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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

New family procedure rules are a victory for plain English

Ask many people what is the worst thing about the legal profession and they may well say “the jargon”. They may well say many other, less polite, things as well perhaps, but the language used in many aspects of our work lurches from arcane to ridiculous. Sensible, succinct and clear definitions can be difficult to find.

However, I am hoping that a tide of change may be starting with the New Family Procedure Rules 2010 that come into force on April 6. They provide for a new code of procedure for family proceedings in the High Court, county courts and magistrates courts and replace the existing Family Proceedings Rules 1991 and all other rules in so far as they relate to family proceedings.

The extent of the changes remains unknown to most outside of the profession, perhaps because they have been totally eclipsed by the mediation (ADR) issue. The news stories recently about couples being forced to use mediation rather than use courts automatically to reach a settlement are encompassed in the changes and that is what has been getting the headlines. However, beyond this is a wealth of other changes, many of them subtle and most just pertinent to lawyers. I believe though that it is a step towards making the language we use clearer.

A few examples:

  • “Decrees of divorce” or “dissolution orders” (civil partnership) become “matrimonial orders” or “civil partnership orders”.
  • “Ancillary relief” becomes an application for a “financial order”.
  • You will make an “application” for divorce rather than file a “petition”.

The new rules take up almost 300 pages and amount to a single and consolidated set of rules as opposed to the scattergun approach seemingly adopted to date.

I am delighted with this direction of travel though. More transparency about the legal profession is needed, I believe, and that is very simply achieved in the language we use. Plain English is the way forward and one of the founding pillars on which I established Woolley & Co in 1996.

I am duty bound to raise one issue though: did we really need to wait for an official change in language to alter the phraseology we use with clients? We certainly don’t think so and have spent the last 15 years simplifying the language and cutting out jargon to ensure our clients are clear about the process and what is happening. I am hoping that these official changes will mean solicitors across the profession drop the jargon – but I fear not.

Andrew Woolley
Family Solicitor


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