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Legal Terminology - Glossary A - L

Is short for:

Glossary of legal terms; A - L

Abduction: removal from the jurisdiction by a parent or putative father of a child under the age of sixteen across an international border without the consent of those with parental responsibility (PR) or leave of the Court.

Access: obsolete term replaced by “contact” in 1989.

Achieving Best Evidence (ABE): Home Office protocol developed to ensure that interviews of children and vulnerable adults are conducted in such a way as to produce evidence that can be used in court without leading the witness or otherwise influencing the result.

Acknowledgement of Service: form sent to the respondent which must be signed to confirm receipt of a petition or application and returned to the court.

Activity Direction: direction made by the Court requiring a party to the proceedings to undertake an “activity” intended to improve their involvement in the life of the child concerned.

Adjourn: postpone a hearing to a later date.

Adoption: irreversible transfer of all legal rights over a child from the natural parents to the adoptive parent(s).

Adultery: consensual sexual intercourse between a married person and someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse.

Affidavit: written statement of evidence made under oath.

Alternative Dispute Resolution: resolution of disputes outside of the adversarial court process.

Ambush: a party “ambushes” the other by introducing into the oral evidence given in court something not contained in a position statement or affidavit, or by making a new allegation.

Ancillary Relief: financial settlement to a spouse on divorce.

Annulment: declaration by a court that a marriage was never valid.

Answer: document filed by the respondent as part of the divorce process giving his response to allegations made in the petition.

Appeal: complaint made to a higher court in order to correct a perceived error made by a lower court.

Appellant: party who lodges an appeal.

Applicant: party who applies to the Court for an order.

Arbitration: form of dispute resolution in which the parties appoint an arbitrator to adjudicate their dispute and make an award.


Backsheet: final page of a court document giving document title, court details, case number, parties’ names, etc.

Bailiff: officer of the court authorised to serve court documents on parties, execute arrest warrants and aid the tipstaff.

Barder Event: change of circumstances which occurs immediately after the making of a financial order and which invalidates the basis upon which the order was made.

Barrister: lawyer who acts as a litigant’s advocate in court with greater rights of audience than a solicitor but is not an attorney and cannot conduct litigation.

Best Interests of the Child: requirement that, “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”.

Bird’s-Nest Custody: shared parenting arrangement employed in the US and Canada in which the child remains in one home while the parents alternate between their own homes and that of the child.

Brussels II Revised: international agreement made between countries of the European Union which brings together in a single regulation all provisions on parental responsibility and divorce.

Bundle: file of relevant documents used by the Court for a particular hearing.

Burden of Proof: imperative on a party to provide the evidence which proves their position.


Capacity (1): intellectual ability to carry out certain functions such as to have sexual relations and marry, or understand a case and instruct a solicitor.

Capacity (2): legal status enabling two parties to marry each other; i.e., that they are not already married, or not related to each other in a way that prohibits marriage, etc.

Care Order: court order made on application by a local authority under Section 31 of the Children Act 1989 that a child be placed in their care.

Case Conference: meeting convened by social services and others to determine what intervention should be taken regarding a child.

Case Law: body of law based on judicial decisions and precedent rather than on statute.

Cash Equivalent Transfer Value (CETV): notional monetary value of a pension, used to calculate divorce settlements.

Chambers: judge’s office; the expression “in chambers” is used to translate the Latin in camera, referring to a hearing conducted in private.  Also a group of barristers and the premises they occupy.

Child Arrangements Order: order determining with whom and when a child will live or have contact.

Child Arrangements Programme: “road-map” which shows both courts and litigants how a case should progress through the system and keeps cases on track.

Child Assessment Order: order made by the Court on application by the local authority that a child be subjected to a medical, psychiatric or other assessment to assess whether he is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.

Child Maintenance: money paid periodically by liable parents to persons with care as a contribution towards the upkeep of their children.

Child Maintenance Service (CMS): successor to the Child Support Agency (CSA), the government body responsible for the calculation and collection of statutory child maintenance.

