Your Guide to Legal Jargon in Divorce from A-L


date published

19th August 2019

written by

Emma Heptonstall Image

date published

19th August 2019

Your Guide to Legal Jargon in Divorce from A-L

Your Guide to Legal Jargon in Divorce from A-L is the first in a two-part series  to support your divorce journey. Legal jargon is often intimidating, keeping you from taking action. Spend some time understanding the legal language of divorce for confidence and ability to navigate divorce on your terms.

In this blog Your Guide to Legal Jargon in Divorce from A-L, I go through some common terms (legal jargon or legalese) and explain what they mean in Plain English. The second half of the alphabet is coming up soon!


Arbitration is a form of dispute resolution. You and your soon-to-ex-husband appoint an impartial Arbitrator. An Arbitrator’s job is to make a decision for you.  The Arbitrator applies the law of England and Wales without the need to go through the court process. You can use arbitration for matters such as finance and child maintenance. Arbitration isn’t used for the divorce process itself. Find out more about family arbitration at IFLA.

Collaborative Law

Collaborative law is a process in which you and your soon-to-be-ex-husband both appoint collaboratively trained lawyers. After an initial discussion with your lawyer, you have a four-way meeting, with the aim of working out an agreement without going to court. The process takes place over a number of meetings so that you can discuss and resolve your concerns together. It is often cheaper and less inflammatory than the court process. Find a collaborative lawyer who is a Resolution member. 

First Directions Appointment (FDA)

The FDA is the first court hearing relating to financial proceedings. Read more about the Financial Remedy hearings in the post Financial Remedy Hearings on Divorce. You will have exchanged all of the relevant documentation, such as the Form E and Questionnaires with your husband before the hearing. The judge reviews the documents and sets out the issues and directions for progressing the case. If the case is straightforward, the FDA may also serve as a FDRH (see below).

Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing (FDRH)

The FDRH is when you and your soon-to-be-ex-husband negotiate a financial settlement with the assistance of a judge. This hearing takes into account all the information set out at the FDA and any additional information ordered by the judge. The aim is for the parties to agree at a FDR hearing, rather than the judge make the decision. The judge will express their opinion and provide views on what decisions might be taken by the judge at the final hearing, if agreement is not possible.

Final Hearing

Only 9% of cases end up in a final hearing. There will be a new judge who won’t have seen or heard any of the discussions from the FDRH. You will be required to give evidence under oath, and you will be cross-examined by the lawyer for your soon-to-be-ex-husband. The judge may also ask you questions. Either you, or your lawyer will cross-examine your husband. The judge may give you their decision on the day or serve judgement and let you know the outcome on a future date. The decision is binding.

Heads of Agreement

In family law the term ‘Heads of Agreement’ relates to the negotiations for settlement at court. Once these are agreed they are shown to the judge to approve subject to full drafting of the Consent Order. They are binding on the parties. It is evidence that agreement was reached. A party attempting to renege on this would be required to ‘show cause’ as to why the agreement should not stand and an order be made.

Legal Services Order (LSO)

If you cannot fund your own legal fees because you do not have access to money, you may apply to the court for a Legal Services Order. This effectively means that your soon-to-be-ex-husband will pay your legal costs if the order is granted. Your husband will only be subject to a LSO if you can establish that you cannot fund the litigation through getting your own funding, through a loan for example (two refusals are standard). Your solicitor will also confirm that they are not able to represent you upfront for little or no payment pending the settlement. Funding is usually time limited and reviewable by the court. It will also be based on your soon-to-be-ex-husband’s ability to pay. You should seek legal advice if you think that an application should be made. 

Liberty to Apply

‘Liberty to Apply’ is a phrase included in a consent order, which empowers you to apply back to the court if you need assistance implementing or enforcing the order. For example, if a house sale was ordered within a particular timeframe but circumstances have made that difficult, you could return to court to enlist a judge’s assistance in resolving the issue. It does not allow you to change the substantive nature of the order – for that you would need to appeal.

I hope that helps cut through some of the legalese! If you want me on your team as you progress your divorce, whether you’re just starting to think about it or whether you’re in the thick of court proceedings, I’m here to help.

Message me to book in a chat.

The Divorce Alchemist

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a practising family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self study and group programmes. Emma is featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit


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