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Divorce dictionary: the legal jargon explained

Within divorce proceedings, there are words and phrases which will seem alien at first but they will become familiar over time. For example, the person who issues the divorce petition will be known as the “Petitioner” and the other spouse / civil partner will be called the “Respondent”.  We list the common phrases that you will regularly hear/see throughout the process:


Acknowledgment of service


A form that the Respondent files at court on receipt of the divorce petition.




A specialist advocate who will represent you in court if proceedings are issued and a hearing is required.


Clean break


Where both parties dismiss present or future financial claims against each other.


Child arrangements


The new neutral terminology for what used to be known as residence and contact arrangements. How will the care of the children be shared post-separation?


Consent order


A legal document drawn up when an agreement has been reached whether in relation to the finances or to the children. A consent order becomes binding and enforceable only once it has been ratified by the court.


Decree nisi


Part 1 of the 2-part divorce process. The Decree Nisi will be granted once a Judge has considered the paperwork and is satisfied that a divorce can proceed to the next stage.


Decree absolute


Part 2 of the 2-part divorce process. Decree Absolute formally dissolves the marriage. Any financial agreement that has been approved by the court becomes binding and enforceable on Decree Absolute.




Jurisdiction for divorce can be based on one’s domicile. Domicile is the legal relationship between a person and a particular jurisdiction which is defined by dependency at birth or by choice in adulthood.




A person living outside their native country. On divorce Expatriates may have a choice of jurisdiction in which the case may proceed.




There are 5 “facts” which can be relied on in a divorce petition, namely: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, 2 years separation with consent of the spouse to the divorce and 5 years separation in which case the consent of the spouse is not required.


Financial disclosure


On divorce, both parties have a duty to provide full and frank financial disclosure so that they and their advisors can assess the fairness of a proposed financial settlement.


Financial remedy proceedings


Can be issued by either spouse if no agreement can be reached regarding the matrimonial finances. Issuing proceedings will start a court timetable, but negotiations can take place against that timetable and a settlement may be reached at any time.


Form E

A 27 page court form in which each party lists assets, liabilities, income and living costs.


Fixed fee scheme


Expatriate Law offer fixed fees for an uncontested divorce but fees relating to financial matters are billed separately on your solicitor’s hourly rate.


Grounds for divorce

There is only one ground for divorce which is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down (see above for Facts used to show irretrievable breakdown).

Habitual residence


Jurisdiction for divorce can be based on one’s habitual residence. Habitual residence is defined as the place where the person has established, on a fixed basis, his permanent or habitual centre of interest.


Income needs


The income requirements of the parties and the children will need to be calculated during financial negotiations.




The ability of the court to rule on issues related to the parties, their children and their property.


Legal fees


The extent of legal fees will vary depending on the level of communication between you, your solicitor, your spouse or their solicitor, the cooperation of the parties and whether experts need to be instructed.


Matrimonial pot


All assets pensions and income of the two parties that are theoretically available to be shared on divorce. What is or is not treated as being in the “pot” depends on the laws of the country where the divorce is taking place.



Mediators are trained to help resolve disputes over all issues faced by separating couples, or specific issues such as arrangements for any children. Mediators are neutral and will not take sides, so they cannot give advice to either of you. They will usually recommend that you obtain legal advice alongside the mediation process and will guide you as to when this should happen.


Litigation loans


Litigation loans to pay legal fees may be available to those based in the UK and who have assets which can be used as security.




Are legally binding and must be complied with otherwise the other party can issue enforcement proceedings and seek costs orders against those who fail to comply with them.


‘Part III’ financial claims


Financial claims can be made in the English courts for those who have been divorced in an overseas jurisdiction.




Can be exchanged once you following financial disclosure to obtain further information if there are deficiencies in the disclosure.


Right of Survivorship


The right of joint owners to receive the other’s share of property upon the death of the other owner.


Severing a joint tenancy


Will prevent your spouse automatically receiving your share of a jointly owned property if you die before a final settlement has been reached.


Spousal maintenance


Quantum and duration depends on the legal system in which the divorce is taking place. In English law, relevant factors include the length of the marriage, the parties’ earning capacity, age of the parties and most importantly, needs.




The English family courts have developed a robust attitude to offshore trusts and on occasion may view a trust structure with scepticism, as a means to hide or obscure financial realities behind shams and artificial devices.




A solemn promise someone to the court. If an undertaking is breached then that person will be in contempt of court.


Validity of an overseas marriage


In essence, if the marriage satisfies the legal requirements of the country where the wedding ceremony took place then it will be recognised in England.



In the UAE, divorce can affect a wife’s right to reside in the country if she was previously sponsored by her husband. To secure her own visa she will need to find employment, or a visa can be secured by setting up a free-zone company.




Pronouncement of decree absolute after a will was made will affect any provision made between former spouses in their wills. Any wills must be reviewed after a divorce.




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