Abridged Notice: In the context of family law proceedings, reducing the time requirement for parties to be notified of a court hearing, to speed matters being heard by a judge.

Abridged Hearing: A hearing before a court with shortened or no notice to one of the parties e.g. the hearing may come before the court on the same day or within several days of an application being made.

Abuse: Behaviour that causes harm.

Access: An obsolete legal term now replaced with 'contact'. Most commonly, arrangements for the child to see, telephone, email or stay with the non-resident parent.

Adjournment: A hearing that is postponed to another day.

Acknowledgement of Service: A court form that the other party in proceedings (the 'respondent') must complete to confirm they have received a copy of the application for a court order.

Advocate: A person who speaks on your behalf.

Allocation Hearing: A meeting in court to decide which level of court will decide your case (e.g. family proceedings court, county court or high court.

Appeal: The process whereby a person seeks to change a decision of the court.

Applicant: The person applying for the court order.

ASBO: An 'Anti-Social Behaviour Order'. A court order to prevent someone carrying out an activity (such as noise nuisance or visiting a named area).

Attachment: The bond between two people e.g. the relationship between parent and child.


Balance of Probability: The legal test in most civil court cases (including family cases) by which a judge bases their decision when factual matters are in dispute e.g. the judge decides whether a contested matter is more likely than not to have happened. There is no option within this test for a matter to be considered ´unproven´. The judge will decide whether something did or did not happen (based on a balance of probability) and his/her view will then be treated as fact. The legal test in criminal law is more exacting, being ´beyond all reasonable doubt´ however this test is not used in family proceedings.

Barrister: A lawyer who spends the majority of their time presenting arguments in court. Also commonly referred to as 'counsel'.

Barristers' Clerk: A person who carries out a wide range of duties for a barrister, including diary management, agreeing fees for work, and the administration of requests made under the Public Access Scheme.

Bar Council: The professional body for barristers in England and Wales. It is important to note that the Bar Council does not handle or investigate complaint about barristers (this is done by the Bar Standards Board).

Best Interests (of the Child): A term often heard in family law cases, and used by professionals. The best interests of the child is the lead basis for making decisions in court (used in the Children Act 1989 as the 'paramountcy principle' e.g. the child's bests interests must be the court's first consideration). The matters considered when determining what is in a child's best interest are set out in the 'Welfare Checklist' (within the Children Act 1989... the act of Parliament which covers most decisions of the court related to children).

Binding Precedent: A decision made by a judge, which other courts must follow in similar cases, and which can only be changed by a more senior court.

Bond: A written guarantee or promise which is purchased from an insurance firm to guarantee a future performance (such as showing up in court, returning a child to the UK). In cases concerning the removal of a child abroad, a bond might be sought (and considered by the court) to cover such matters as the legal costs, accommodation costs, travel costs etc associated if the child is either unlawfully retained or removed to another country, or promised contact does not occur. It is unusual in family law cases, however, may be a useful tool to consider.


CAFCASS: The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) is an organisation which looks after the welfare of children involved in Family Law proceedings (also see our guide to CAFCASS).

CAFCASS Officer: Sometimes referred to as a ´reporting officer´, they carry out a number of duties (see CAFCASS), including ascertaining the child´s wishes and feelings, carrying out background checks on people involved in court proceedings, investigating and reporting on child welfare related matters, and may also be asked to represent the children in court (see Guardian-ad-Litem).

Capacity: The ability of someone to do something.

Case: When a person makes an application to a court for orders, that becomes the case before the court.

Case Management Conference: A meeting at court to decide what happens next.

Charge on Property: A form of security whereby a person or organisation has a legal interest in property. Most commonly held by a mortgage or finance company, it is possible for an individual to acquire a charge on a property, which can be useful in leave to remove cases (see Leave to Remove) where the relocating parent continues to have property in the UK (e.g. investment property) and a charge on that property may be a useful form of security in the event that the relocating parent breaks a specified order made in the family court. In such case, the property might be sold, and proceeds used by the UK based parent to assist in returning the child to the UK or enforcing the contact order (depending on the circumstances).

Child Adbuction: The wrongful (unlawful) removal or retention of a child from his or her place of normal, day-to-day residence in breach of one parent's rights of residence.

Child Arrangements Order: A court order setting out arrangements for the child, which may include with whom the child will live, spend time with, or otherwise have contact. On April 22nd 2014, this new type of order replaced 'Residence Orders' and 'Contact Orders'.

Child Assessment Order: A court order for an investigation into and a report upon a child's welfare.

Child Maintenance: The amount that one parent pays the other in respect of their child.

Child Protection Conference: A meeting between parents and social workers (and others who may be involved with the children such as doctors, school teachers, other family members etc) where there are concerns related to the child's safety. A plan may be decided at this meeting in respect of the child.

