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The journey through family law can be complex, especially if you're not familiar with the specific legal jargon often thrown around by lawyers. When you're dealing with family matters in a legal context, it is beneficial to grasp the important terms.

Whether you're actively part of family law proceedings, providing support to a family member, or simply curious, this guide will give you a foundation in understanding the basics of the family law process and shedding some light on how it operates.


Action: A dispute which ends up in legal proceedings in Court.

Adjournment: Delaying a Court hearing until a later date.

Adult child maintenance: A Court requirement to financially support a child of the relationship who is now an adult.

Affidavit: A statement setting out facts and history of the matter which is sworn or affirmed before a Justice of the Peace or a lawyer.

Applicant: A person who starts an action.

Application: The document which begins an action, filed by the applicant.

Barrister: A lawyer who speaks for people in Court and has extensive Court experience. They are often brought in at the trial stage but can be brought in earlier during complex cases. Commonly referred to as ‘Counsel’.

Child Impact Report: A Court ordered report where the parties and child/ren subject to proceedings (if appropriate) meet with a Court Child Expert who considers a range of issues such as children’s development, relationships and the presence of risk factors which then assists the Court to make decisions about how a case should be managed.

Child support: A payment made by one parent to the other to assist in the financial support of a child of the relationship. It is usually made through the Child Support Agency which calculates and collects the required payments.

Conciliation Conference: A Conference held by the Court with a Judicial Registrar to assist parties to settle their property settlement dispute.

Contempt of Court: A refusal to respect the Court’s authority, which may be punishable by fine or imprisonment.

Contested matter: An action where one party does not agree with all or part of the application of the other party.

Cross-examination: Questions asked in Court by the other party’s barrister in an action to test the truth of the evidence.

De facto relationship: A couple living together in a genuine domestic relationship. The Family Courts only have jurisdiction if the couple has lived together for at least two years, has a child from the relationship or in other exceptional circumstances.

Defended List: A list of actions waiting for a trial hearing.

Deponent: The formal name for a person who swears an Affidavit.

Disclosure: Otherwise referred to as a ‘duty of disclosure’ which requires all parties to a family law dispute to provide to the other party all information relevant to an issue in the case.

Dissolution of marriage: The formal end of a marriage.

Directions hearing: A procedural hearing that may occur where required to make orders or directions about a case.

Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL): An independent lawyer appointed to act in the child’s best interests where proceedings are on foot.

Injunction: An order made by the Court which forbids or commands a person to do something.

Interim Order: A short-term Order made by the Court which lasts until a further interim order is made or the Court makes a final decision.

Intervenor: An independent person who is not a party to the relationship but has some involvement in the matter.

Irretrievable breakdown of marriage: The only reason for a divorce being granted, upon the Court being satisfied the parties have been separated for at least twelve months and that there is no likelihood of a reconciliation.

Judgment: Decision of the judge about a dispute, together with their reasoning for the decision.

Judicial Registrar: An officer of the Court who generally presides over directions hearings and initial court events.

Justice of the Peace: A person who has formal authority to witness the swearing of Affidavits and other formal documents.

Lawyer: A person qualified to give advice directly to a client and help with legal problems. Can also be used as a general term for Barristers and Solicitors.

Litigation: Legal proceedings in Court.

Live/Living with: The parent with whom the child lives with predominantly. This has previously been referred to as ‘Custody’ and ‘Residence’.

Maintenance: Money paid by one person for the support of another person. It can be paid periodically (for example, weekly or monthly), in a lump sum or through adjustment of a property settlement in favour of one party. The Court use the terms spousal maintenance when payable to a spouse and adult child maintenance when payable to an adult child of the parties.

Mediation: A dispute resolution process where parties involved in a dispute are assisted by an independent third party known as a Mediator to help them to negotiate an agreement.

Mention: An appearance before a Judge, other than a full hearing where some attention is given by the Court to an application. It may be very brief, such as setting a date for the next mention or a hearing (or it may involve hearing of evidence and result in orders being made).

Nullity: A ‘marriage’ which the Court found was not a legal marriage.

Oath: The act of promising to the Court that what you are saying is the truth. The ramifications of making a false oath can be quite severe.

Parental responsibility: All the duties, powers, responsibilities, and authority that parents have, by law, in relation to their children concerning their long-term care and welfare. This is usually a shared responsibility between both parents. In certain circumstances the Court may choose to grant only one parent with sole parental responsibility. This has also been known as ‘Guardianship’.

Parenting Plan: A written record of an agreement reached between parents about the care arrangements for the children which is signed and dated. It should be noted that Parenting Plans are not legally enforceable documents.

Proceedings: Legal proceedings in Court.

Respondent: A person against whom an application for an action has been made.

Settlement: A final agreement recorded by way of a Consent Order or Binding Financial Agreement.

Spend time with: The parent with whom the child does not live with primarily but spends time with. This has previously been referred to as ‘Access’ and ‘Contact’.

Spouse: A general term for wife and husband or a party to a de facto relationship.

Subpoena: A Court summons to a witness to bring documents to Court or give evidence in Court on a certain date in a certain case.

Superannuation split: Taking a lump sum amount or percentage from one spouse’s superannuation entitlement and transferring it to the superannuation plan of the other.

Trial Affidavit: A Statement, sworn on oath or affirmed, containing all relevant facts that are necessary for the judge to determine the matter. The Affidavit is prepared a few weeks before the trial and the statements contained in the Affidavit are your evidence. The purpose is to inform the other of your position to avoid any surprise or “ambush” during the trial. It also serves to reduce the length of the trial.

Witness: A person who tells a Court what they know about a particular matter. In an action, each side asks people to be witnesses to help tell the Court what the facts are.

How can we help?

Mellor Olsson’s divorce and family lawyers understand the special needs of clients who are undergoing separation or divorce in South Australia. If you have a query regarding family legal advice, you can email [email protected] or call 8414 3400.