Child of the Family: biological child of a married couple or any child who is treated by the couple as their child, including step-children and adopted children, but not a fostered child.

Children And Family Court Advisory & Support Service (CAFCASS): controversial organisation tasked in the English and Welsh jurisdiction with protecting the interests of children during proceedings.

Children & Family Reporter (CFR): CAFCASS officer who has been asked to prepare a welfare report.

Children’s Guardian: officer from CAFCASS or CAFCASS Legal appointed by the Court whose duty is fairly and competently to conduct proceedings on behalf of the child independently of his parents.

Chronology: list in chronological order of everything pertinent to a litigant’s case.

Civil Partnership: arrangement which allowed same-sex couples to acquire rights and responsibilities similar to those of a married couple.

Clean Break: one-off court order finally determining financial arrangements.

Coercive Control: abusive behaviour including isolation, intimidation, belittling, humiliation, threats and withholding necessary resources such as money or transportation.

Cohabitation: arrangement in which a couple live together but do not marry and thus do not enjoy the legal protections granted a married couple.

Collaborative Law: non-adversarial, non-competitive approach to resolving disputes cooperatively using specialist lawyers.

Committal: act of sending a person to prison.

Common Law: judge-made law established through precedent or case law which binds future decisions.

Common-Law Marriage: marriage recognised as valid by both parties but not formally registered.  There has never been any such thing in England and Wales.

Competence: mental capacity required by a party in order to understand his case and instruct a lawyer.

Conciliation: form of alternative dispute resolution which takes place in-court under the direction of the judge or CAFCASS.

Conduct of Litigation: there is no clear definition, but it may be taken to include any formal steps taken in proceedings.

Conformed Copy: official copy of a court document which carries the Court’s seal and any handwritten notes which may be on the original.

Connell Order: form of maintenance order in which the Court orders one spouse to pay a global amount for the maintenance of the other (and children), less whatever the Child Maintenance Service calculates he should pay.

Consanguinity: relationship through blood.

Consent Order: any order made with consent between the parties; the term usually applies to the financial order made on divorce.

Consummation: culmination of the marriage procedure through sexual intercourse.

Contact: any relationship, however restricted, between a child and his non-resident parent.

Contact Centre: facility in which contact may be ordered to take place when it is not possible in a parent’s home or in another familiar and relaxing environment.

Contact Order: court order, now obsolete in the English and Welsh jurisdiction, requiring a resident parent to allow the child to have contact with the person named in the order.

Contact Parent: parent in whose favour a Contact Order or Child Arrangements Order regulating with whom a child is to have contact is made.

Contemnor: person who has been found guilty of contempt.

Contempt of Court: disobedience, disregard or disrespect to the authority of a court or its officers.

Co-Respondent: person named in the petition as having committed adultery with the respondent.

Court File: documents a court retains on a particular case.

Cross-Application: where two parties make the same application simultaneously.

Cross-Examination: questioning of a witness by a party other than the party who called the witness.

Custody: prior to the Children Act 1989, the protective guardianship of a child, awarded by a court; replaced by the concept of residence until 2014.


Decree Absolute: final stage of the divorce process, enabling the parties to re-marry.

Decree Nisi: preliminary stage of the divorce process.

Deemed Service: order by which the Court declares that service of the petition has been made on the respondent.

Defined Contact: pattern of contact defined by a detailed schedule in order to eliminate the chances of misunderstanding and dispute.

Deponent: person who gives evidence by affidavit, affirmation or deposition.

Desertion: wilful abandonment of a spouse without justification or agreement.

Designated Family Centre (DFC): administrative hub to which initial applications are made and where hearings take place.

Direction: instruction by a judge contained within an order for someone to do something.

Directions Appointment: hearing at which the judge makes directions.

Disbursements: costs charged by a solicitor to cover payments to third parties.

Disclosure: process of revealing confidential documents and information to the Court and to other parties.

District Judge: officer of the court who deals with applications to initiate children proceedings in which there is some complexity.

