Family Law Terminology explained

Family Law terminology explained

family law terminology explained


For a marriage to be considered valid the couple must have complied with the legal requirements of the jurisdiction in which the marriage took place.

Annulment (Civil)

Annulment means that a valid marriage did not take place.


A couple is legally separated when either of the following two things has happened: 1. They have signed a legally-binding separation agreement, or 2. The Court has made an Order declaring that they are now separated


Means that a marriage is now at an end and that a couple are no longer married and each ex-spouse is free to remarry. To obtain a divorce a couple must have lived separate and apart for four of the previous five years.

Assets of the couple

Includes everything owned by the parties at the time of separation e.g. houses including residences and holiday home(s), money, land, businesses, shares, share options, pension entitlements, vehicles etc.

Dependent Children

A child is considered dependent within the meaning of the Family Law Acts up to the age of 18 years, or, if they are in full-time education, 23 years.

Custody (of children)

Custody is a legal term describing the care and control of the child.

Guardianship (of children)

Guardianship implies the right to be consulted on all aspects of the education and well-being of the child.

Joint custody and guardianship

In a situation of separation a married couple, as of right, have joint custody and guardianship unless a court otherwise orders.

Unmarried fathers, custody and guardianship

Unmarried fathers do not have an automatic right to either custody or guardianship, however, the parties may agree joint custody and /or guardianship or an order may be made by the Court.

Primary Residence and Access

Generally speaking the child(ren) reside(s) primarily with one parent and the other parent is granted access. Primary residence and access may be agreed between the parties themselves or an order may be made by the Court.

Maintenance: spousal and child

Maintenance refers to financial support whether direct or indirect paid by one spouse / parent to the other  spouse / parent either for the benefit of that spouse (spousal maintenance) or of the dependent children (child maintenance).

Pension Adjustment Order

This is in order made by the Court directing that a specified portion of one of the separating spouses / partners pension be given to the other spouse / partner. A Court Order is necessary in this situation since the trustees of a pension fund are not bound by any arrangement between the parties even if it is in the form of a legally binding separation agreement.

Terms of Settlement

Terms of Settlement are the terms agreed between the parties where Court proceedings have been initiated and the terms are ruled by the Court and incorporated into Orders. The terms however are agreed by the parties themselves.

Separation Agreement

This is a document in which parties agree the terms of separation. It is legally binding. Parties are validly separated by agreement.  In the event that one of the party does not adhere to the terms of the separation agreement, the other party can bring an application to the Court. A separation agreement however can not bind Trustees of a pension fund in relation to dividing or adjusting the pension and when there are pensions