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Common Terms in Family Law

The following terms will be useful for your to know if you're going through a divorce, or if you're interested in reading this section of our website:

Access – an order for access is made when the applicant does not have legal custody, or care and control. An order for access basically refers to the terms of visitation which one parent can exercise in relation to the child of the family;

Ancillary relief applications – typically refers to applications made during the course of proceedings to claim an interest in the matrimonial assets, or property, or finances, or for spousal or child maintenance; 

Care and control – this is a term which refers to the responsibility of being a child’s daily caregiver; 

Children of the family – a really formal way of saying the children of the marriage between the Petitioner and Respondent;

Custody – this refers to the responsibility to provide for the child of the family’s care and control, such as the duty to provide food, shelter, medical care, education and discipline. Custody refers to legal or custodial rights over the child. It does not necessarily mean possession of the child, as explained in care and control;

Decree Absolute – The Decree Absolute is the final stage of divorce and once this Decree has been granted, the marriage has been formally dissolved;

Decree Nisi – This is the first divorce order that a Court will grant. It confirms that the Petitioner has met all the requirements to get divorced, that one of the grounds of divorce apply and that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. Until a Decree Absolute is granted, the parties to the marriage are still married.

Importantly, if you intend to claim financial relief, such as for spousal support, or child maintenance, or an interest in marital property or assets, the Decree Nisi must usually be granted before these applications can be made;

Divorce petition – this refers to the document that the Petitioner files in Court to start the divorce. It outlines the details of the marriage, such as, date and place of marriage, whether there are children or any other Court matters involving the marriage or children. You’re also required to give the Court details the arrangements decided for the children between yourself and your spouse, or whether there’s any dispute about these arrangements;

Maintenance – refers to the financial support which is paid to the applicant by their former spouse. Maintenance may be spousal maintenance or child maintenance;

Petitioner – this is the person who is responsible for starting divorce proceedings. They’re petitioning the Court to grant them a divorce. The Petitioner can be either the husband or the wife, it’s really down to who files for divorce;

Respondent – this is the person who receives and responds to the divorce petition. Like the Petitioner, the Respondent can be either the husband or the wife, it depends on who files for divorce; and

Statement of Arrangements – this is a document which is filed along with your divorce petition which outlines the arrangements which have been agreed with your former spouse, or which you want, for the custody, living and financial arrangements for your children.

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