A legal dictionary can prove rather overwhelming, so the team at SCB Legal decided to create our own family law dictionary and in plain English. We always think about our clients, as well as prospective clients who are trying to be best informed about the law.
We are dedicated to simplifying the law for you.
While Google is a wonderful resource that helps you find and better understand many terms and in a variety of industries, the law is different. Australians are governed by the Westminster system of law, so it’s inaccurate reading legal terms and definitions that are about US law for example. Similarly, even in our own country, there exists both federal and state legislation. The definitions and application of the legislation may vary, based on the state or territory in which you live. Your individual circumstances will determine what laws apply to you. If you need advice, assistance or representation specific to your situation, contact us via email, via our online booking system or by calling one of our offices at Sydney CBD, Penrith or Norwest.
Another aspect that we’ve been told is difficult, is actually finding what you’re looking for. As is often the case, you know the area of the law to which the legal term applies. However, it’s often complicated remembering the phrase, which is necessary for you to do, in order to consult a legal glossary. We thought it was very important to address these issues. This is why we intend to better index the law by providing you with the terms and phrases arranged via area of the law and alphabetically.
The following list is always expanding based on your needs and recommendations. It will continue to evolve over time, so check back regularly to learn more family law terms and phrases as you need.
Looking for a word, phrase or family law abbreviation? Click on the letter it starts with, from the A-Z tab options.
Access The right to spend time with a child. Now more commonly referred to as ‘time with’ children.
Add-backs These are amounts of money or assets that one party says should not have been spent or disposed of. These assets or money may be added back by consent or the Court may determine “that they are to be added back and form part of the asset pool.”
Address for service
Adjustment/s Relates to financial separation and consideration of financial and non financial contributions of both parties to the relationship. Adjustments are made after taking into consideration what the law says is reasonable (often referred to as ‘just and equitable’).
Affidavit A written statement made under oath in the presence of a person authorised to witness it. Essentially it is a declaration that the person who has signed it is being truthful about the contents of the affidavit. An affidavit may be required in Court proceedings as proof or evidence. Lying in an affidavit is a criminal offence.
Alternative dispute resolution
Application For any matter that requires confirmation or finalisation from the Court, such as Divorce Orders (paperwork to confirm a divorce has been granted), Parenting Orders (finalisation of the terms of caring for children that comply with Family Law) or Property Orders, information needs to be submitted to the Court, which is known collectively as an application.
Application for Final Orders
Application In A Proceeding (formerly known as an Application in A Case) When there are already family law Court proceedings on foot, this is the application you need to complete and lodge if you are seeking Orders in the meantime. An example might be that you now need to travel overseas and the other parent does not agree or there is a risk to your children and you need to ask the Court to change the Orders or perhaps you need money urgently and you ask the Court to make an Order to sell some of the property. An affidavit must also be lodged in support of this application.
Arbitration A less commonly used form of dispute resolution in family law. An arbitrator is a registered FDRP (Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner) who has the same decision making powers as a Judge however the issues in dispute are heard in a private setting instead of in a Courtroom. This is an avenue that is often expensive but less time consuming and expensive than going through the Family Court system.
Assets In the context of family law and financial separation, assets are any property including cash, jewellery, vehicles, land and investments etc., belonging to one or both people who have been in a relationship.
Asset Pool The parties will need to work out what the net asset pool is in property/financial matters. This involves working out the value of the assets and the liabilities of the parties.
Balance Sheet A balance sheet is a document that sets out the assets and liabilities of the parties. It also sets out any superannuation and financial resources of the parties and any add-backs. Each party will need to set out their values for each asset and liability. The values may be agreed upon or they may be disputed.
Barrister In complex family law matters that go to Court, a barrister is engaged as an expert to argue for and represent a person or people.
Binding Legally enforceable, typically in reference to a legal document that has been signed by relevant parties and filed successfully with the Court.
Binding Child Support Agreement
Binding Financial Agreement (BFA) A legal agreement about financial arrangements between partners.
Best Interests of a Child This phrase is used often and relates specifically to a section of family law relating to a child’s need to have a meaningful relationship with both of their parents, provided they are safe to do so.
Certificate of Exemption A certificate issued when FDR is deemed inappropriate or unsuccessful, allowing parties to proceed to court.
Chain Of Custody Chain of custody is where a parent is required to undergo a urine drug test also known as urinalysis. The testing (urinalysis) is supervised. A certain time frame is usually stipulated and outlines when it must be completed, in order to be valid.
