Glossary of divorce & family law terms

The Vardags Family Law Glossary, compiled by our top divorce and family lawyers, will help you to understand some of the key terms and phrases which might crop up in your divorce.

This guide is no replacement for top legal advice but will allow you to know more about the divorce process and what it entails.

For leading legal advice tailored to your case, contact Vardags today.

Please select from the menu above

  • A v A order

    See Legal Services Order.

  • Acknowledgement of Service

    A court document setting out that you have received an application or petition from the other side. How you complete this form may affect the outcome of your case.

  • Active growth

    Increase in value of non-matrimonial assets which is due to the endeavours of one of the parties during the marriage.

  • Adultery

    Involves one spouse having sexual intercourse with a person who is not their spouse. A ground for divorce. Also known as: having an affair.

  • Adverse inferences

    Where a party has failed to provide proper disclosure the court can assume that they have deliberately hidden assets and make an order based on the assumptions and inferences it is possible to draw from the existing evidence.

  • Affidavit

    A type of witness statement, which is verified by giving an oath or affirmation.

  • Affirmation

    Similar to an oath, made by a person as an alternative to swearing on a Holy Book.

  • Alimony

    An American term for maintenance.

  • Alternative dispute resolution (ADR)

    Attempts to come to resolve matters without using the courts. Common ADR in family disputes include arbitration and mediation.

  • Ancillary relief

    Term previously used for financial remedies proceedings.

  • Annulment

    Formal declaration that a marriage is void, with the effect that the marriage is considered never to have taken place in the eyes of the law. Also known as: nullity

  • Anton Pillar order

    This is an order for the search of premises and the seizure of documents or evidence. It will only be granted in the most exceptional of circumstances.

  • Appeal

    An application to a higher court to overturn the decision from the lower court.

  • Appeal out of time

    Bringing an appeal after the normal time limit has expired. This can normally only be done in certain exceptional circumstances.

  • Appellant

    The party appealing a decision of the lower court.

  • Applicant (in divorce proceedings)

    The party making the application to the court, for example making an application to the court for assistance in financial matters through the Form A.

  • Application

    Asking the court to make an order.

  • Application for Deemed Service

    Where a respondent fails to return the acknowledgment of service, the petitioner can progress the case by apply for an order that service is deemed to have taken place.

  • Arbitration (in divorce and finance proceedings)

    A form of dispute resolution, where a neutral third party makes binding decisions in place of a judge.

  • Arbitrator

    An independent and impartial person suitably qualified to adjudicate an arbitration.

  • Barder event

    A new and unforseable event which can invalidate an existing court order made in financial proceedings.

  • Barrister

    A type of lawyer, generally instructed for their advocacy in court hearings or advice on specific points of law.

  • Beneficiary of a trust

    The person who is able to receive income or capital from a trust.

  • Bigamy

    A criminal offence where one person is married to two people at the same time. The effect of bigamy is that the second marriage is void and can be annulled.

  • Bracket

    Often used in family law, this term refers to the informal range that an award is likely to fall within.

  • Brussels II treaty

    A European Union regulation setting out the rules on jurisdiction applicable to member states in the European Union.

  • Bundles

    Documents provided to the court for a hearing. Must comply with the bundles practice direction.

  • Bundles Practice Direction

    Part of the FPR, setting out what papers should go before the court for hearings. This can be taken very seriously by the courts.

  • C100

    The application form used for issuing children proceedings.


    Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service – a statutory body that provides advice to the court in children proceedings.

  • CAFCASS Report

    An expert report produced in children proceedings which helps advise the court on the best outcome for the children

  • Calderbank offer

    The legal term for an offer that is made ‘without prejudice save as to costs’. This means that the offer will only be revealed in court proceedings dealing with a costs dispute.

  • Capitalisation of maintenance

    When maintenance is paid as one large lump sum, rather than as ongoing installments.

  • Case law

    Legal rules or guidelines created by the decisions of judges in previous cases.

  • CETV

    Cash equivalent transfer value – the capital value of a pension fund.

  • Champerty

    An old piece of law which prevents lawyers from working on a case in exchange for a percentage of the settlement.

  • Charging order

    One of the orders used for enforcement of a court award. This entitles the creditor party to a share in property or stocks owned by the debtor.

  • Chattels

    The personal property of the parties, including furniture, cars, artwork and other items.

