FNF Glossary of Legal Terms used in Family Courts

We have developed a glossary for the most commonly used legal terms in family courts.

Abduction - Child abduction is when a person takes or sends a child out of England or Wales without the permission of those with Parental Responsibility or the permission from the court. If a person has a Residence Order or a Child Arrangements Order for a child, they will not be acting unlawfully if the child is taken or sent out of England or Wales for less than four weeks without the appropriate consent.

Accommodated children - Parents may agree to having their child removed or ‘accommodated' by Children's Services under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, while an investigation and assessment is carried out.

Barrister - Barristers are legal professionals who specialize in courtroom advocacy, drafting legal pleadings, and giving expert legal opinions.

CAFCASS - Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. They provide recommendations to the Family Court when order by the court to do so.

Care Order - An order made within Care proceedings placing a child in the care of a Local Authority and giving it parental responsibility. Parental Responsibility is shared with the birth parents.

Care Proceedings - Care proceedings is when Social Services asks the Court to look at your child(ren)’s situation and decide if your child(ren) needs a legal order to protect them and keep them safe. Once proceedings are issued at Court the ultimate decision about where your child is placed is down to the Judge.

Child Arrangements Order - An Order setting out with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact; and when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person (not necessarily a parent).

Child Benefit – A universal benefit for all families with children. It is paid only to one parent from birth until they are 18 or 20 if in approved education or training. Payment is reduced if one parent earns more than £50k.

Child of the Family - A child who has been established as a member of the family, including adopted children and stepchildren.

Child Tax Credit - Designed to help with the raising of children. Only one family can get Child Tax Credit for each child. It is paid monthly by HMRC and is in no way linked to Child Benefit. You do not have to be employed to claim child tax credit. It is paid to one member of the family only.

Child Maintenance Service (CMS) - A Government organisation that ensure payment of child support.

CIN – Child in Need - This is a family meeting usually called by Social Services following their investigations to identify need, and agree the most effective inter-agency plan to meet those needs with measurable outcomes for the child identified within stated timescales. All agencies involved with your family including the child (where age appropriate) and parents and professionals will meet together to share information,

Child Support Agency (CSA) - The Government previous organisation that ensure payment of child support, now run by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

Children’s Guardian - An officer of CAFCASS (as explained above) is appointed by the court to represent children in care proceedings and in some circumstances private law proceedings.

CMS - See Child Maintenance Service

Conciliation - A meeting between the parents of a child and the CAFCASS representative/officer to discuss arrangements and solutions for the child. If parties cannot reach an agreement the Judge will make the final decision.

Contact Centre – A centre run by a charity or volunteers to enable parents to have safe parenting time with their children. These centres normally charge for their services. The contact arrangement can be ordered by a court, arranged by social services or CAFCASS and maybe supervised or unsupervised.

CSA - See Child Support Agency

Designated Safeguarding Lead – A member of staff appointed in all schools to overview and deal with all issues of safeguarding. Normally the first person to approach if you have concerns about your child.

Directions - An order from the Court that confirms the actions that must be taken before the next stage in the hearing. Sometimes directions cannot be complied with and the Court must be informed of this.

Disclosure and Barring Service - This is a check of your criminal record which will show details of all spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands, and final warnings held on central police records (apart from protected convictions and cautions). Employers will check this when engaging staff in sensitive occupations.

District Judge - A Judicial Official who will normally hear cases in the County Court

Deed Poll Documentation - Deed of change of name; a legal document that formally changes a name.

Emergency Protection Order - A short term order to remove a child from immediate risk of harm and allow the Local Authority to investigate. It lasts 8 days and can be extended for a further 7 days. The holder of this order would temporarily get Parental Responsibility for the child.

Exclusion order (child protection) - An order Children's Services can apply to the courts for, to have a person removed from the family home for a child's safety if there is an interim Care Order or Emergency Protection Order.

Fact Finding or Finding of Fact – Where there are disputed facts between the parties the magistrates/judge may order a special hearing where the evidence for and against the allegations is heard. The magistrates/judge will then decide whether they probably occurred or not. This decision will then be used to decide what is the best interests of your child.

Family Assistance Order - An order to provide assistance to parents following separation or divorce. A family assistance order will make a Cafcass officer available or will request a Local Authority to make one of its officers available in order to assist, advise and (where appropriate) befriend any person named in the order (Children Act 1989, s. 16(1).)

Family Court Advisor – this is the name given by CAFCASS to their social workers.

Family Court - The Court which deals with all family cases. Cases can be heard by a Circuit Judges, District Judges or Magistrates in either the County Court or the Magistrates’ Court.