Divorce: final dissolution of a marriage, sanctioned by a court.

Divorce Centre: one of eleven regional centres which deal with divorce petitions.

DNA Test: test directed by a court to determine whether or not a putative father is the biological parent of the child subject to proceedings.

Domestic Violence: any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.

Domestic Violence Protection Notice (DVPN): injunction made by a police officer without a court’s involvement to remove someone from their home for up to forty-eight hours.

Domicile: legal jurisdiction in which a party is deemed to have his permanent home.

Emergency Protection Order (EPO): order made if the Court is satisfied that not removing the child to local authority accommodation or not keeping him there will cause him significant harm.

Equality of Arms: principle in human rights law which ensures a party can present a case with being at a disadvantage vis-à-vis his opponent.

European Convention on Human Rights: international treaty of 18 articles to protect human rights.

Evidence: proof a litigant must provide to support his position.

Examination: questioning of a party’s witness.

Exhibit: document attached to an affidavit.

Ex Parte (Latin: “by a party”): hearing at which only one party is present.

Expert Witness: authority in a particular field who can provide the court with scientific or technical information outside the experience and knowledge of the judge.

Extempore (Latin: “out of the moment”): judgment delivered by the judge on the day.


Facts & Reasons Report: report written by magistrates to provide a rationale for a decision to order a child to be taken into care.

Family Assistance Order: order that CAFCASS or social services “advise, assist and befriend” a family.

Family Court Advisor: CAFCASS officer who interviews the parties and children before advising the Court on the appropriate decision.

File: deliver a document by post or otherwise to the court office.

Final Hearing: hearing at which the judge makes his final decision.

Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR): in financial proceedings a hearing in which the judge gives his opinion and encourages settlement.

Financial Provision Order: order that one party pay the other a periodical payment or lump sum or transfer property to them.

Financial Remedies Unit (FRU): specialist unit within the Family Court dedicated to the efficient handling of cases of financial complexity.

Financial Remedy: financial settlement to a spouse on divorce.

Financial Statement: form on which parties to a divorce must disclose their financial details.

Finding-of-Fact: hearing convened to determine whether or not some alleged violence or abuse did indeed take place.

First Directions Appointment (FDA): in financial proceedings the first meeting with the judge.

First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA): in children proceedings the first meeting with the judge.

Foster-to-Adopt: fast-track procedure enabling a local authority to make a placement of a child with an approved prospective adopter.

Freeing Order: order which frees a child for adoption.

Functus Officio (Latin: “having performed his office”): status of a judge who has fulfilled his office with no jurisdiction to reopen the case or change his mind.

Future Harm: harm which has not yet befallen a child but which may at some unspecified future date.


Gatekeeping: behaviour of a parent who believes they have the right to control the other parent’s access to their child.

Gillick Competence: capacity of a child to understand his own case.

Grepe v Loam Order: civil restraint order preventing a vexatious litigant from making further applications.

Guardian: person who has the legal authority and duty to care for the person and property of a “ward”.


Habitual Residence: jurisdiction in which someone voluntarily lives for his work or education and where he conducts his family life.

Hague Convention: one of several international agreements.

Hand Down: to deliver the written version of a judgment at a later date.

Handover: point at which a child passes from the care of one parent to that of the other.

Harassment: the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour to cause a person alarm or distress.

Harm: ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development.

Harvey Order: order for the allocation of the former matrimonial home whereby one party remains in residence and pays rent to the other.

Heads of Agreement: written summary of an agreement – usually financial – reached through successful mediation, which can be worked up into a court order.

Hearing: court session conducted before a judge.

Hearsay: statement which is not given in oral evidence, but which is nevertheless accepted as evidence.

Hold: for a court to make its final decision or ruling on an issue.

Home Rights: right of a party to remain in a property during separation or divorce when it is owned by the other spouse or partner.


Illegitimacy: condition of a child who cannot inherit from his father.

Imerman Documents: documents which have been obtained illegally or fraudulently.