Child Abuse This is defined as being an assault against a child including physical and/or sexual assault, causing the child to be involved in sexual activity and/or causing serious psychological harm for example exposing the child to family violence. Therefore, for there to be a risk to the child, the child does not need to be subjected to family violence but may be exposed to it.
Child Court Expert A professional involved in interviewing family members to assess a family situation in more depth. A Child Court Expert considers the family’s circumstances and explores any issues relevant to the case. A series of interviews occur during this process and can span over the course of a few days. Interviews are conducted with all parties and may also be conducted with any other significant people, such as new partners, grandparents or siblings.The information is then prepared into a ‘Family Report’ to assist the Court in making Orders for the children at the final hearing.
Child Impact Report (formerly known as a Child Inclusive Conference (CIC) A Child Impact Report is the process of the parents and children meeting with a Court Child Expert appointed by the Court. The first part of this process involves the Expert meeting with the parents and the second part involves the Court Child Expert meeting with the children. When meeting with the parents, the Expert will ask questions about the children, identify any family violence or any other risk. During the meeting with the children, the Court Child Expert may observe the children with their parents, may speak with the children together and separately and will ask the children about their experiences and their feelings. No child is forced to express their views or wishes. After the Court Child Expert speaks with the children, they may choose to speak with the parents again to discuss the children’s needs. The Expert will then prepare a short report (formerly known as a Memorandum) which will give the Court a better idea of what the issues in the case are and to assist the Court to make interim Orders.
Child Inclusive Mediation Mediation (dispute resolution avenue) that involves direct input or representation of the children’s perspectives.
Child Support Financial support paid by one parent to another to contribute to the costs of raising a child.
Collaborative Practice Where a separating couple both agree to keep their parenting or property matters out of the Court system and to get to an agreement. It is collaborative in that both people are present for discussions and other professionals are there to provide advice such as each person’s family lawyer and if helpful, financial advisors or child psychologists who can give advice to guide decision making.
Conciliation conference Where a matter involves property or finances, the Court will generally Order the parties to participate in a conciliation conference. This is similar to a mediation where the parties and their lawyers go before a Registrar and try to resolve their matter without having to go to hearing.
Consent Orders Consent Orders are when people have reached an agreement about their matter whether this involves children and/or property. Consent Orders can be made when there is a current Court matter or before the matter goes to Court. Consent Orders are a way to reduce the costs that you may incur if your matter continues at Court or if your matter commences at Court. This written document is then sent to the Court, to be approved. Once approved, the Consent Orders become Court Orders and are legally binding.
Contravention If there are Court Orders in place and these are not complied with, then this is considered a breach or contravention of the Orders.
Contravention Application If Court Orders are breached, you can file a contravention application for the breach. This must be a real and significant breach. For example, one parent keeping the child/children. The Court will then review the evidence, hear submissions and make a decision about whether a person has breached the Orders. The Court may also sentence the person including Ordering make-up time, making the parent do a course or issuing a fine. The Court also has the power to vary the Orders if there has been a breach. You should always try to resolve the breach before going to Court. In most cases, you may be required to attend mediation before you can go to Court.
Contributions In property/financial matters, the Court will look at the contributions made by each of the parties when determining what the division of property should be. Contributions include financial contributions, non-financial contributions and homemaker contributions. Financial contributions can include the amount of money each party has paid to purchase property, pay the bills or renovations on the property whereas non-financial contributions may include doing your own renovations or improvements to increase the value of the assets, and homemaker contributions including caring for the children, cooking or cleaning.
Court Orders / Court Imposed Orders Orders are instructions made by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia that those named in the Order must follow. These orders may be in relation to the care of children or financial arrangements (amongst others) and may be temporary (known as Interlocutory Orders) or Final Orders.
Custody While not a term you’ll hear used in the Court any longer, it’s still used colloquially. Custody refers to Court Orders that detail the person or people who have a legal right to make decisions about a child’s care and living arrangements. See ‘Shared Care Arrangements’.
De Facto Relationship A relationship akin to marriage but without formal marriage.
Defined Benefit Superannuation
Determination of Parentage Where there are disputes about the paternity of a child, a determination of parentage may be desired or required, particularly where child support is in question. A Court Order may require a person to take a DNA test to assist in determining if someone is the biological parent of a child or children.