  • Child arrangement order (CAO)

    An order setting out who a child should live with and how much time they should spend with the other parent.

  • Child Maintenance

    Money paid by one parent to the other for the benefit of the child, by way of periodical payments.

  • Child Maintenance Service

    A government body set up to calculate and manage child maintenance claims.

  • Child of the family

    A biological child, step child or adopted child which has been treated by the parties as a child belonging to their family.

  • Child’s best interests

    The primary concern in children proceedings, looking at what is best for the child’s welfare.

  • Children Act 1989

    Statute law which governs most of the law relating to children.

  • Circuit Judge

    The second lowest level of judge. These judges hear cases at local County Courts.

  • Civil partnership

    Legal recognition of a same-sex relationship, introduced in 2005. Now an alternative to same sex marriage.

  • Clean Break

    Where all financial claims are dealt with and there is no ongoing maintenance or support payable.

  • CMS Calclutor

    The calculator used by the Child Maintenance Service to work out how much child maintenance someone should receive or pay.

  • Cohabitation agreement

    An agreement between cohabitees setting out what will happen to their property and their assets should their relationship breakdown.

  • Cohabitees

    A couple who live together but are not married.

  • Collaborative divorce

    A process in which the parties try to work together to reach a settlement.

  • Comity

    The principle that different countries should support each others’ legal systems and enforce orders made overseas.

  • Committal order

    An order sending someone to prison for breaches of other court orders.

  • Common law husband or wife

    People who are not married, but live together as if husband and wife. In England and Wales, such people have none of the legal rights of marriage.

  • Community Service Order

    An order that a person carry out 40 to 200 hours of unpaid work, can be made in children proceedings if a person fails to comply with a child arrangements order.

  • Companies House

    Body responsible for the UK corporate register.

  • Conduct

    The behavior of one of the parties, either during the marriage or in litigation.

  • Consent order

    An order sealed by the court setting out an agreement by the parties.

  • Constructive trust

    A trust that does not have a formal declaration of trust, but which is created by a party inducing another to act in a certain way because they believe that they will receive a share in an asset.

  • Contact centre

    A service provided to facilitate supervised contact.

  • Contact in the community

    Time spent with a child which is restricted to taking place in public places.

  • Contact order

    Now incoprorated in Child Arrangements Orders, an order setting out how much time a child spends with the non-resident parent.

  • Contempt of court

    A person is in contempt when they defy a court order. They can be fined or, in certain circumstances, jailed.

  • Contingency fee

    Also known as “no win, no fee”

  • Corporate register

    Register kept by a government body setting out how companies are owned and showing the public accounts of the company.

  • Corporate veil

    The legal position that a company’s property is separate from the property of the owners of the company.

  • Costs

    The legal fees, VAT and any disbursements. The costs will be set out in the Form H.

  • Court fees

    Money paid to the court to issue proceedings and applications. These are separate from the fees paid to lawyers.

  • Court of Appeal

    The second highest court in England and Wales. The court reviews decisions made by the lower courts.

  • Cross examination

    Where one party is asked questions by the other in court (usually by a barrister).

  • Declaration of trust

    A formal document creating a trust.

  • Decree absolute

    The second order in relation to divorce proceedings, officially ending the marriage.

  • Decree nisi

    The first order in relation to divorce proceedings, saying that there is no reason not to grant a divorce. The marriage does not end at this point.

  • Decree of Judicial Separation

    An order of the court terminating spousal obligations between the parties. The parties remain legally married.

  • Defaulting party

    Person who fails to pay money they have been required to pay by a court order.

  • Defended divorce

    When the respondent disagrees with the petitioner’s divorce petition.

  • Desertion

    The abandonment of one spouse; a ground for divorce in certain circumstances.

  • Direct access barrister

    A barrister able to take instructions directly from a client as opposed to through solicitors. Also known as: direct access silk, direct access attorney

  • Directions order

    An order made by a judge setting out what the parties should do to progress the case smoothly.

  • Disclosure

    The provision of information. In financial remedy proceedings, parties are required to disclose evidence of their financial circumstances.

  • Discretionary trust

    A trust where the beneficiaries and their entitlements are not fixed, but determined by the trust document and the trustees’ discretion.

  • Dispute Resolution Appointment – DRA

    Dispute Resolution Appointment – a type of hearing in children proceedings, in which the parties to negotiate an agreement.