Child Protection Register: A list of children within a council borough where there are concerns about risks to the child and their safety.

Children Act 1989: Legislation covering both private and public family law disputes concerning children.

Children's Guardian: See Guardian-ad-litem.

Children's Services: The local council's social work department.

Circuit Judge: A judge who sits in the County Court who hears more serious civil, family, and criminal matters.

Committal: Normally used in the context 'committal' (sending someone) to prison.

Conciliation: Discussions in an attempt to reach agreement.

Conciliation Appointment: A meeting with the judge where there are discussions to see if an agreement may be reached.

Common Law: Laws which are derived from custom and judges rather than Parliament.

Consent: Permission/agreement for something to happen.

Consent Order: An agreement between the parties that is approved by the court and then becomes a court order.

Contact: See Direct and Indirect Contact.

Contact Centre: A location where adults can meet with or collect children. See Contact Centres.

Contact Order: A historic court order which set out an obligation, normally on the resident parent, to make a child available for contact with a person (or people) named in the order. Replaced by the Child Arrangements Order in April 2014.

Core Assessment: A detailed investigation carried out by social workers where a child is considered to be at risk or in need or where there are welfare concerns. The assessment should be concluded within 35 days.

Counsel: A lawyer (barrister) who represents their client in court.

County Court: A more senior court than the magistrates, where a district or circuit judge hears more complex court cases. The family courts are currently being reformed to be a single court, albeit there will still be magistrates and a heirarchy of judges who will hear cases depending on the complexity. In each area there will be a single Family Court, and the staff will allocate cases to the appropriate level of judge.

Court Bundle: An indexed folder (or number of folders) which include documents related to a court case. See also Court Bundles.

Court Order: the actions the parties or a party must do to carry out a decision made by a court. An order may be either interim or final.

Court of Appeal: A court of law that hears appeals against both civil and criminal judgements from the Crown Courts, High Court, and County Courts. Appeals against judgments from the Family Proceedings Court are heard in the County Court.


District Judge: A judge who hears cases in both the Family Proceedings Court and County Court.

DNA Test: A test to confirm whether someone is, or is not, a child's biological parent. See Paternity Testing.

Domestic Violence: Any form of abuse or controlling behaviour, including physical violence and also emotional and psychological abuse and in some instances, financial control.

Domicile: Country where one lives.


Emergency Protection Order (EPO): See Emergency Protection Orders.

Evidence: Documents and testimony (what people say in court) which a judge considers to help him or her decide what matters are factual, and what arrangements are best for the children. Evidence in family court proceedings would normally include statements, what parties say in court including when questioned by the judge or by the other party (or their solicitor), and reports from CAFCASS (if involved). The judge will also note the parties' conduct in court (how they behave and body language). The judge (or magistrates) will decide what evidence they require.

EWCA: An abbreviation for the England and Wales Court of Appeal. The abbreviation is used in case references (citations) e.g. Jones v Jones [2014] EWCA Civ 2000 to record at which level of court a case was heard.

EWHC: An abbreviation for the England and Wales High Court. The abbreviation is used in case references (citations) e.g. Jones v Jones [2014] EWHC Civ 2000 to record at which level of court a case was heard.

Ex-Parte Hearings: A hearing where one party is not present and has not been given notice of the application before the court; usually reserved for urgent cases.

Ex-Parte Order: A court order made at an ex-parte hearing, where the other party to proceedings did not have the opportunity to be heard. The court will normally set a further hearing date to allow the opportunity for the other party to respond to matters raised.

Extended Family: Aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces and grandparents.


Family Assistance Order (FAO): A court order which calls for a CAFCASS Officer or social worker to befriend and assist the family for up to 12 months. These orders are sometimes made to assist in contact disputes. Parties can ask, during proceedings, for the court to consider granting a family assistance order, however there is no court form for this (it should be done verbally and/or via a position statement if the circumstances warrant such support). See Family Assistance Orders.

Family Proceedings Court: Part of the Magistrates Court, where matters related to family disputes are heard.

File / Filing: Sending or delivering documents to the court building e.g. "you must file your statement by 23rd January 2015" would mean the document must be delivered to the court by that date.

Final Order: An order made by a court to bring a case to a close.

Finding of Fact: Where a judge has decided whether a matter (or number of matters) in dispute did or did not happen.

Finding of Fact Hearing: A hearing decidated to deciding matters (allegations) which are in dispute.

First Hearing and Dispute Resolution Appointment: The first meeting with the judge with both parties present.


Guardian-ad-Litem: See Guardian-ad-Litem.


Hague Convention: There are a number of different Hague Conventions. In private law, most commonly when the phrase Hague Convention is used, people are referring to the 1980 Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction which is an agreement between the United Kingdom and other countries related to children who are unlawfully removed to, or retained in, a foreign country, and their return.