Dispute Where there is an inability for people who are separated to come to an agreement. Commonly disputes arise about how they will divide their assets and liabilities and/or share the care of any children from the relationship.
Dispute Resolution Conference
Divorce A process to legally end a marriage. A divorce can only be applied for 1 year and 1 day after the date of separation.
Enforcement (of Court Orders) Where someone has breached the terms of a formal agreement (Consent Orders) or Court imposed Orders and actions are taken to force the terms of the agreement to be followed or face consequences such as paying of other parties legal fees.
Entitlements Actions that are allowed or must be taken in relation to family law matters.
Equal Shared Parental Responsibility Equal shared parental responsibility is where both parents must come to an agreement about the major decisions affecting a child. One parent cannot and should not make these decisions without discussing these matters with the other parent and getting their consent. For example, if one parent wants to enrol the child into a particular school, they cannot do this without the consent of the other parent.
When family law Court proceedings are commenced, there is a presumption of equal shared parental responsibility. This presumption is rebutted if it is not in the child’s best interests for both parents to have equal shared parental responsibility. For example, there may have been child abuse or family violence (whether directly against the child or exposed to the child).
Expert Report Where your matter involves complex issues including issues of mental illnesses and/or lack of parenting capacity, it may be best that an expert report be ordered. This is where the parties (and potentially the children) have an interview with a professional (this might be a psychologist/psychiatrist). This expert reviews all of the evidence before the Court including subpoena material and based on that information and the information received during the interviews and the observations at the interviews, the expert writes a report. In this report, the expert provides the Court with their opinion about the issues in dispute and what Orders the Court should make.
Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) This may also be known as mediation. This is where the parties and sometimes their lawyers come together with an independent person (known as a family dispute resolution practitioner or a mediator) to try and resolve the matter. Where the dispute involves children, it is a requirement for the parties to attend FDR/mediation before commencing Court proceedings. Sometimes, even after the matter is in Court, the parties may be required to engage in mediation. This could be private mediation, legal aid mediation or Court mediation.
Family Law Act 1975 The law governing all family law matters in Australia.
Family Law Watchlist (Formerly Known As The Airport Watchlist) If you have concerns about a parent taking the children out of Australia then you will need to make an application for the children to be placed on the airport watchlist. Once the application has been made and the children’s names are on the watchlist, this will be sent to the Australian Federal Police who are responsible for ensuring that the children do not leave Australia. This includes by air or by seas. This will remain in place until an Order is made removing the children’s name.
Family Report A family report is not dissimilar to a Child Impact Report in that the parents and children usually meet with the family consultant and are interviewed. The family report is generally much more detailed than the Child Impact Report. The family consultant may interview people other than the parties for example the parties partners or parents or any other person involved in the care of the children. The family consultant may also make appointments for the children and the parent to be in the same room together. The consultant will generally observe the interactions between the children and the parent and these observations will form part of the report. The family consultant may contact other relevant people such as family therapists, counsellors, doctors or teachers. This may be to investigate and to substantiate what you say. The family consultant may also have access to the Court documents such as those subpoenaed by the parties. Once the interviews are complete and the family consultant has investigated all matters and are satisfied that they are in a position to prepare a report for the Court, the report will be written which will set out a history/background of the family, any issues in dispute, and risks to the children and any recommendations of what long term/final Orders should be made or how the matter should progress. The report will be provided to the Court and only after the Court makes Orders releasing the report, will the parties and/or their legal representatives have access to the report. Sometimes the family consultant will recommend that the parents should not personally see the report for example where there is a risk that a parent will become angered and harm another person. In this case, the Court may Order that the parents not have access to the report.
Family Report Writer Also known as a Child Court Expert. A professional engaged to interview family members to assess a family situation in more depth. The information is prepared into a ‘Family Report’ to assist the Court in making decisions about children.
Family Violence Family violence is defined in the laws dealing with family matters and involves any behaviour that has caused harm to another person or causes another person and/or their family to be scared about the other person causing harm to their safety/wellbeing or forces a person or their family to do certain things. This conduct may involve actual violence, threats of violence or coercive and/or controlling behaviour causing the person and/or their family to be fearful. Family violence can include violence between spouses/ex-spouses, against a child, between siblings or child abuse/neglect.
FDRP Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner. A professional trained to assist separating couples to resolve some or all of their disputes.
File The action of formally filing an application to the Family Court. It may be to start proceedings in the Family Court that may be short term (called Interlocutory Orders) or long term (known as Final Orders).