  • Dissolution

    The same as a divorce, but for civil partnerships.

  • District Judge

    The lowest level of full-time judge. Most non-complex financial and children cases are heard by this level of judge.

  • Divorce

    To legally end a marriage thus terminating all spousal obligations to each other.

  • Divorce barrister

    A specialist barrister who will represent their client in court, speaking on the client’s behalf and acting on instructions in relation to divorce and family law.

  • Divorce chambers

    Essentially a barrister’s office. Barristers are self-employed but work in chambers. Also known as: family chambers

  • Divorce lawyer

    The specialist lawyer with the day to day running of the case. Also known as: divorce solicitor

  • Divorce petition

    The application to the court to initiate divorce proceedings. Also known as: divorce papers

  • Divorce proceedings

    The applications to the court to dissolve the marriage and terminate all legal obligations to the spouse.

  • Divorce settlement

    A common phrase to refer to the conclusion of divorce proceedings and the financial proceedings.

  • DIY divorce

    Parties to the divorce agree matters between them and initiate divorce proceedings without instructing solicitors to act on their behalf.

  • Domestic Violence Intervention Programme

    A programme designed for perpetrators of domestic violence, to help them cope with anger.

  • Domicile (in divorce proceedings)

    A complex legal term. A person can only have one domicile. A person’s domicile can be their ‘domicile of origin’ which they are born with or ‘domicile of choice’, the place they elect reside. It is common for the domicile of choice to replace domicile of origin when a person moves to another country with the intention to settle there permamently. Domicile is an important factor in determining jurisdiction.

  • Domicile of choice

    A new domicile acquired by severing all links with one’s domcile of origin.

  • Domicile of origin

    The default domicile. This will most likely be the country in which your father was domiciled at the time of your birth.

  • Duxbury calculation

    An actuarial calculation used to determine the lump sum necessary to provide a party with the income they need for life.

  • Earmarking order

    Similar to a pension sharing order as the court will set out how the pension should be split between the parties to the divorce.

  • Enforcement

    Enforcement proceedings are used to ensure that a party complies with a court order made against them.

  • European Judgments Regulation

    A piece of European law which controls how orders made in one country can be enforced in another.

  • European Law

    Law made by the European Parliament, which applies to all European countries.

  • Ex parte hearing

    Same as a without notice hearing.

  • Expert witness

    A specialist with expertise in a specific field or area that can provide evidence and/or a report in a case.

  • Extendable maintenance term

    An order for maintaince for a set period of time, but which can be extended. Any application to extend will need to be made prior to the maintenance term expiring.

  • Family court

    Courts in England and Wales that hear family law matters. These are the Family Division of the High Court; the Central Family Court, County Courts and Family Proceedings Courts.

  • Family law

    The law relating to family matters, such as laws relating to marriage or children.

  • Family Law Act 1996

    Statute law which under which non-molestation orders and occupation orders are granted.

  • Family law bar association (FLBA)

    The Bar Association for barristers practising family law in England & Wales.

  • Family law reports

    Legal reports containing full case judgments in divorce, financial and children matters.

  • Family procedure rules (FPR)

    The rules governing the practice and procedure relating to family law.

  • Family Proceedings Court

    The formal name for when magistrates hear family proceedings. Usually only involved in children proceedings or domestic violence injunctions.

  • Filing for divorce

    Starting proceedings by issuing a petition at court.

  • Final hearing (financial)

    The last hearing in financial remedy proceedings which will result in a financial settlement.

  • Financial dispute resolution (FDR)

    Usually the second hearing in financial proceedings, where the judge gives an initial indication and parties are encourage to negotiate around it.

  • Firewall legislation

    Legislation used in many offshore jurisdictions to prevent foreign court orders being enforceable against trusts based in those countries.

  • First appointment documents

    A concise statement of issues, a chronology, a questionnaire setting out what further information and documents they need from the other side by way of disclosure.

  • First appointment hearing (FDA)

    The first hearing in court before a judge. The judge will review the first appointment documents and set out directions for the progression of the case.

  • Foreign Judgments Act 1991

    A piece of legislation regulating the enforcement of judgments in some Commonwealth countries.

  • Form A

    An application to the court which starts the court led process for financial remedy.

  • Form E

    A long document in which each party sets out their assets, income and financial needs.

  • Form H

    Costs schedule that must be filed before court hearings.