First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) - This is the first court hearing where the court decides the best way to move forward. This hearing is usually and hour or so and the magistrate or judge will often order CAFCASS or your local Authority Social Worker to complete a Section 7 Report

Final Dispute Resolution Hearing (FDR) - The Final Hearing is the last hearing in your case. If an agreement cannot be reached, a Judge may need to make a decision in your case. This will involve hearing evidence from the parties and sometimes the Cafcass officer, there will be cross examinations and then the Judge will then make a decision based on what they consider to be in the child(ren)'s best interests.

Guardian - Person appointed to formally look after the interests of the child. This person is appointed to ascertain the child’s true views, support and give advice to the child whilst in court proceedings.

High Court - The highest tier of Court that deals with family law cases. Hearings take place in front of a very experienced Judge.

Hague Convention - The aims of the Hague Convention are:

- To secure the prompt return of children who have been wrongfully removed to or retained in a contracting state - i.e. to return the abducted child back to his or her place of residence.

- To ensure that rights of residence or contact under the law of one contracting state are effectively respected in other contracting states - i.e. to ensure contact and residence rights issued in one country are implemented and respected in another.

- To rely on the Hague Convention, the child must be under-16 and have been habitually resident in one state and taken to another. Both states need to have signed the Hague. Not all countries have.

Independent Social Worker – A social worker not employed by an agency such as the Local Authority, CAFCASS or a charity.

Injunction - An Order of the Court which highlights an action that is required or forbidden from one or both parties. For example, forbidding a person from contacting another party.

Interim Order - An Order put in place before a final Order is established. For example, an Interim Order placing the child in the care of the Local Authority within Care Proceedings (as above) until such time as a final decision is made.

Issuing - The process of stamping the initial document and paying the Court fee, when a formal application for an Order is presented at court, this commences the start of the proceedings. You will receive a sealed copy back from the Court of your Application.

Judicial Review - An application to the High Court to review the legality and validity of a decision by a public body. All other remedies must have been exhausted. The court will not look at the merits of the decision but will decide whether the body acted illegally, irrationally or improperly.

Kinship Care - Kinship care is an arrangement where a child who cannot be cared for by their parents goes to live with a relative or a family friend

Legal Aid - Legal Aid helps provide payment of legal costs funded by the Government. There are now a limited number of cases with Legal Aid is available (see separate article on that). Where a Local Authority has issued proceedings concerning children then Legal Aid is available. In cases where domestic violence has occurred legal aid is also available (subject to means test and sufficient evidence of violence).

Leave - Permission provided by the court for a person to make an application when they do not have an automatic right to do so.

Local authority - Overall Administrative Body for your geographic area.

Mediation - A process in which an independent third party will assist in negotiating an agreement

MIAM - Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. It is a short meeting conducted by a trained mediator who will assess whether mediation is appropriate in the circumstances. It is a requirement for a person to attend a MIAM before making certain types of applications to the Court (certain exemptions apply). For more information, please see our recent post 'Understanding the Mediation Intake Assessment Meeting'.

McKenzie Friend - A person can attend court proceedings with you to provide moral support, take notes, help with case papers and quietly advise on the conduct of the case but cannot speak to the Judge on your behalf.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder – one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. Not easily treated.

National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children – The only Children’s charity that can take you to court. Only local authorities and the NSPCC can apply to a court for a care, supervision, or child assessment order.

Non-Molestation Order – An order that prevents a person or ex-partner from using or threatening violence against you or your child, or intimidating, harassing or pestering you.

Non-resident Parent - The parent who the child does not live with but may spend significant time with. Used by the Benefits agency as a definition of who receives child benefit and other benefits.

Oversubscription Criteria - This refers to the published criteria that an admission authority applies when a school has more applications than places available in order to decide which children will be allocated a place. The School Admissions Code 2012 sets out which criteria are lawful.

Parental Alienation - There is no single definition, but it is generally accepted that parental alienation as when a child's resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent. It is a form of child abuse.

Parental Responsibility - The rights of the Parents to be responsible for all decision making relating to the child unless a court order prevents it.

Position Statement – A statement provided to a magistrate/judge and the other party which describes what you think or what you want about the current progress in your court case. It is not a witness statement, and you can provide one even if the court does not ask you to.

Pretrial review – A court hearing which reviews the progress of a case to ensure all the evidence and data is available and has been collected prior to the main hearing, often a Final Hearing.

Prohibited Steps Order - Court Order put in place to prevent any named person from taking a specific action, such as removing a child from the country without getting the court’s permission.

Private Law - The law that deals with private family disputes where the local authority is not involved, when you make an Application for a Child Arrangement Order for example.