Hair Strand Test: A laboratory test to determine whether an individual´s hair contains traces of drugs.

Hearing: A meeting at court with a judge (or magistrates).

High Court: A more senior court than the county and family proceedings court. The High Court is based at the Royal Courts of Justice in the City of Westminster, London. It has district registries across England and Wales where cases may also be heard.

Human Rights Act: Legislation which lists various rights of the individual and offers protection in law. See also Human Rights Act 1998.


Implacable Hostility: Within the confines of family law, the unstoppable/relentless antipathy from one parent toward the other (and sometimes mutual). One of the causes of post-separation contact breakdown.

Independent Social Worker (ISW): A self employed social worker whom the court may appoint to investigate, report on and/or assist a family and their circumstances.

Indirect Contact: Contact with your child via letter, email etc.

Inherent Jurisdiction of the High Court: The power which the High Court has to make special decisions. An example would be to make a child a Ward of Court (e.g. the High Court oversees decisions taken about a child and also takes responsibility for the child (this does not mean day to day care, and a ward of court may still live with one or both parents). The lower courts may not make a child a ward of court... the power to do so falls within 'the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court'.

Initial Assessment: An assessment of a child's circumstances where there are concerns about the child´s welfare. The initial assessment will normally be done by local authority social workers within a timescale of seven days from referral. Further investigation/social services involvement where the initial assessment does not adequately determine whether there is risk to a child, or where it is confirmed that a child is at risk of harm.

Injunctions/Injunctive Orders: The court sets out that someone may not do something. Examples of injunctive orders include non-molestation and occupation orders.

Instruction: Where a party is represented by a solicitor or barrister, the act of telling the legal professional what you want them to do is called instruction.

Interim Child Arrangements Order: A temporary court order made before a final hearing (until the court has had the opportunity to consider all evidence) setting out with whom a child shall live, visit or otherwise have contact with. A final order may differ from an interim arrangement.

Interim Care Order: Social Services may make decisions in relation to the child and may provide day-to-day care for a child pending a final hearing.

Interim Supervision Order: A temporary order allowing a social worker to visit a named child.

Injunction: An order of the court which prevents or requires action.

Issues Resolution Hearing (ISR): A meeting at court between the parties, their legal representatives, the judge or magistrates, and social services/CAFCASS/a guardian-ad-litem (if involved) to work out what matters need to be resolved at a final hearing.


Judgment: The decision of the court and a record of the basis and why the judge made their decision(s).

Judicial Notice: A rule in the law of evidence that allows a fact to be introduced into evidence if the truth of that fact is so notorious or well known, or so authoritatively attested, that it cannot reasonably be doubted.

Jurisdiction: The authority given to a court and its judicial officers to apply the law.

Justices: An alternative word for magistrates. Also Justices of the Peace which is sometimes abbreviated to JP.

Justices Clerk: A legal advisor to magistrates sitting in court. The Justice's Clerk handles the magistrates´ and advises the magistrate on points of law.


Kinship Care: The act of providing day-to-day care for a member of the family. Often used in relation to aunts/uncles and grandparents who look after children when the children´s;s parents become unable to do so.


Lawyer: Someone who represents you in court and is qualified to a high level. The term lawyer encompasses both solicitors and barristers.

Learning Disabilities/Difficulties: A range of conditions which may make certain tasks more challenging and which may be exacerbated by stress. See also our section on Dyslexia and Court.

Leave to Remove: Permission (by the court) to take the children abroad.

Legal Aid: Public funding for legal representation. Legal aid has been significantly cut in recent years, and is now limited in private family law to specialist areas, such as evidenced instances of domestic violence and financial assistance for foreign parents whose children are abducted to or retained within the UK.

Litigant-in-Person: A person who represents themself in court rather than using the services of a solicitor or barrister.

Liver Function Test: A laboratory test which can determine whether someone is alcohol dependent.

Local Authority: The local council´s Social Services department.

Looked After Child: A child placed in the care of the local authority.


Magistrate: A lay judge, advised on points of law by the clerk to the court. Magistrates are volunteers, chosen from their local community. Cases are usually heard by three magistrates, with one chosen as the chair person. Only experienced magistrates who have had special training can hear family cases.

Mediation: Mediation is process where an independent third party helps parents come to a voluntary agreement about arrangements for their children and finances at separation and after.

MIAM : MIAM stands for the Mediation Assessment and Information Meeting. At the MIAM, a mediator, will discuss which issues are in dispute and whether mediation may assist you.

McKenzie Friend: A person who may take notes for, and quietly advise a person in court who is not represented by a solicitor or barrister (see our guide to McKenzie Friends.


No Order Principle: A court should only make a decision and subsequent order in relation to a child if the circumstances make it necessary.