  • Former matrimonial home

    The property in which the husband and wife lived as a married couple.

  • Freezing order

    An order of the court typically made without notice, preventing one party from disposing of their assets.

  • Garnishee order

    An order which attaches to a person’s salary, requiring them to pay a set amount to satisfy a debt.

  • Get

    A formal divorce granted to a wife under Jewish law. If a husband refuses to grant this, it can lead to social shame and isolation for the wife.

  • Grounds

    The circumstances in which a person can be granted a divorce.

  • Grounds for Appeal

    The resasons that support an application for appeal. These must be reasons that the original decision was wrong or improperly reached.

  • Habitual residence in divorce cases

    The country where a person’s centre of interest” lies

  • Hadkinson order

    An order preventing a party from taking part in proceedings until they have complied with other orders made by the court.

  • Hague Convention on Child Abduction

    An international treaty between countries, under which nations co-operate in relation to issues of international child abduction.

  • Hague Convention on Service

    International treaty which governs service of documents between countries.

  • Heads of Agreement

    An agreement between parties which records the main aspects of the settlement but does not set out the full details of an order. Likely to be a Xydhias agreement.

  • Hemain injunction

    An order preventing a party from pursuing a divorce in a foreign country.

  • High Court

    The third highest level of court in England, and the highest to deal with first instance cases. Hears with the most valuable and complex family law cases.

  • High Court Judge

    A judge who hears complex and valuable cases in the High Court. Prior to becoming judges, they are likely to have practised as specialist lawyers for around 25 years.


    Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, the government body responsible for running the courts.

  • Home rights

    The right of a spouse to live in the matrimonial home, even if they do not own it.

  • Home rights notice

    A notice sent to the land registry which records the existence of home rights. This secures a spouse in case their partner tries to exclude them from the home.

  • House of Lords

    The judicial committee of the House of Lords was the highest court in England until the creation of the Supreme Court. It no longer exists.

  • Imerman documents

    Confidential documents belonging to one party, obtained by the other party during divorce proceedings. This is not permitted, and may result in criminal and civil sanctions.

  • Interim maintenance

    The same as maintenance pending suit.

  • Interim order

    An order in place while the parties work towards a final settlement, often between the issuing of the Form A and the final hearing in financial proceedings. The order is not final.

  • International Child Abduction

    A serious criminal offence, removing a child to another country without agreement of the other parents of the child or leave to remove.

  • Irreconcilable differences

    A ground of divorce in many US states, but not used in England.

  • Issue Estoppel

    Also known as res judicata”

  • Issuing divorce papers

    Once the court is satisfied with the divorce petition, they will issue the petition and supporting documents, including orders and notice of hearings.

  • Joint tenancy

    A type of property ownership. Here, the couple will own the property equally and if one party dies, the other will automatically inherit the property.

  • Joint-residence

    Children living part time with both parents, after they have separated or divorced.

  • Judgment creditor

    Person owed money under a court order.

  • Judgment debtor

    Person who fails to pay money they have been required to pay by a court order.

  • Judicial separation

    A process terminating legal obligations between spouses but not dissolving the marriage.

  • Judicial separation petition

    The application to the court for a decree of judicial separation. Also known as: judicial separation papers

  • Jurisdiction in divorce cases

    The court must have ‘jurisdiction’ in order to hear a case. Jurisdiction is a complex legal principle, but will largely depend on the parties links to a particular country.

  • Land Registry

    Government body which keeps records of who owns land in the UK.

  • Leave to remove

    Permission from the court to take a child out of the country. This will be needed to take a child out of the country if the other parent does not consent.

  • Legal aid for divorce cases

    Where the state pays for legal representation. Generally not available for family law, unless there are allegations of domestic violence.

  • Legal privilege

    Principle that communication between one party and their lawyers cannot be seen by anyone else.

  • Legal services order (LSPO, LSO)

    Order requiring one party to pay the legal fees of the other.

  • Litigant in person (LIP)

    A person who does not have legal representation and instead represents themselves throughout proceedings. A LIP may be assisted by a McKenzie friend.

  • Litigation lending for divorce

    A loan to cover the costs of the divorce proceedings, financial remedy proceedings and children matters.

  • Lord Justice of Appeal

    A judge who sits in the Court of Appeal. They will have extensive expereince as a lawyer and as a judge.

  • Lump sum provision

    The payment of a single sum of money from one party to another.

