You are here

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.




Internationally it has two separate meanings. First, it is the provision made by court orders or administrative agencies for child support (see CSA) or for spousal support, often known as alimony. Secondly, in the context of enforcement of maintenance abroad, it means any financial order which provides for a parties needs. Needs are generously interpreted but specifically does not include fairness and sharing.

Maintenance Pending Suit

This is also known as interim maintenance which is to provide for short term income needs before the final settlement.

Marital and non-marital property or civil-partnership and non-civil partnership Property

All property and income of either spouse / partner is either marital / civil partnership or non-marital / non-civil partnership. The law has very different treatment to each category of assets. The law (unhelpfully) does not give a definite definition of either category.

Marital/civil partnership property includes resources acquired by either spouse/partner during the marriage/civil partnership and sometimes during pre-marriage/pre-civil partnership cohabitation when cohabitation has moved seamlessly into a marriage/civil partnership. It may include inflation or other growth on non-marital/non-civil partnership assets. It may often include the family home even if owned by one spouse/partner before the relationship. It will include non-marital/non-civil partnership assets which have been mixed and mingled with marital assets or used for family purposes. It does not matter if only one spouse/partner acquired it if, for example, the other was doing other work or looking after the home or children. It is all that was acquired during the relationship.

Working out the nature and source of the assets is crucially important in law for the financial settlement upon divorce/dissolution. If you have any doubt you should take legal advice.

Non-marital / non-civil partnership property includes any assets acquired prior to the marriage/civil partnership (and sometimes before pre-marriage/pre-civil partnership cohabitation), inherited and gifted resources and some resources which distinctively accrue after separation. Sometimes it may not include the growth in the value of non-marital / non-civil partnership property through inflation etc. Quite often it may not include the family home even if purchased with non-marital/non-civil partnership funds.

Working out which assets are non-marital/non-civil partnership is crucially important in law for the financial settlement upon divorce/dissolution. The law treats each category of assets very differently. If in doubt, legal advice should be taken.

Marital or Civil Partnership Agreements

Sometimes made before or during a marriage or Civil Partnership to provide for what happens on any later divorce, dissolution or relationship breakdown. At present they are not binding on the English courts but they can be highly influential.


A state registered relationship (which can take place in religious or other public places) between a man and a woman.

Matrimonial Property

These are resources acquired during the marriage. Matrimonial property excludes pre relationship assets, gifts, inheritances, some post separation assets and some business assets. Matrimonial Property is often divided equally, subject to the needs of the parties. Non matrimonial assets are less likely to be shared but will be increasingly brought into sharing with longer marriages.


A process of negotiation between a couple, assisted by independent professional, often a lawyer. It can be used to resolve financial disputes and issues concerning children. Mediation often runs alongside the advice given by lawyers but offers a different way for couples to resolve themselves the issues they face.

Memorandum of Understanding

This is the document produced at the end of mediation which contains the proposed agreement.


A major House of Lords decision in May 2006 which was heard with the case of MacFarlane. The case stated that fairness was the objective of ancillary relief law on divorce. Fairness was found in needs, sharing and compensation. The case reaffirmed equality as a starting point for the division of assets and the importance of needs in most cases as basis for settlements. It stopped the court taking into account the parties conduct and special contribution in anything but exceptional cases. It was a complex judgment raising more questions than answers and was dealt with a year later by the Court of Appeal in Charman.

Mirror Orders

An order made in one country which reflects the original order made in another country. Mirror orders are often made in circumstances where contact arrangements have been agreed and the child will then be living in another country. The mirror order means that the courts of the country where the child will later be living are aware of the original arrangements and they give protection for the other parent in the country where the child is living.

Mixed or mingled

The law recognises that during many marriage/civil partnerships the assets of either spouse/partner which are pre-marriage/pre-civil partnership or inherited or gifts are used for the ordinary purposes of combined family life and are sometimes 'mixed and mingled' with resources acquired during the marriage/civil partnership. This can be, for example, through bank accounts, purchasing real property including the family home or paying into pensions. The consequence is that these assets which were originally non marital/non-civil partnership and therefore not automatically shared become marital or civil partnership and therefore shared. The circumstances of mixing and mingling are complex and fact specific. If in doubt, legal advice should be taken.


Meet the team

Our specialists are knowledgeable, friendly and experts in their own individual fields.




Please send us a message with your query. Alternatively, request a call back, if you would like us to call you. We will be in touch within 24 hours.




Visit our Information Hub and discover a wide range of resources relating to international family law.