Family Law Jargon Buster

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Divorce or separation is said to be the second most stressful event in a person’s life after the death of a spouse. If you and your ex husband/wife/partner cannot agree about the arrangements for your child(ren) and/or are not able to agree about your finances, the prospect of having to go to court to sort it out may seem very daunting and is probably adding to your stress levels.

This is why there are initiatives designed to resolve divorce and other family law proceedings without having to go to court, such as mediation and arbitration.

Recently, there has been a real effort to make court proceedings more accessible and to use plain language. In one case last year, when the judgment was to be read by a young person, an esteemed High Court Judge spoke in simple sentences and put in emojis. Family judges have come a long way from the cantankerous old men who quoted legal principles in Latin, peered over their half-moon glasses and asked “Who are the Beatles?”

Having said that, it does seem that of late quite a number of short-hand phrases and acronyms have crept into family law proceedings. So, if you are considering your legal options and researching how you are going to approach things, or are representing yourself, you may come across certain unfamiliar expressions. We have explained some of these below in an effort, we hope, to reduce your stress levels by just the teensiest bit.

Ancillary relief: the financial side of divorce

Contact order: an order setting out the arrangements for seeing a child; this is now called a child arrangements order (CAO) and the courts are supposed to make orders about spending time with a child, but they tend to slip back into using the expression contact because it is less long-winded

Custody order: an order that no longer exists which determines where a child lives (it is now called a child arrangements order (CAO))

Residence order: an order that no longer exists which determines where a child lives (it is now called a child arrangements order (CAO))

Private law children’s proceedings: disputes between family members about the arrangements for where a child lives and who they spend time with; the scheme is also known as the child arrangements programme (CAP)

Public law children’s proceedings: cases where social services are involved; this is a different scheme

CAFCASS: Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service; family court advisers that are independent of the parties and assist the court to resolve disputes by writing reports with recommendations

CAO: child arrangements order; an order about where a child lives and who they spend time with

CAP: the child arrangements programme

DRA: Dispute resolution appointment; a hearing in private law children’s proceedings when the court has before it all the statements and the report of the family court adviser and will see if arrangements can be agreed without having a final hearing

FDR: financial dispute resolution; a hearing in divorce cases when the court has before it information about the couple’s finances and will see if it can assist them towards reaching a financial settlement without having a final hearing

FHDRA: First hearing dispute resolution appointment; an initial hearing in private law children’s proceedings before any statements are ordered in which the judge and a family court adviser will see if arrangements can be agreed without taking the proceedings any further

MIAM: mediation information assessment meeting; this should take place before any private law proceedings are issued in non-urgent cases and identifies if mediation could be used to resolve a dispute

PSO: prohibited steps order; an order stopping somebody from doing something (eg removing a child from this country)

SPIP: separated parents’ information programme; a half day course which the court may direct the parents to participate in separately with the aim of helping them to improve the way they communicate over child arrangements

TOLATA: Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996; this concerns unmarried couples who own a home together and cannot agree about what should happen to it should they separate

Our experienced Mediation Team can help you to find a solution to family law disputes without legal proceedings. Another option if you do not want, or cannot afford, to instruct a solicitor is to consider contacting a direct access barrister to assist you for some or all of the process. Our Direct Access Barristers are skilled in negotiation and advocacy and can also help you to draft applications and statements.

If you would like to arrange mediation at our chambers in Chelmsford or learn more about our Direct Access service, you can call us on 01245 605040 or find further details on our contact page.

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