  • Maintaining the financial status quo

    Parties are required to keep financial arrangements, for example paying housekeeping money or credit card bills, the same as they were prior to the divorce.

  • Maintenance pending suit (MPS)

    Maintenance paid by one party to another during the course of proceedings.

  • Maintenance Regulation

    A piece of Eurpean law which controls how maintenance claims are considered and enforced across the EU.

  • Maintenance term

    An order saying that maintenance should stop after a certain point. Depending on the order, this may be extendable.

  • Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (MCA)

    The main piece of law which governs divorce in England and Wales.

  • Matrimonial property

    Matrimonial property refers to assets and income which are created or earned during the course of the marriage.

  • Matrimonial property regime

    Common in European countries, this is similar in effect to a prenuptial agreement. At the outset of a marriage, the parties opt-in or opt-out of laws governing how their property is to be held during the course of the marriage and divided on divorce.

  • McKenzie friend

    A person without legal qualifications who assists a litigant in person through their family law matter.

  • Mediation (in divorce cases)

    A form of alternative dispute resolution. A mediator helps the parties reach a mutual agreement.

  • Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM)

    A meeting, now required by the courts in most cases, to see if mediation is a suitable way of resolving the case.

  • Mesher order

    An order that a party should retain a share in a property, but that the sale of the property is deferred until a date in the long term future, for example when children have left school.

  • Needs principle (in divorce finance cases)

    The idea that both parties’ needs should be catered for in a divorce settlement.

  • No order principle

    The idea in children cases that it is best to resolve a case without the court making an order, if possible.

  • Non-consumation

    A couple can seek an annulment if there is a physical or psychological reason for them not having sexual intercourse.

  • Non-disclosure

    The failure, deliberate or otherwise, to provide information required by the court.

  • Non-marriage

    Any informal comittment between people which is not legally binding, and is not capable of being a void marriage. It cannot be subject to annulment or divorce.

  • Non-matrimonial property

    Non-matrimonial property refers to assets that were built up other than during the marriage.

  • Non-molestation order

    An order of the court preventing one party from harrassing or threatening the other. Breach of such an order is a criminal offence.

  • Non-resident parent

    The parent who the child spends less than half their time with.

  • Notice of First Appointment

    Order of the court setting out the date for the First Appointment hearing and necessary directions including deadlines for the completion and exchange of the Form E and the first appointment documents.

  • Nuptial settlement:

    A type of trust or settlement of property designed to provide a continuing benefit for a husband and wife. This can be varied by the court on divorce.

  • Oath

    Swearing on a Holy Book, or solemnly affirming, that a statement is true. Breach of an oath can be perjury.

  • Occupation order

    Order of the court who has the right to remain in the family home. The occupation order does not affect the legal ownership of the home.

  • On paper

    Where a court deals with an application without having a hearing.

  • Online divorce

    A service allowing a person to complete and file divorce papers online. This will not resolve the financial matters.

  • Open court

    If a hearing is in open court, members of the public and press can attend and report what happened without restrictions. Generally, family proceedings are not held in open court.

  • Open offer

    The opposite to a without prejudice offer, this is one which can be referred to in court. The making of open offers may have consequeneces for costs orders.

  • Order for sale

    An order that a property or shares be sold and the proceeds directed as ordered by the courts.

  • OS v DS hearing

    Another term for a preliminary issue hearing.

  • Overriding objective

    Principle that cases should be dealt with fairly, efficiently and in a cost-effective manner.

  • Parental responsibility

    The right to have input into a decisions about a child’s life.

  • Part 25 Application

    Application used if expert evidence is required.

  • Part III Claim

    Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Procedings Act 1984 allows a party to claim relief from the English courts after an overseas divorce, in certain circumstances.

  • Parties

    The petitioner and respondent in divorce proceedings; the applicant and respondent in financial and children proceedings.

  • Passive growth

    The natural increase in value of non-matrimonial assets.

  • Paternity testing

    Use of DNA testing to ascertain who the father of a child is. This can be ordered by the court.

  • Pension Sharing Order

    An order of the court detailing how a pension should be split between the parties upon divorce.

  • Periodical payments

    A regular payment made from one party to another. Can be in relation to child or spousal maintenance. Also known as: maintenance payments

  • Perjury

    Lying in sworn evidence in court proceedings. Perjury is a serious criminal offence.