Financial Agreement A formal agreement that details how two people will share their assets and liabilities between them upon the end of the relationship. It is known as a prenup when before marriage but during a relationship or marriage, or upon the end of a relationship or marriage, can be drafted and when each person has sought independent legal advice and signed it, can be submitted to the Court to make it legally binding. It is then known as a BFA (Binding Financial Agreement).
Financial Contributions Monetary contributions made by each person in a relationship before and during a relationship to acquire, maintain and enhance assets or lifestyle. (See related Non-Financial Contributions)
Financial Disclosure In property proceedings, each party is required to give full and frank disclosure for up to three years. This includes bank statements, superannuation statements and other information about your assets and liabilities.
Financial Separation The process of financially separating from a de facto partner or spouse upon the end of a relationship that results in a Property Settlement (also known as a Financial Settlement).
Financial Statement Financial statements are one of the forms which may need to be lodged with the Court for property matters. This document identifies what you own and what debts you have.
Genuine Steps Certificate This is a document that must be lodged with any Initiating Application or Response to Initiating Application. The Genuine Steps Certificate confirms that you have made a genuine attempt to resolve the matter by complying with and following the steps required before starting Court. There are exemptions to complying with these pre-action steps including if it is not safe to do so or if the matter is urgent.
Impasse A point in a dispute where the parties cannot reach an agreement.
Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) A lawyer appointed to represent a child’s interests in court.
Interlocutory Orders Court Orders issued on a temporary basis, until a final decision is made by a Court.
Intervention Order A Court Order for protection in cases of family violence.
Joint Letter of Instructions Once parties have mutually agreed on an expert (for example, a property valuer for property or a psychologist for parenting), parties are to negotiate the terms on which they agree should be sent to that expert. This letter sets out the questions and information the parties want the expert to provide. This is called a joint letter of instructions.
Just (just and equitable)
Lawyer Assisted Mediation
Location Order When one parent has taken the children and you do not know where they are, you can ask the Court to make an Order to help you locate them. The Order will usually require Government bodies such as Centrelink, to track the location. You can ask for this Order when the parent has taken off with the children and you are also seeking a recovery Order or perhaps you have not seen the children in a while and you want to spend time with them but don’t know where they are.
Mediation A form of FDR where a neutral third party helps disputing parties reach an agreement.
Minutes Of Order Proposed Minutes of Order is where you give the other parties and the Court a document disclosing what Orders you are seeking at that particular time. This could be in the interim or on a final basis. Sometimes, people’s positions change as time progresses, which is why the Minutes of Order need to be done. This demonstrates your position at that point in time to the Court and the other parties. Minutes of Order can also be provided to the Court when the parties reach an agreement and they want the Court to make the Orders that they have agreed to.
Non Financial Contributions
Non Parent Carer Someone other than a parent who cares for a child.
Parentage Testing Where there is uncertainty as to who the parent/s are, it is vital that parentage testing be ordered. This involves DNA testing.
Parental Responsibility Parental responsibility relates to all major decisions that need to be made about a child including schooling, medical, health, religion etc.
Parenting Orders Also known as Court Orders that detail the arrangements about who is responsible for the day-to-day care of children.
Parenting Orders Program A court-ordered program providing FDR services for parenting disputes.
Parenting Plan A written agreement about parenting arrangements.
Party / Parties
Passport Order Where there are close family members overseas and there are children with passports, it is advisable to seek Orders for the Court to hold the passports of the children. This is actioned pending further Orders if you believe there is a risk that the parent may take the child/children out of the country and not return. If the children do not have a passport and one parent wants to be able to travel overseas, you can apply to the Court for an Order to be made allowing the parent to apply for a passport. If the other parent wants to travel overseas, it is recommended to seek travel Orders. Travel Orders generally involve the travelling parent having to give notice of their intention to travel overseas and to provide an itinerary and contact details as to where the child/children will be located.
Post Separation Advice Legal advice sought after separation from a de facto partner or spouse.
Pre Separation Advice Legal advice sought before separating from a de facto partner or spouse to ascertain best steps.
Prenup / Prenuptial Agreement
Property Settlement Division of property between separating couples.