Implacable Hostility: remorseless and irrational hatred of the other parent and opposition to sharing parenting or compliance with a court order.

In Absentia (Latin: “in the absence of”): of a decision made by the Court despite the fact that one party has chosen not to attend.

In Camera (Latin: “in a chamber”): a hearing conducted in private to which press and public are not admitted.


In Curia (Latin: “in a court”): a hearing conducted in open court.

Indirect Contact: contact conducted through letters, cards and emails only.

Infant: person who has not yet reached the age of legal majority.

Informal Notice: application made in haste without the usual documentation.

Inherent Jurisdiction: rule that a senior court has the power to try any matter which comes before it unless another court specifically has jurisdiction or its power is limited by a statute or rule.

Injunction: order obliging a party to do or prohibiting him from doing a thing.

In Loco Parentis (Latin: ‘in the place of a parent’): relating to anyone who assumes the responsibilities of a parent.

Inlying Expenses: additional or unforeseen costs in relation to bringing up a child.

Inter Alia (Latin: “amongst other things”): used, for example, where a court may make a variety of orders.

Interdict: form of injunction.

Interim Order: order made as a temporary measure at the commencement of proceedings.

Interlocutor: sheet of paper upon which the court order is written.

Inter Partes (Latin: “between parties”): describing a hearing at which all parties are present.


Intervenor: third party who becomes involved in a case because of a specific issue.

In Utero (Latin: “in the womb”): of a child: not yet born.

Involvement: a degree of contact with a child either direct or indirect.

Irretrievable Breakdown: sole ground for divorce in the English and Welsh jurisdiction.


Jactitation: false and malicious claim to a marriage which has no existence.

Join: to become a party to a case.

Judge: officer of the court who presides over proceedings with responsibility to manage a case effectively, ensure correct procedure is followed and issue directions and orders based on the evidence and the law.

Judgment: spoken or written decision of a judge and the reasoning behind it.

Judicatory: system of courts of law and tribunals.

Judicial Continuity: principle that a single judge should hear a case from beginning to end.

Judicial Discretion: wide latitude of a judge to make whatever order he thinks appropriate.

Judicial Separation: decree in which the parties remain legally married but the obligations of the marriage cease.

Jurat (Latin: “he swears”): clause at the end of an affidavit stating the date, place, and name of the person before whom it was sworn.

Jurisdiction: court’s geographical area of influence or its legal power to intervene.

Jurisprudence: body of common law established by case precedents.


Kinship Care: arrangement under which the child remains with relatives or friends of the family.


Law Report: account of a case which has been worked up by a trained barrister or solicitor when the case makes a change to the law or is otherwise ‘reportable’.

Lay Advisor: someone without legal qualification who gives advice on behalf of an organisation in the lay advice sector.

Leave: permission of the Court.

Legal Aid: funding from the taxpayer to enable a litigant to purchase legal services.

Legal Executive: qualified lawyer who has trained less broadly than a solicitor and specialised earlier.

Legal Services Order: court order which enables one party to a marriage to access legal services by ordering the other to pay them a lump sum or instalments.

Lenocinium (Latin: “pimping”): rarely used defence in Scotland to a divorce based on adultery.

Lex Fori (Latin: “the law of the forum”): law applicable in the particular jurisdiction in which the case is heard.

Lex Loci Celebrationis (Latin: “the law in the place of celebration”): law applicable in the jurisdiction in which a marriage is celebrated.

Liability Order: court order enabling the Child Maintenance Service to enforce payment.

Liberty to Apply: right of a litigant to apply for further appropriate orders or directions.

Litigant-in-Person (LiP): party to a case who attends court without representation by a lawyer.

Litigation Friend: someone who assists a party who lacks capacity.

Locus Standi (Latin: “standing”): ability of an applicant to show the Court he has sufficient interest in a case to participate.

Lump Sum Order: spousal maintenance order which orders the payment of a sum at once or in instalments in lieu of periodical monthly payments.