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Family Law Terms Glossary

Family issues are tough enough to tackle, especially when it feels like the words and phrases being used are going over your head. Have a look through this helpful glossary and find out just what all that jargon means.

Cafcass (Children and family court advisory and support service)

Cafcass helps children going through care proceedings by appointing a guardian to represent the rights and interests of the child. The children’s guardian will work alongside a social worker, talking to the child, the parents and sometimes relatives, to assess the case and to ascertain what can be done to ensure the child’s safety. Cafcass also give advice and recommendations to judges to aid them in making a decision that is in the best interest of the child.

Civil Partnership

A civil partnership is a legally recognised relationship for same-sex couples.

Cohabitation Agreement

A couple living together can have their relationship legally recognised by drafting a cohabitation (or living together) agreement. Such a document can formalise the couple’s rights and responsibilities towards each other, and make things more clear cut in the event of the relationship coming to an end.

Decree Absolute

This is the document that officially ends a marriage.

Decree Nisi

A decree nisi is a document which certifies that the court sees no reason why you cannot divorce from your partner.

Deed of Separation

A deed of separation, also known as a separation agreement, is a legal document signed by a couple who have split but are not yet ready to commit to getting divorced. For couples who live apart, it clarifies the legal status of the relationship by recording any agreements that have been made with regards to money, property and arrangements for children. Drawing up a deed of separation when a couple parts ways can save going to court later.


Desertion can be used as the basis for a divorce if your spouse has left you without your agreement and without good reason, leaving you deserted for at least two years out of the last two and a half years.


If you want to end your marriage on a ‘no fault’ basis, in other words neither spouse is responsible for the marriage ending, then you can do so through a dissolution. Both parties must agree on all arrangements such as division of property and payment of bills before filing for a dissolution petition with the court.

Dissolution Order

The process of ending a civil partnership is known as dissolution and you must apply for a dissolution order in order to end the partnership.

DVPO (domestic violence protection orders)

These orders can ban the perpetrator from returning to the residence of the victim or making contact with them.

DVDS (domestic violence disclosure scheme)

The legal right to ask the police whether your partner has a history of domestic violence.

Matrimonial Assets

Matrimonial assets are assets which have been bought by both partners. During a divorce proceeding the Court will decide how these assets are distributed between each spouse but these will usually be distributed equally. Whereas non-matrimonial assets are those which either spouse owned solely before entering into the marriage or were given during the marriage. Non-matrimonial assets are not usually shared equally.

Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility is the rights and responsibilities that a parent has for providing for the welfare and care of their children and making decisions on behalf of the child such as deciding on their upbringing and property.

Pre-nuptial Agreement

A pre-nuptial agreement, or prenup, is a contract made before marriage to protect the assets of each person in the result of a divorce. These agreements are not legally binding and cannot override a Court’s ability to determine how assets should be divided when there is a divorce, but they do show the Court what the couple’s intentions were.

Special Guardianship Orders

A special guardianship order gives the guardian of the child parental responsibility until the child is 18, and unlike adoption orders, does not take away parental responsibility from the birth parents. However, the guardian(s) only has to consult with birth parents in extreme conditions.