Divorce Glossary

At Birketts we aim to make the process as straightforward as possible. To assist you a glossary of divorce terms has been put together.

Divorce Glossary

Considering or going through a divorce is a distressing time for many people. At Birketts we aim to make the process as straightforward as possible. To assist you a glossary of divorce terms has been put together.


The individual who applies to the court for a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership.


The individual upon whom the divorce/dissolution proceedings are served.


A person with whom the Respondent is alleged to have committed adultery. It should be noted that the law no longer requires a third party to be named as a Co-Respondent in the divorce proceedings.

District Judge

A Family Court Judge who reviews the divorce papers and decides whether the parties have met the legal threshold for obtaining a divorce.

One year bar

In England and Wales the parties must have been married for a minimum of 12 months before they are able to obtain a divorce.

Separation Agreement

A document setting out the terms agreed between the parties usually before divorce proceedings are issued. These agreements are often used if parties do not currently qualify for a divorce (i.e. the one year bar applies – see above), or alternatively they want to delay the proceedings for a period of time.

Divorce Petition

The document which is filed with the Family Court in order to commence divorce proceedings. The petition must provide that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, which is established using one of the five currently recognised reasons:

  1. adultery
  2. unreasonable behaviour
  3. desertion
  4. two years separation with the other parties’ consent to divorce
  5. five years separation without the other parties’ consent to divorce.

Unreasonable behaviour allegation

The Respondent has behaved in such a way that the Petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the Respondent. It should be noted that this can cover a very wide range of behaviour.

Desertion allegation

Two years desertion to which the Petitioner did not consent. This is very rare as the petitioner must not know where the respondent can be located and has taken all reasonable steps to find them. Usually they do.

Separation allegation

Two years separation if both parties agree to a divorce, or five years if one party does not agree to a divorce. As long as any reconciliation has not been for more than six months, shorter periods where the parties have tried to reconcile can be added back to establish when two or five years have passed.

Acknowledgement of Service

The form that the court sends to the Respondent (and named Co-Respondents) upon issuing the divorce petition. The Respondent completes and returns this form to the court in order to confirm that the divorce papers have been received, and to clarify whether they intend to defend the divorce.


The document which is filed with the court in order to provide a formal defence to the divorce petition.

Decree Nisi

The provisional order indicating that the court is satisfied that the grounds for divorce have been established – it does not however dissolve your marriage. It is also just before this stage that a Judge will make any orders that the respondent should pay the petitioner’s legal fees in pursing the divorce.


Legal fees which one party is trying to get the other party to pay.

Conditional Order

A declaration from the court confirming that you are entitled to dissolve your Civil Partnership. It is the first of two stages to getting your civil partnership dissolved – the second stage is getting a final order (see below).

Decree Absolute

The final order which formally brings your marriage to an end. Both parties are then free to remarry should they wish to do so.

Final Order

The order from the court declaring that your civil partnership has formally been dissolved.

Extremely empathetic and client orientated thus ensuring that difficult situations were made understandable.

Legal 500 [UK 2022]