Legal divorce terms can be confusing. Holland Family Law’s divorce glossary will help you to make sense of divorce jargon, with bite size explanations that are easy to understand and accessible. If you’re unsure about any legal terms to do with divorce and separation, refer to our divorce glossary series.


Legal divorce terms - a divorce glossary.

Divorce legal terms explained.

  • Petition: The document used to start divorce or judicial separation* proceedings in which the petitioner** must state that a marriage has broken down irretrievably for one of five reasons.
  • Adultery: A consensual sexual relationship entered into by a married individual with a person that is not their spouse.
  • Unreasonable Behaviour: A term meaning that a respondent*** has behaved in such a way during marriage that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to continue living with the respondent. This can apply to a broad range of behaviour.
  • Desertion: A separation period during marriage of 2 years, to which one party of the marriage did not consent.
  • Separation: A period of two years before being eligible to apply for a divorce petition – if both parties agree to divorce. The separation period extends to five years if one party does not agree to the divorce.
  • Acknowledgement of Service: A form issued to a respondent, and any named co-respondents, which accompanies the petition. A respondent is required to return an Acknowledgement of Service to the Court, informing them of receipt and whether the divorce will be contested.
  • Answer: Formal notification of a respondent’s intention to contest the allegations made in a petition
  • Application for Decree Nisi: A judge will review divorce papers and certify that there are grounds for divorce, specifying that a marriage can be dissolved unless sufficient cause can be demonstrated to the contrary within six weeks and one day of the Decree Nisi. The judge can also issue an Order outlining that the respondent should pay the petitioner’s costs in relation to the divorce proceedings.


Separation Legal Terms Explained.

Separation legal terms explained.

  • Separation Agreement: A document outlining the terms agreed by a separating couple, often prior to divorce being considered. A separation agreement will usually be upheld by the Court once divorce proceedings commence if both parties have entered into the agreement voluntarily, been open and frank about their financial circumstances and have both had independent legal advice.
  • *Judicial Separation: A Court sanctioned, formal separation that will enable the court to issue orders about money and assets – such as property.

Legal divorce terms for people involved

Making Sense of Legal Divorce Terms

A family court judge handles divorce cases.

  • **Petitioner: The person who files for divorce, the dissolution of a civil partnership or a judicial separation
  • ***Respondent: The spouse served with notice of a petitioner’s intent to divorce, dissolve a civil partnership or start judicial separation proceedings.
  • Co-respondent: The individual(s) with whom a respondent is alleged to have committed adultery. Please note… UK divorce law no longer requires a person to be named as a co-respondent during divorce proceedings.
  • District Judge: A family Court judge assigned to handle divorce cases, including financial matters and child arrangements.

The end of a marriage

A certificate of divorce or decree absolute.

A decree absolute marks the end of your marriage.

  • Decree Nisi: A provisional order specifying that the grounds for divorce have been established and the Court is satisfied with those grounds.
  • Decree Absolute: The document that brings divorce proceedings and marriage to an end by final order of the Court.

Need a more detailed explanation of legal divorce terms?

Talk to Holland Family Law’s team of specialist divorce lawyers. For help understanding divorce jargon and support with your case, call 0116 436 2170 in the strictest confidence or use our online contact form to request a call back.