Glossary of Terms for Family Law

A lot of the words associated with Family Law that have precise legal meanings.  We have put together a glossary of the most common terms, with explanations.

If you need any further clarification, please just ask us and we’ll be happy to help.

An associated person is described as:-

  1.   Someone you’ve been married to or in a civil partnership with;
  2.   Someone you live with or have lived with;
  3.   Someone you are related to;
  4.   Someone you have agreed to marry or enter into a civil partnership with, even if that agreement has been terminated;
  5.   Someone you have been in an intimate personal relationship with for a significant duration;
  6.   Someone who you share a child with;
  7.   Where you are both parties to the same set of court proceedings.

Source: Section 62 Family Law Act 1996

CAFCASS looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings. They work with children and their families, and then advise the courts on what they consider to be in the interests of individual children.

Source: CAFCASS website

A Child Protection Plan can be put in place by Social Services where they have concerns about your care of a child and they feel a plan needs to be put in place to make sure the child is safe.

The plan sets out what needs to change to keep the child safe. It gives certain people like parents, social services and schools very specific tasks to do by a certain deadline.

A Contact Order is a court order which states when a child should have contact with the non-resident parent.

A Contact Order can be made in any family law court proceedings but is usually made after the non-resident parent applies to court for a contact order.

A Decree Absolute is a document that is issued by the court in divorce proceedings.

A Decree Absolute is the document that officially dissolves the marriage and it means you are divorced a free to remarry.

Decree Nisi is a document that is issued by the court in divorce proceedings. It means the court is satisfied with the contents of the petition and the petitioner is entitled to a divorce.

Your Decree Nisi doesn’t mean you are divorced yet – see Decree Absolute.

Disclosure is the process where parties to a divorce complete a Financial Statement which is a lengthy document containing lots of information about their finances. For example, it will say what their income is, what their outgoings are, what properties they own and what pensions they have.

Parties have to provide documentary evidence such as bank statements, to prove what they are saying is true.

Domestic Violence is defined as “Any incident, or pattern of incidents, of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (whether psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between individuals who are associated with each other.”

Source: government definition of domestic violence

Finding of Fact occurs when in some court proceedings one party has made allegations of abuse against the other party, and the court might decide to have a Fact-Finding Hearing.

At that hearing, the court will hear evidence and decide whether to make any Findings of Fact against the alleged perpetrator.

For example, A might allege that there was an incident where B assaulted them. Both parties will give evidence and the court will either decide to make no findings against B, or they might decide to find that B did assault A.

Molestation can mean anything from physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, threatening text messages or other forms of communication, or any kind of pestering, harassing and intimidating behaviour.

A non-molestation order is a type of civil injunction which you can ask a civil court to make if you feel you need protection from an associated person because of their behaviour towards you.

Parental responsibility gives someone the responsibility for taking all the important decisions in a child’s life, for example, education, religion and medical care.

Parental responsibility also gives a parent the responsibility for taking all the day-to-day decisions, for example, nutrition, recreation and outings.

A Petition is a form that is completed by the Petitioner to commence divorce proceedings.

A Petition sets out basic information about each party to the marriage and it sets out the reasons for the divorce

The Petitioner is the person who starts the divorce or dissolution proceedings.

The Petitioner has to complete most of the paperwork throughout the divorce but is also in control of most of the timings.

A Prohibited Steps Order means an order that no step(s) which could be taken by a parent in meeting their parental responsibility for a child, and which is of a kind specified in the order, shall be taken by any person without the consent of court.  – Source: Section 8 Children Act 1989.

For example, you might have applied to court for a Prohibited Steps Order to say the opponent can’t remove the child from your care or from the country.

The Respondent is the party in court proceedings who did not start those proceedings but is just responding to the application/petition.

An Undertaking is a solemn promise given to the court to do or not do something e.g. the opponent might have given an Undertaking to the court not to try to contact you or intimidate you.

Undertakings are set out in writing and signed by the person giving the undertaking.

The Court will explain the undertaking to that person first so that they understand it.

Breach of an Undertaking is very serious and can result in imprisonment.

Cunningtons LLP: Specialist Family Lawyers

Cunningtons LLP has a specialist Family Law Department based at its offices in Braintree, Wickford and Chelmsford.

Our team of Family Law solicitors has significant expertise in Family Law and Children Law and we are all members of Resolution. In other words, we are experts at what we do, so you can be sure that the advice you receive is accurate and realistic.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are common questions we get asked about family and matrimonial law.

If you cannot find the answer here, please contact us for an answer.


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There’s a lot of jargon involved in the world of Family Law, so we have put together a glossary of the most common terms, with explanations.

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