  • Petitioner

    The party applying for the divorce. They are called the ‘petitioner’ because they must file a divorce petition with the court in order to start the proceedings.

  • Post-nuptial agreements

    An agreement that spouses enter into after a marriage, which details terms for how their marital assets will be split in the event of a divorce.

  • Pre-nuptial agreements

    An agreement that spouses enter into prior to getting married, which details terms for how their marital assets will be split in the event of a divorce.

  • Preliminary issue hearing

    A special type of hearing designed to deal with a single issue in proceedings. This may be used to deal with a complex issue which is a barrier to settlement between the parties.

  • Primary carer

    The person who has main responsbility for caring for a child.

  • Private law children

    Children proceedings between parents, which do not involve social services.

  • Pro bono divorce

    Lawyers taking on a case and not charging for their work.

  • Prohibited steps order

    An order made by the court in children proceedings which restricts stops one parent from doing a specific act.

  • Promissory estoppel

    The principle that where on person makes a promise, and the other relies on it to their detriment, the promise may be enforceable by law.

  • Property adjustment order

    An order transferring ownership of a property between parties.

  • Questionnaire

    A formal document asking for information and clarification following exchange of Forms E.

  • Quickie divorce

    A term commonly used to refer to the pronouncment of decree nisi, which only takes a few seconds in court. This is entirely separate to resolving the finances, which may take much longer.

  • Real property

    Legal term meaning houses, land and real estate.

  • Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Act 1922

    A piece of law which sets out how English judgments are enforced in British Overseas Territories.

  • Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders (REMO) unit

    Public body responsible for recording and enforcing child maintenance orders internationally.

  • Residence order

    Now replaced by child arangements programmes, an order of the court in children proceedings setting out where the child is to live. Mistakenly referred to as: custody.

  • Resident parent

    The parent with whom a child lives most of the time.

  • Respondent

    The person who ‘responds’ to any application made to the court by either the petitioner, applicant, or appellant.

  • Restraining order

    An order made by the criminal courts stopping a person from contacting someone. Not be confused with a non-molestation order or occupation order.

  • Resulting trust

    A trust that does not have a formal declaration of trust, but is created by the parties’ making contributions to the purchase of an asset. The trust will be held in equal proportion to the money paid in.

  • Return date

    After an ex parte hearing, the parties will usually attend court again on the same issue, so that both sides can argue their case.

  • Rose order

    An order of the court approving an agreement between the parties, but not dealing with the specific details of how an award is to be structured. This will be binding on the parties.

  • Round table meeting

    An informal negotiation meeting attended by parties and their solicitors.

  • Schedule of Deficiencies

    Following the exchange of questionnaires, this can be used to highlight where one party has failed to provide proper answers and full and frank disclosure.

  • Schedule of Expenses

    A document setting out your monthly or annual expenditure, used for calculating maintenance.

  • Schedule one cases

    An application for financial relief in children matters where the mother and father were not married. The case will focus on the needs of the child rather than the mother.

  • School fees order

    An order requiring one spouse to pay some or all of the school fees in relation to a child.

  • Section 25 factors

    The factors set out in s25 of th Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which the court will consider when making financial provision.

  • Section 25 statement

    Statement made in financial proceedings before the final hearing, setting out each parties’ case in relation to the section 25 factors.

  • Section 28 1 (a) bar

    Made under Section 28 1 (A) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, this a bar prevents a maintenance term from being extended.

  • Section 37 application

    Application under section 37 of the Matrimonial Causes Act to set-aside a transfer where a party has deliberately moved money to avoid it being affected by the divorce.

  • Section 8 order

    An order made in children proceedings, which can be an prohibited steps order, single issue order or child arrangements order.

  • Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP)

    A special course which helps parents understand how to manage child arrangements and communicate about their children. This can be taken voluntarily, or ordered by the court.

  • Separation

    The end of a relationship often marked by the couple ceasing to cohabitate. Can be one of the grounds for divorce.

  • Separation agreement

    An agreement reached by a couple following separation setting out matters including where each party will live, division of the assets, and agreement as to the children matters.

  • Separation date

    The date on which the couple decides their relationship is over.

  • Serving divorce papers

    The formal delivery of divorce papers from the petition to the respondent.

  • Set-aside of a transaction

    Order made under section 37 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, reversing a financial transaction.

  • Set-aside of an order

    A decision of the court to discard an order, as though it had never been made.

