Legal Terms – Matrimonial Law

Acknowledgement of service

The form which the Respondent must fill in and return to court confirming receipt of the divorce petition.


Sexual intercourse while you are married, with someone who is not your husband or wife.


Written statement sworn before an appointed officer of a court or a solicitor.


Response to a divorce petition where the divorce is defended.

Attachment of earnings

A way of enforcing orders made for payment of money whereby an employer will be ordered to deduct a specified amount from an employees earnings from his/her salary and forward it to the court to pay off money owed or to cover future earnings.


The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service help the court decide issues relating to children when agreement cannot be reached between the parties. The CAFCASS officer is a social worker and may meet with the parents or children before preparing a report making recommendations about how issues should be resolved.

Care proceedings

If social services have concerns that a child is suffering from serious harm or is at risk of suffering serious harm they can apply to the court to take the child into their care.

Child Arrangements Order

An order within Children Act proceedings which states where a child is to live, when a child is to spend time with each parent and any other arrangements about contact such as telephone contact, letters etc. This replaces the old residence and contact orders.

Child maintenance

Maintenance paid by the absent parent for the benefit of the children.

Clean break

This is a financial order made within ancillary relief proceedings whereby each party's claims one against the other are dismissed in relation to claims against capital and property.

Consent Order

This is the order of the court which sets out the terms of the agreement reached between the parties.


Arrangements for a child to see his or her absent parent. Contact arrangements can be informally, through agreement, or by order of the court in the absence of agreement.


The person with whom the alleged adultery has been committed. There is no requirement to name the co-respondent and the person alleging adultery is advised not to name them to avoid costs, delay and animosity between the parties.

Decree absolute

The final decree of divorce which brings the marriage to an end.

Decree nisi

The first of the two decrees of divorce, which does not bring the marriage to an end, but is when the court has decided that the grounds for divorce has been proved.

Directions appointment

A court hearing when the court will consider what needs to be done to resolve presenting issues and the timetable for carrying out any necessary action.


A complicated legal concept which determines the relationship between an individual and a legal jurisdiction, usually, but not always arising from residence.

Ex-parte application

Now known as a "without notice" application. A court hearing is held when only one party is present to put their case.

Financial Dispute Resolution hearing (FDR)

This is the second hearing on an application to court to resolve financial issues. On the basis that disclosure of all financial issues has been completed each party attends court one hour before the allotted time for the purpose of entering into negotiations with the other party. Each party usually makes a written offer to the other in advance of the hearing. If agreement cannot be reached then the Judge will consider each party's proposals and will give guidance as to how the matter should be settled.

Financial Relief

This is the term used for the type of order that the court can make in relation to finances on divorce. The court has the power to make an order transferring property or assets from one party to another, to order sale of an asset or the future transfer or sale of an asset on a before a specified date. The court can also make orders in relation to the parties' pensions and can order one party to pay the other maintenance.

First Appointment (FDA)

This is the first hearing on an application to court to resolve financial issues. At the hearing issues relating to financial disclosure are considered by the court. The Judge will ensure that each party has filed a properly completed Form E and will deal with any outstanding issues such as valuation of properties or assets, expert reports etc so that this information is ready in advance of the FDR.

Form A

This is the court form used to issue the application for ancillary relief.

Form E

The document used in ancillary relief proceedings to provide disclosure of the party's income assets and outgoings. Form E is also frequently used where the parties are entering into disclosure on a voluntary basis, where it is hoped that agreement can be reached without court intervention.

Maintenance pending suit

This is where one party is ordered to pay maintenance to the other whilst they wait for a settlement to be agreed or decided by the court.


Mediation is the process whereby a neutral third party (mediator) will help couples or other family members resolve issues which are in dispute such as financial issues, contact, residence etc without the involvement of the court. A mediator does not advise and cannot make decisions or take sides.

Mesher order

Where an order is made postponing one party's interest in property to a later date, for example once the children reach 18 or cease full time education.

Parental responsibility

This is the term used to describe the rights, duties and responsibilities of parents or others in relation to a child. For example, the right to consent to medical care, the duty to ensure that the child is safe from harm etc. A mother automatically has parental responsibility at the birth of the child. A father will have parental responsibility only if he is married to the mother at the time of the birth, or for children born on or after 1 December 2003, if he is registered as the father on the child's birth certificate. A father may, however obtain parental responsibility by marrying the child's mother, by entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother, by re-registering the child's birth where the child was born on or after 1 December 2003 and where no-one was registered as the father, or by court order.

Periodical payments

Maintenance payments.


The person who is applying for the divorce or judicial separation. Known also as the Applicant

Prohibited steps order

An order in Children Act proceedings preventing one party from taking certain steps in relation to a child, for example taking the child out of the country, changing the child's name.

Property adjustment order

An order made in ancillary relief proceedings relating to property such as a transfer property from one party to another, sale of the property or Mesher order.

Residence order

An order in Children Act proceedings which states who a child is to live with.


The person against whom the Petition is presented.

Special Guardianship order

An order made under the Children Act appointing one or more persons, other than a parent, to be a "special Guardian" to a child. It gives the special guardian parental responsibility and the responsibility to make day to day decisions about the child's upbringing. The local authority must provide additional support services such as financial assistance, help with contact arrangements between the child and their parents etc.

Specific issue order

An order in Children Act proceedings to determine an issue in dispute in relation to a child.

Statement of arrangements

A document which needs to be completed and lodged with the divorce petition stating what arrangements have been made for any children of the family in relation to residence, contact, child maintenance etc.