A Step-by-Step Guide to Divorce: Divorce Terms: A Starting Point

As with any area of the law, divorce has its own particular language and terminology. The emotional turmoil and financial and practical stresses that all too often accompany a relationship breakdown do not usually provide the ideal circumstances for learning this new language. This clear and easily referenced guide will hopefully prove a helpful starting point for anyone navigating the road to divorce.


Acknowledgement of service: The form that the petitioner must include with the divorce petition when this is sent to the respondent and any co-respondents. The respondent must return the form in order to acknowledge that they have received the petition. The respondent must also use the form to indicate whether they intend to defend the divorce. A defended divorce is likely to require the services of divorce lawyers in London or elsewhere.

Adultery: One of the permitted five reasons for the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. It must constitute a sexual relationship but it does not need to have occurred before the parties separated and it need not be the cause of the separation.

Answer: The defence to a divorce petition, disputing its allegations. If the respondent does not wish to defend the divorce, there is no requirement to submit an answer.

Barrister: A lawyer whose primary roles are to argue cases in court and to provide written opinions on the potential outcomes of a case. Barristers are sometimes also known as Counsel.

Co-respondent: A person with whom the respondent is alleged to have committed adultery.

Decree absolute: The court order that ends the marriage, freeing both parties to re-marry if they choose to do so.

Decree nisi: The court order that confirms that the court is satisfied that the parties have established grounds for divorce. By itself, a decree nisi does not dissolve the marriage.

Desertion: One of the five permitted grounds for divorce. It must constitute a minimum of two years’ separation to which one party did not consent.

District Judge: The type of judge who is most likely to deal with divorce proceedings in the Family Court. Specialist divorce solicitors in London and throughout the country are experienced at bringing proceedings before District Judges.

Divorce: The legal dissolution of a marriage by a court of law.

Family Court: The Family Division of the High Court, which has particular responsibility for dealing with family matters, including divorce.

Family law: The term used to describe the areas of law that affect the family and family relationships. This includes divorce.

Family law solicitors: Solicitors who focus on family law. Occasionally a firm’s entire focus may be family law. Usually, the solicitors at the firm will practise in a number of different legal areas.

Judicial separation: A court-sanctioned separation, which enables the court to make orders relating to finances and property.

Mediation: A process by which trained mediators attempt to help a couple reach an agreement on finances or children following their decision to separate or divorce. In this context, mediation is not an attempt at achieving reconciliation.

Men’s divorce lawyers: Solicitors or other legal practitioners who have a particular interest or focus in assisting men with matters relating to divorce.

Order: A direction from a court that is legally binding and enforceable.

Petition: The document used to apply for divorce or legal separation. It must state that the marriage has irretrievably broken down for one of the five reasons permitted by law.

Petitioner: The party to the marriage who applies for the divorce by issuing the petition.

Pre-nuptial agreement: An agreement entered into by the parties prior to their marriage. It has no legal force but a court may take its provisions into account when deciding how to apportion the assets of the divorcing couple.

Respondent: The party to the marriage who receives the divorce petition.

Separation: One of the five permitted grounds for divorce. If both parties agree to a divorce, the separation must be for a minimum of two years. If one party does not agree, it must be for a minimum of five years.

Separation agreement: A formal agreement setting out terms agreed between the parties prior to a divorce. There is no legal obligation to enter into a separation agreement but where one exists it will usually be upheld by the court in the form of a consent order.

Solicitor: A lawyer whose primary roles are to advise their client and prepare a case for court.

Unreasonable behaviour: One of the five permitted grounds for divorce. It is something of a catch-all category and can cover a wide variety of behaviours.