Recovery Orders When one parent has taken the children and is withholding them without your consent, you can ask the Court to make an Order that the children be returned to your care. Recovery Orders are usually needed when the children are usually just spending time with the other parent or maybe the other parent has turned up to the house and taken the children without your consent. It is important to make an urgent application for the recovery of the children. The longer you wait the less likely the Court will make an Order returning the children to your care. This application is also available to grandparents and aunties/uncles or any other person that the children live with.
Registrar A registrar is also known as a Judicial Registrar and they assess family law matters that come before the Court and aim to resolve them before they have to go before a Judge in Court.
Relocation The process of determining whether to move a child’s residence, especially in shared care situations, will not meet the e (Description appears incomplete)
Respondent A person who is notified of an Application to the Court submitted by someone else in a matter that involves them.
Response To Initiating Application When you have been served with an Initiating Application, whether relating to children or property or both, you are required to lodge a Response to Initiating Application. Just like an Initiating Application, this document will set out the Orders that you want the Court to make. It is recommended that you lodge your Response to Initiating Application as soon as possible because there are time limits that apply. If you do not lodge / file a Response then the Court may determine your matter without any evidence from you. This is called hearing the matter on a Undefended basis.
Resolution Pathways See FDR (Family Dispute Resolution)
Section 60I Certificate A certificate issued under Section 60I of the Family Law Act, indicating that FDR was attempted or that an exemption applies. The certificate allows the matter to proceed to Court.
Separation One or both people in a relationship communicating an end to their de facto relationship or marriage.
Service To Be Dispensed With Order Where there is urgency, it may be a good idea to have service dispensed with. This means that you are asking the Court to make a decision as well as the Orders you want, without having to give the other party notice.
Shared Care Arrangements An arrangement where both parents have substantial involvement in a child’s life.
Shared Parental Responsibility
Shortlisted Order Where there is urgency in having the matter listed, you will need to seek permission from the Court for the matter to be shortlisted. This is where the matter is listed and heard at short notice.
Shuttle Mediation A form of mediation where parties are in separate rooms and the mediator moves between them.
Significant and Substantial Time Both parents are able to play an equal role in all aspects of the child’s life, including the day-to-day aspects, both difficult and fun aspects.
Sole Parental Responsibility Sole parental responsibility is when one parent is able to make all major decisions about a child’s welfare, safety and well-being without having to first consult the other parent and get their permission. That is, the parent that has sole parental responsibility does not need to obtain the consent from the other parent in relation to the child’s schooling, medical decisions, or religion nor does that parent even need to discuss these decision with the other parent unless there are Orders that the parent with sole parental responsibility needs to inform the other parent and obtain their views before making a final decision.
Spend Time With Spend time with Orders are Orders that define what time the parties will spend with the child/children. These Orders will also set out whether the time the parties spend with the children is to be supervised or unsupervised and whether the time will include overnight time and holiday time.
Spousal Maintenance If you were financially dependent upon your spouse, you may be entitled to claim spousal maintenance depending on your position. Spousal maintenance is where one person financially supports the other person even after separation.
Subpoena An Order from the Court that requires a person or organisation to provide evidence or records to the Court, in relation to a case.
Superannuation Splitting Dividing retirement benefits between separating couples.
Unacceptable Risk This occurs when there is a real and significant risk of harm to the children. For example, a parent using or exposing the children to abuse, family/domestic violence, drugs, alcohol or mental health issues may pose an unacceptable risk to the children. You need to demonstrate to the Court that there is an unacceptable risk to the child/children if they are allowed to see that parent unsupervised or even at all. You will be required to provide relevant evidence to prove this and show the Court why a risk to the children exists.
Undertaking This is a written promise to either do something or to not do something. For example, in family law matters you may sign an undertaking not to sell your property until the Court deals with your matter or perhaps it may be an agreement not to contact the other parent. In other matters, you might sign an undertaking to pay your previous lawyer’s their fees before you receive your money from your claim.
Valuation Report A Property Valuation Report may be required where the parties cannot agree on the value of their assets. The parties may agree or the Court may make Orders for a mutually agreed valuer to be appointed and to provide a valuation of the property/properties/assets in question. This is an avenue where there is a dispute as to the market value of the property/properties in question. Where there is a business, a valuation report may be required to determine the value of that business. This helps the parties and the Court determine the asset pool.
Variation When one or both parents wish to change the terms of Parenting Orders they may be able to request a variation (change) to the agreement if they can prove that there are significant changes that warrant the need.
Voice of the Child The concept or practice of considering the child’s views and preferences in the FDR process.