  • Settlor of a trust

    Someone who sets up a trust, i.e. someone who chooses to place property on trust for a beneficiary.

  • Shared care

    Sometimes called shared residence”

  • Sharia law

    Islamic religious law. This is applied to divorce in most Muslim countries.

  • Sharing principle

    Where the parties have more than enough assets to meet their needs, the court will consider how those assets should be shared.

  • Short notice

    Where a party makes an application to the court and only tells the other side shortly before the hearing takes place. This is only done in the case of emergency applications.

  • Social Security and Child Support Tribunal

    Body which hears reconsiderations and appeals in relation to issues surrounding the Child Maintenance Service.

  • Solicitor

    A type of lawyer, responsible for the day-to-day running of your case and strategic advice.

  • Special procedure

    Counter-intuitively, this is the way most divorces now proceed. It means when a divorce petition proceeds to decree nisi without further hearings.

  • Specific issue order

    An order in children proceedings which relates to a specific issue, for example changing a child’s surname.

  • Spousal maintenance

    Payments made by the higher earning spouse to their ex-partner, after the breakdown of their marriage.

  • Statement

    Forms or written documents made by the client, which set out information relating to a client’s case.

  • Statement of Issues

    One of the documents prepared for the First Appointment, which sets out the issues that the parties disagree on.

  • Statement of Truth

    Formal declaration that the contents of a witness statement or other court document are true.

  • Statute law

    Law made by parliament and interpreted by the courts.

  • Staying contact

    Also known as “overnight contact”

  • Submissions

    Legal arguments made to the court.

  • Supervised contact

    Time spent with a child under supervision of a third party. This can be a family friend, trusted relative, or childcare professional.

  • Supreme Court

    The highest court in the United Kingdom. The court hears cases on appeal from the Court of Appeal, and generally only hears cases which have important ramifications for the rest of the law.

  • Supreme Court Judge

    One of the nine judges who sit in the Supreme Court, hearing the most complex and important cases in the country. The nine judges have vast levels of experience as both lawyers and judges.

  • Talaq

    An Islamic divorce under sharia law. The validity of this to English law will depend on the circumstances.

  • Tenancy in common

    A way of owning property in which each party has a discrete share, which they can deal with separately.

  • The EU Maintenance Regulation

    A complex piece of European law which affects jurisdiction and variation in relation to maintenance, as well as the recognition and enforcement of maintenance orders.

  • Third party debt order

    An order that someone who owes money to a judgment debtor pay it to their creditor instead. This can be used to have a debtor’s bank balances transferred to you.

  • Third party disclosure order in divorce cases

    Information requested from someone other than the petitioner and respondent.

  • Tipstaff

    An officer of the court who may, if ordered by the court, take people into custody for the breach of orders.

  • Top Up Maintenance

    Where a paying partner earns more than the maximum amount covered by the Child Maintenance Service, the court can order them to pay additional maintenance for the child.

  • Trial

    Same as a final hearing.

  • Trust

    An arrangement where a trustee holds property on behalf of the beneficiary.

  • Trustee

    A person charged with looking after property on behalf of the beneficiary.

  • Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act (TOLATA)

    A statute which allows the court to determine the beneficial owners of properties. Often used in cohabitee disuptes, or in matrimonial proceedings where there is a dispute about who owns property.

  • Undertaking

    Legal promise made during proceedings that can be enforced by the court.

  • Unreasonable behaviour

    The most commonly used reason for divorce, saying that your spouse has behaved in a way which makes it unreasonable for the marriage to continue.

  • Variation

    An application to change terms contained within an order. Applications to vary financial orders dealing with maintenance when financial circumstances change e.g the party paying maintenance loses his/her job or is approaching retirement age.

  • Void marriage

    A marriage treated as though it never existed in the first place because it was unlawful or invalid. Void marriages include marriages where one party was underage or one party had committed bigamy.

  • Voidable marriage

    A marriage which can be contested as invalid by one of the parties on the basis it was defective. A marriage is voidable if it was not consummated, there was lack of proper consent, one party had a sexually transmitted infection at the time of the marriage or the wife was pregnant with another man’s child.

  • Welfare principle

    The key principle in family law – that all decisions and orders will reflect the best interest of the child.

  • Whole life order

    This is maintenance order which lasts until one of the parties dies, or if the receiving party remarries.

