marry.


The courts must have what is called ‘jurisdiction’ to hear the matter before a case can start: this means that the case has some connection to England and Wales, usually because one or more of the parties involved lives there. If you aren’t sure about whether your case falls within the jurisdiction of the courts in England and Wales then you should consult an international family lawyer for advice.




When a marriage/civil partnership/relationship breaks down, the parties will likely need to decide who gets to keep which assets, including former matrimonial home (FMH), other property, joint banks accounts, pensions, shares etc. The agreement about who takes what is called the settlement.

Clean Break

The concept that the parties should go their separate ways and end ties to each other financially in order to begin new lives is currently very popular with judges. Previously it was common that a husband would have to support his wife for many years after a divorce, even until she died, because she was unable to support herself. Now that the sexes are more equal in the workplace it is expected that in most cases the parties will support themselves after divorce and even if maintenance is required for a short period, the party receiving it will try to enter the workplace. This is not always appropriate where there are a great deal of assets so please consult a solicitor if you have any questions about a settlement and whether a clean break is right for you.
It is important to remember that there can never be a ‘clean break’ from paying maintenance for children.

Consent Order

An agreement by both parties regarding settlement of their finances which takes the form of a court order. The court seal the order and makes it binding on both parties.

Lump Sum OrderPounds

An Order for one party to pay the other party a one off sum for reasons including (but not limited to):

  • To pay off a mortgage
  • In exchange for property
  • To maintain the other party financially through a lump sum instead of maintenance

Periodical Payments Order

A court order for one party to financially maintain the other party through fixed payments (usually on a monthly basis).

Property Adjustment Order

A court order to transfer all/some of the interest in a property from one party to another.

Pension Sharing Order

An Order which divides a party’s pension in the event where the other party has little or no pension and is unlikely to build a pension up in the future. This can split the pension immediately and each party reinvests it in the pension scheme of their choosing or the pension pay-out can be split in the future.

Pre-nuptial agreement


A contract entered into by both parties before marriage which sets out what will happen to their assets during the marriage and in the event of a divorce.

Although it is not formally binding, the agreement can be considered by a court in England and Wales when making a financial order and is increasingly being used to protect the parties’ pre-marital assets. A consent order might be based on a pre-nuptial agreement.

If the parties do not end up in court relating to finances the agreement can be used a template for dividing up the assets the parties have at the time of a divorce.

Before signing an agreement, both parties must ensure that they obtain independent legal advice, make full disclosure of their financial assets and sign the Agreement at least 21 days before the date of the marriage.
Post-nuptial agreement

Similar to a pre-nuptial agreement, except enter into an agreement after marriage detailing how the couple’s assets would be split in the event of a divorce. A couple might reach several agreements in the course of a marriage as their lives together develop and property is purchased and sold and children are born, grow up and leave home.


Child Arrangements Order

A Child Arrangements Order is the new name for what you might know of as a custody, access, residence or contact order. Whereas before there were two separate orders for custody/residence and access/contact, there is now only one single order which will set out the arrangements for where a child lives and when other family members see the child.

Parental Responsibility

Parental Responsibility is the idea that a parent has responsibility for a child including to care for the child, to maintain the child financially, to provide the child with education, etc.
A child’s mother automatically has parental responsibility and a father automatically has parental responsibility if he was married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth.
A father will also have parental reasonability if the child is born after 1st December 2003 and he was registered on the child’s birth certificate as the father.
If a father does not fit into this criteria he may obtain parental responsibility by:

  • Entering into an agreement with the child’s mother
  • Applying to the court
  • Marrying the child’s mother and registering himself onto the child’s birth certificate


We hope you find this article helpful and if you have any other terms you’d like to know more about let us know by leaving a comment below.

If you have any family law problems and would like some advice, call us on 0800 222 9500 to book an appointment with one of our expert solicitors.




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