Legal Jargon Buster

At Linnitts Solicitors we pride ourselves on giving advice in plain English. It is often the case, however, that other lawyers and the courts use legal terminology. This section is intended to provide a simple definition for each of the documents you may come across within your case.

Acknowledgement of Service

This is a form sent to the Respondent by the court when divorce proceedings are started. The Respondent must fill in the form and return it to the court within 7 days of receiving it. The purpose of the form is to inform the court whether the Respondent received the divorce papers, whether he or she intends to defend the proceedings and whether he or she objects to paying the Petitioner’s legal costs.


An Affidavit is a written statement sworn on oath. In the case of divorce proceedings, the purpose of filing an Affidavit is to inform the court that everything in your divorce petition remains true and accurate. You may swear the Affidavit at court free of charge or in the presence of an independent solicitor who will usually charge you a fee of around £5 per Affidavit and £2 per exhibit (document) attached.


CAFCASS is the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. CAFCASS officers are independent social workers instructed by the court to prepare reports regarding the children. It is the CAFCASS officer’s role to make recommendations to the Judge concerning the arrangements that he or she consider to be in the best interests of the child. The CAFCASS officer will often meet with the child’s teachers, GP and various other professionals when conducting his or her investigations. The Judge will, in most circumstances, follow the recommendations of the CAFCASS officer when making his final decision.

Civil Partnership

This is the equivalent of marriage for same sex couples and gives them the same legal rights.

Consent Order

If the parties agree a financial settlement within divorce proceedings this should be incorporated into a legal document to ensure that it remains legally binding on both parties. This document is known as a Consent Order. It should be drafted by a lawyer, signed by both parties (after the taking of full legal advice) and then submitted to the court for approval by a Judge. It is unlikely that either party will be required to attend court and this is usually a paperwork exercise. Even if there are no assets of the marriage, it is advisable to enter into a “clean break consent order” to ensure that your former spouse cannot make a financial claim against you in the future, for example, if you inherit.

Contact Order

This order will specify how often the non-resident parent can contact or see the children. Such orders may be undefined, i.e. simply referring to “reasonable contact”. Alternatively contact orders may be defined, containing other provisions such as for ‘staying contact’, which allows for the children to stay with the other parent at regular overnight intervals or such orders may allow only telephone calls and letters, depending upon the circumstances.

Contested Divorce

This applies where one party to divorce proceedings, or the court, does not accept the grounds for a divorce.

Decree Nisi

After considering the divorce papers following receipt of the petitioner’s affidavit the Judge will, in almost all circumstances, send us a Certificate to say that your divorce will be granted. The Judge will fix a date for the Decree Nisi to be pronounced. It will be open to the petitioner to apply for decree nisi to be absolute, i.e. for the divorce to be finalised 6 weeks and 1 day after the decree nisi is pronounced in court.

Decree Absolute

This is the dissolution of the marriage and constitutes the end of the legal contract between husband and wife. Once this has been granted, your marriage has been dissolved and you are legally single.

Directions for Trial

This is a document sent to the court by the Petitioner within divorce proceedings (together with an Affidavit and the Respondent’s signed Acknowledgement of Service form) requesting that the Judge consider the papers and grant Decree Nisi.


Divorce is the legal process for ending a marriage. The divorce itself does not include settling finances or arrangements for any children of the marriage.


Domicile is a legal point which takes into account where a person was born, where they are living now and where they plan to live. It is relevant in considering in which country you should apply for divorce.

Habitual Residence

This refers to a person’s usual place of residence; the place with which they have a firm and established connection. It is normally based on evidence of a reasonably long-term stay in that country, together with other evidence of the individual's personal and professional life to demonstrate the continuity of the connection between that person and the place of residence.


Marriage is a legal contract between a husband and a wife. It creates the concept of joint assets and liabilities.


This is an option for couples unable to reach agreements concerning their children and finances. A mediator assists the husband and wife in discussions of these topics. Any agreement reached at mediation is not legally binding and should therefore be incorporated into a Consent Order if divorce proceedings have been issued, or a Separation Agreement if they have not.

Parental Responsibility

This refers to the established rights and responsibilities a parent has for his or her child before, during and after the divorce proceedings.

Divorce Petition

This is the main document in divorce proceedings. It contains factual details, such as the parties’ full names and addresses, the date and place of marriage, children’s names and dates of birth, together with brief details of why the marriage broke down. The document also contains a request for the court to dissolve the marriage, and may also contain financial claims. It is therefore extremely important that you seek legal advice upon the contents of the divorce petition..


The party who files the petition at court is known as the Petitioner. This will be you, if you are bringing the divorce.

Prenuptial Agreement

A prenuptial agreement is a document in which a couple set out how their property, debts, income and other assets shall be divided should they get divorced in the future.

Prohibited Steps Order

This is a court order prohibiting certain actions of either or both parents in connection with the upbringing of their children, such as moving out of the country or changing a child’s surname.

Residence Order

This is a court order specifying with whom a child is to live.


The respondent is the other party in the divorce. This will be you if your partner is the one filing for divorce.

Separation Agreement

This is for married and unmarried couples who intend to separate and want a legal document drawn up to confirm arrangements for their finances.

Uncontested divorce

This applies where you and your spouse have agreed to obtain a divorce. It assumes that the other party does not formally object to the divorce and that the Court accepts the grounds for divorce without question (which is normally the case).

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