Family Law Glossary

Family Law Glossary

Legal terminology can be very confusing for non-solicitors. The following is a simple guide to some words and phrases which are commonly used in the context of Family Law.

General terms


The person who is making a request for a court order

Consent order

A court order setting out what has been agreed by the parties

Contempt of court

Anyone deliberately failing to obey a court order or to show respect for the court process


A court order preventing a party from doing something or requiring a party to do something

McKenzie Friend

A non-lawyer who helps a party in legal proceedings but is not permitted to represent that party in court


The process by which parties to a dispute attempt to resolve the issues between them with the help of an independent mediator


The person who is not the Petitioner in divorce proceedings, or the Applicant in financial remedy proceedings or proceedings relating to children

Divorce terms

Acknowledgement of service

The form completed by the person who receives divorce papers to confirm that they have received them and stating whether or not they plan to defend the proceedings or pay the costs of the proceedings

Decree nisi

The first court order in divorce proceedings, which confirms the Petitioner has shown the marriage has irretrievably broken down and that a divorce can be granted.

Decree Absolute

The court order that formally brings a marriage to an end


The main document (often now called an “application for divorce”) in divorce proceedings containing factual details relating to the marriage and a request that the marriage is brought to an end


The person who starts the divorce process at court

Terms for financial issues

Form A

The application form in divorce proceedings to begin financial proceedings

Form E

A document completed by each party to financial proceedings which sets out their financial details

Pension Sharing Order

A sharing of pension funds between parties after a divorce

Periodical payments

An order where one person makes regular payments to the other for their benefit or for the benefit of a child

Prenuptial agreement

A document in which a couple, before their marriage, set out how they wish their finances to be dealt with in the event of a divorce

Separation Agreement

An agreement between cohabiting and/or married couples who intend to separate which sets out  arrangements for finances and children

Terms regarding children


The illegal removal of a child from his or her parents or guardian


The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. A CAFCASS Officer is a social worker who acts on behalf of the court to try to reach a solution which best suits the needs of the child when there is a court dispute between the parents

Child Arrangements Order

A court order setting out contact arrangements for a child – i.e. who they should spend time with and for how long

Parental responsibility

The legal rights and responsibilities which a parent has for their child

Prohibited Steps Order

A court order that stops a parent from doing something in relation to a child

Specific Issue Order

A court order made to resolve a particular issue in dispute relating to a child

For more information or some preliminary confidential advice please contact Pippa Allsop, Associate in our Family Team, on +44(0)1392 687747 or email