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Glossary of Legal Terms

We set out below a list of family law terminology to try and assist you in better understand what lawyers are talking about and some of the specific terms used. This glossary provides general information only. Specialist professional advice should always be taken and we cannot accept any liability for reliance on it.

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A

Acknowledgement of Service

This is the form that must be filed with the court in response to a divorce petition. It must be returned to the court within a short time after service. The form requires the Respondent to the divorce to indicate if they have any intention to defend the divorce, if there is any dispute on jurisdiction and if the arrangements for the children are agreed. The Acknowledgement of Service form is then exhibited to the Petitioner's application for Decree Nisi.

Adultery

Sexual intercourse by a married person with a person of the opposite sex, who can be married or unmarried. It is a fact that can be relied upon in support of a divorce.

Affidavit

This is a written statement which has been "sworn" (confirmed as being true before an independent solicitor or court official). The affidavit can be treated as if it is evidence given personally in front of a court after an oath (e.g. "I swear by Almighty God that I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" or "I solemnly and sincerely declare that …"). It can be on any religious book. It can be "affirmed" if the person concerned has no religious belief. Any solicitor can swear a document, often without an appointment. The fee is £5 plus £2 for each accompanying exhibit.

Alimony

This is a colloquial term which refers to spousal maintenance. It is to be distinguished from child maintenance, sometimes known as child support.

Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Alternative dispute resolution, refers to all forms of settlement other than a court based resolution. It includes mediation, directive mediation, negotiations between lawyers, collaborative law and arbitration. It is more challenging within an international context but can work well with webcams and other communication devices. See the fact sheets.

Ancillary Relief

The former name for court proceedings about financial issues connected with ("ancillary to") divorce proceedings. They are now known as applications for a financial order.

Answer

An answer is a defence to a divorce petition. This results in the divorce being defended which is long, costly and are proceedings that take place in public so much thought and care is needed before defending.

Apostille

This is a process by which documents issued in one country have to be authenticated or legalised before they are recognised as valid in another country

Applicable law

This is a concept found in a number of European countries where the family courts of a country apply not their own local but the law of another country with which the couple may have a particular connection. England will only ever apply English law.

Applicant

A person who starts legal proceedings or makes an application to the court. Where this is a petition for divorce, the person issuing the divorce petition is known as "the petitioner".

Arbitration

A form of independent adjudication which takes place outside the court system and with the opportunity to agree timetables, choice of arbitrator, procedures, location of hearings etc. Arbitration can be used for all issues in a case or just a narrow and discrete point in dispute.

 

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