Public Law - The law that deals with family disputes concerning children where the local authority is involved.

Public Law Outline [PLO] Meeting - Where Social Services’ are concerned about the welfare of a child(ren), they may be thinking about taking the matter to Court so that they can ask the Court to make Orders to protect the child. In most cases the Public Law Outline requires the social services department to arrange a meeting with the parent(s) and their legal representatives to see if it is possible to reach agreement about what needs to happen to protect the child from harm, so that court proceedings can be avoided.

Resident Parent - The parent with whom the child lives.

Relevant Child - Relevant children are young people aged 16 and 17 who have been "looked after" by the Local Authority for at least 13 weeks since they turned 14 years old and who were accommodated by the Local Authority at some time after their 16th birthday, and who have now left care. They are entitled to particular services.

Section 7 - Part of the Children Act 1989 that enables CAFCASS or Social Services to undertake an investigation and write a report when concerns are raised about the welfare of a child. It normally involves interviews with the parents and the child.

Section 8 Orders - Orders under section 8 of the Children Act 1989. These are: A Child Arrangements Order, A Specific Issue Order, A Prohibited Steps Order.

Section 37 – Part of the Children Act 1989 where Social Services are asked to investigate, write a report, and make recommendations because the child may be suffering significant harm and may need to be taken into care.

Section 47 – Part of the Children Act 1989 where Social Services investigates to find if a child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm, the consequences of which may be that the child is taken into care, is placed on the At Risk Register or the Child in Need Register.

Shared Care – A Child Arrangements order that is worded such that the child lives with both parents as opposed to live with one parent and be made available to the other parent.

Social Services - is a government-led organisation that aims to protect the wellbeing of children and vulnerable adults.

Social Worker – A qualified professional who works to protect the well being of children and vulnerable adults works.

Specific Issue Order - A Court Order resulting from an issue that has arisen regarding any aspect of parental responsibility, for example, changing the child’s school, the child’s religion, vaccinations.

Solicitor - A lawyer who advises people on the law and can represent them in legal proceedings.

Subject Access Request (SAR) - A subject access request (SAR) is simply a written request made by or on behalf of an individual for the information which he or she is entitled to ask for under section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). The request does not have to be in any particular form.

Supervision Order - This is an Order made by the Court in public law children proceedings. It does not give the Local Authority Parental Responsibility but provides that Social Services should advise, assist and befriend a child. The order lasts for 12 months but can be extended on application to the court for a maximum period of 3 years.

Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA) - allows the court to determine the extent of each party's interest in their land or property and also, how that interest can be dealt with. Eg it can decide what proportion of a property you own, and it can also allow them to order the sale of a property.

Threshold Criteria - The Threshold criteria means the test which must be satisfied before the Court can make a Care or Supervision order in favour of the local authority. The local authority has to prove that: the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm and that this is because of the care being given or likely to be given by the parent falling below a reasonable standard or that the child is beyond parental control.

Usher - Sometimes known as a 'list caller', you will need to introduce yourself to the Usher responsible for the court hearing your case so that they know you are there.

Vacated - When a hearing is cancelled or not effective, this can be either by the consent of both of the parties or the court. In cases involving children, hearings are often vacated as the parties have been able to reach an agreement outside of court.

Welfare checklist

A checklist all Judges must have regard to when deciding to make a Section 8 Order under the Children Act 1989:

- the wishes and feelings of the child

- the child's physical, emotional and educational needs

- the likely effect on the child of any change in circumstances

- the child's age, sex, background and any other of his or her characteristics which the court considers relevant

- any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering

- how capable each parent (and any other relevant person) is of meeting the child's needs.


Abbreviations used in Family Courts

CAO=Child Arrangements Order.

CC= contact centre

DSL= Designated Safeguarding Lead

CC= contact centre

DA=Domestic Abuse

DBS= Disclosure and barring service

DSL= Designated Safeguarding Lead

DV= Domestic Violence

FAO= Family Assistance Order

FCA= Family Court Advisor (Cafcass)

FDR= Final dispute resolution hearing

FHDRA= First hearing dispute resolution appointment

FF=Fact Finding

FoF=Finding of fact

ISW= Independent Social Worker

NonMol= Non Molestation Order.

NPD= narcisista personality order.

NSCPP= National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

PA=Parental Alienation

PR=Parental Responsibility

PSO=Prohibited Steps Order.

PS=Position statement

PTR=Pre-Trail Review

SAR=Subject access request

SFSC= Strengthening Families strengthening communities

SIO=Specific Issues Order.

SS = Social Services

SW = Social Worker

TOLATA= Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996

WFC=Welfare check list

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