  • Will

    A legal document setting out a person’s wishes as to how their assets should be divided upon their death.

  • Without notice hearing

    An application to the court which is made without the involvement of the other party.

  • Without prejudice

    A form of correspondence and negotiation between the applicant and the respondent. Without prejudice correspondence typically contains offers for settlement to the other side. Should the parties proceed to final hearing the without prejudice correspondence and offers will not be revealed to the other side or to the judge.

  • Witness summons

    Document requiring a person to attend court to give evidence.

  • Writ ne exeat regno

    An order confiscating someone’s passport and preventing them from leaving the country. This can be used as a form of enforcement in exceptional circumstances.

  • Writ of control (formerly fieri facias)

    This is an order allowing a judge (acting through a bailiff) to seize a debtor’s goods in order to enforce an order.

  • Xydhias Agreement

    An agreement between spouses about how to divide their assets, which although not a court order, is sufficiently clear to be binding.

You may be eligible for a litigation loan

If your spouse controls the family finances, you may be worried about how to find the money for your legal fees during a divorce. But this need not prevent you from accessing the best legal advice to fight for what you deserve. 

Whether you and your spouse built-up your fortune during your marriage, you married someone who already had money or you have had a child with someone with money, it is likely that you are entitled to very significant assets or income. But accessing this wealth now that you are separated may be difficult, restricting your ability to afford the very best legal representation for you and your family during your divorce.

What options are available to fund my case?

If your spouse is not prepared to pay your divorce fees, you may be eligible for a litigation loan. This specific type of lending allows you to secure any assets that you or your partner have, such as your former matrimonial home, against a loan that will cover your legal fees. This loan is then paid back at the end of the case.

A litigation loan is rigorous and transparent, and will grant you access to a top divorce lawyer who will ensure that you get your fair share. Vardags is experienced in securing litigation funding for its high net worth clients and has strong relationships with a select pool of the very best funders around. We also know when best to apply, and exercise careful judgement in determining when to pursue claims.

Vardags are ready to help

Vardags can advise in detail on the options available at your first consultation. We offer a free initial consultation, without obligation, to clients who have family assets greater than £1 million or income of greater than £150,000 per annum. Please call our confidential enquiry line on 020 7205 5792 to arrange your consultation — it’s never too early or too late to take expert legal advice. 


020 7205 5792

[email protected]

10 Old Bailey London, EC4M 7NG


01223 581175

[email protected]

1 Saint Mary's Passage Cambridge, CB2 3PQ


0161 956 3838

[email protected]

King Street Manchester, M2 4WU


0191 401 8575

[email protected]

Earl Grey House Newcastle, NE1 6EF


01962 706005

[email protected]

87 Canon Street Winchester, SO23 9JQ


+44 207 404 9390

[email protected]

10 Old Bailey London, EC4M 7NG

Qualifying Individuals

Vardags specialise in cases involving high net worth individuals, their families and their companies.  Free consultations are offered for clients with net assets in excess of £2million or involved in other high value disputes.
24 Hour Emergency Legal Representation. Call Vardags London: 020 7404 9390
If you need a lawyer immediately because a person has been taken into custody or involved in an incident, Vardags can provide emergency legal cover at any time. We offer a swift response in person, anywhere in London or within the M25. Outside that area we may still be able to help. Call our confidential 24 hour enquiry line for immediate help.If you have been arrested or you are the subject of a dawn raid we strongly recommend you have a lawyer present in order to advise you on your options in dealing with police and other investigating bodies and to ensure your rights are protected. Note that we normally charge £350 per hour including travel time and our fees in connection with emergency legal services will usually be a minimum of £2,000 + VAT.
*All enquiries are completely confidential. We do not handle Legal Aid cases. Our lawyers do not undertake criminal work on a no win, no fee basis.

Free consultation for qualifying individuals*

Enter your contact details or:

Call Vardags London: 020 7404 9390

Email: [email protected]

Our confidential enquiry line is staffed 24 hours a day.

*Free consultation for qualifying individuals. We do not undertake legal aid work but there are often other ways to fund your case. We do not act on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis in civil disputes.

We will treat your information in complete confidence.

*Free consultation for qualifying individuals. We do not undertake legal aid work but there are often other ways to fund your case. We do not act on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis in civil disputes.

Call Vardags London: 020 7404 9390

Our confidential enquiry lines are staffed 24 hours a day, every day of the year.