Friday, 19 October 2012

How to translate a divorce petition? Basic terminology of divorce proceedings in translation.

English legal terminology differs across each type of the area of law. Therefore, we may find diverse terms for the same notion e.g. in tort law and in family law. Equally, each area of law has its characteristic phrases and collocations. In this post, I will examine some of the terms, phrases and collocations used in divorce proceedings.

The Parties

In English law, the party who files a divorce petition is called a petitioner- in Polish rendered as powód (female: powódka). It is worth noting that Polish powód is also used in other civil cases and means claimant. Hence, while in English the term petitioner is reserved only for cases that involve filing a petition e.g. divorce or bankruptcy, its Polish translation is applied across all civil cases. Similarly, Polish pozwany (female: pozwana) refers to a defending party in all civil court cases, while its equivalent – respondent is used only in cases involving petition and in appeals.

The Marriage

It goes without saying that in order to get a divorce, a couple needs to be married. Undoubtedly, the marriage must be legal, and the collocation used in English law is lawfully married to... which should be translated as zawarł(a) związek malżeński z...  Note that the term ‘lawfully’ added to the English version to underline the legality of the marriage is omitted in Polish, since the very entrance into marriage already implies its lawfulness. Therefore, in the Polish Family and Guardianship Code (Kodeks Cywilny i Opiekuńczy) we find only zawarcie związku małżeństwa (entering into marriage).

The Divorce

When submitting a petition for a divorce, the petitioner claims that the marriage has broken down irretrievably which is rendered into nastąpił nieodrwacalny rozkład pożycia. Polish law goes further and tells about zupełny i trwały rozkład pożycia Article 56 (1) of the Family and Guardianship Code, where zupełny means complete, and trwały implies an irretrievable breakdown.

Having met the condition of the marriage being broken down irretrievably, the petitioner may ask the judge to dissolve the marriage, which translates into rozwiązać malżeństwo.


The prayer of a petition is a request to the court in relation to the decision, costs and ancillary relief. Translation of the term itself should not pose any problems, although there is still a room for error, as translators might be tempted to use a common term prośba, which denotes a general request, yet given that the context is strictly legal, żądanie is a much more appropriate equivalent. With reference to Article 187(1) of the (Polish) Civil Procedure Rules (Kodeks Postępowania Cywilnego), żądanie is one of the obligatory parts of the petition. It would not be a mistake to translate the term into treść pozwu (literally: main body/content of the divorce petition), as – in this context - the term is sometimes used interchangeably with żądanie.

Ancillary relief defined as “a court order incidental to another order or application”refers to a financial provision order or a property adjustment order. These two are treated separately in the Polish law, and hence there is no umbrella term for both. Having said that, for the purposes of rendering the ancillary relief term, translators can reach for zaopatrzenie małżonka, which is the closest equivalent, although not widely used by Polish solicitors. When it comes to the financial matters of a divorce, the two main issues a Polish decree will cover are obowiązek alimentacyjnymaintenance order and podział majątkudivision of joint property. The court has also jurisdiction to rule on sposobie korzystania z mieszkania - the use of the residence. When faced with the alimenty term, it is tempting to resort to a calque alimony, which is entirely appropriate if the target language is American English, yet if the translated document is for a British client, the equivalent to be applied here is maintenance. Strongly related to this term is another legal phrase found in a divorce petition, namely a maintenance pending suit – initially misleading, as one may concentrate on the ‘suit’ and consider ‘maintenance pending’ as determiners. On the contrary, ‘maintenance’ here is the main lexical unit and its determiners ‘pending suit’ mean (during/for the time of the suit). The closest equivalent in Polish is alimenty na czas trwania sprawy rozwodowej.
Legal terminology of divorce proceedings has its own specific terms and collocations. In order to render them appropriately into Polish, translators need to be familiar with the basic rules of the divorce proceedings both in English and Polish law.

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