Non-Molestation Order: A non-molestation order is a type of injunction made under Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996 to protect named individuals from abuse, harassment, threats of and actual violence.


Occupation Order: An occupation order is a court order which sets out who can live in, or live in part of the family home. It is a type of injunction made under Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996.

Order: A direction by the court that is enforceable and legally binding.


Paramountcy Principle: The principle in family law that the child´s welfare should be the paramount concern for a court determining any question with respect to a child.

Parental Alienation: A phrase commonly used to refer to a child being manipulated by one parent to dislike the other (see our guide on Parental Alienation).

Parental Alienation Syndrome: An unqualified term used in conjunction with a belief that the alienation of a child is a specific psychological/medical syndrome. This phrase tends to be used by those who are unqualified and ignorant of the fact that the psychological community has rejected this notion (most recently in 2013 when attempts to have this term included in the fifth edition of the mental health Diagnostics Standards Manual ‐ DSMV ‐ were rejected). Consequently, the courts do not recognise parental alienation as a syndrome, but do accept, if the evidence supports, that children can be manipulated by one parent against the other and that this can be a cause of contact breakdown.

Parental Responsibility: The legal definition of Parental Responsibility is "All the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to a child and his property.".

Parenting Capacity Assessment: A parenting capacity assessment is one of three assessment elements which CAFCASS or Social Services may undertake if there are concerns about child welfare and a parent´s ability to provide adequate care. Such an assessment may form part of supervised contact, and follow allegations having been made during court proceedings (and may also assist in disproving the validity of such allegations). The other two elements are the child's developmental needs, and wider family and environmental factors.

Parenting Class: Parenting classes are courses which help parents in the care of their children, providing possible solutions to ´real life´ problems which the parent may experience.

Parenting Information Programme: The Parenting Information Programme is a court ordered contact activity designed to alert parents who are going through the divorce and separation process of how their actions could impact upon their children. It is also designed to help reduce the conflict that the children may see or hear.

Parenting Plan: A document setting out or proposing parenting arrangements for children.

Party or parties A person or legal entity, such as a corporation, involved in a court case.

Penal Notice: A warning on a court order that a person faces jail, a fine or some other penalty if the order is breached.

Per Incurium: Meaning a judgment which was made ´without proper care´ meaning it failed to take note of statutory law or existing legal precedent.

Permission to Remove: See Leave to Remove.

Police Protection Powers: If the police believe a child is at risk of suffering significant harm, they can take the child into protective custody for up to 72 hours.

Power of Arrest: A decision by the court permitting the police to arrest someone if they do something which the court decides they are not permitted to do.

Precedent: A decision made by a judge, which serves as an example for other court cases and orders.

Proceedings: A court case.

Prohibited Steps Order: A prohibited steps order is a court order made under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989 which prevents a parent or other holder of parental responsibility from exercising some of their legal rights as a parent (such as involving themselves in the child´s schooling or taking the child abroad).

Public Access Directory: A list of barristers who have trained to accept instructions directly from the public via the Public Access Scheme.

Public Access Scheme: A scheme which allows members of the public to instruct a barrister without the assistance of a solicitor.


Queen's Counsel: A Queen's Counsel or QC is a senior barrister appointed upon the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor.


Recovery Order: Recovery Orders provide legal measures to assist in the recovery of children who have been unlawfully taken away from or withheld from the person who is responsible for them. A Recovery Order may also be made if the children have run away, or are missing.

Residence Order: A Residence Order was a type of court order which set out the person with whom a child should live when the matter was in dispute. Since April 2014, residence orders have been replaced by Child Arrangements Orders.

Respondent: A person named as a party to a case. A respondent may or may not respond to the orders sought by the applicant.

Rights of Audience: The right to address the court. Solicitors and barristers have rights of audience, to speak on their client´s behalf in court. A lay adviser (such as a McKenzie Friend) may be given that right in an individual case, although such a decision is entirely within the judge´s discretion and might be allowed in instances where the client struggles to orally argue their case.

Rules: A set of directions that outlines court procedures and guidelines. The rules of the Family Court are the Family Procedure Rules 2010.


Seal: A mark or stamp the court has placed on a document to confirm it was issued by the court.

Section 8 Orders: Orders made under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 which include Child Arrangements Orders, Prohibited Steps Orders and Specific Issue Orders.

Seek and Find Orders: A Seek and Find Order is a court order made to locate a child´s whereabouts. These orders are also sometimes referred to as seek and locate orders. The order can be applied for under section 33 of the Family Law Act 1986. This act allows the court to order any person who it has reason to believe may have relevant information about the location of a child, to disclose that information to the court.

Service: The process of sending or giving court documents to a party after they have been filed, in accordance with the rules of court. Service ensures that all parties have received the documents filed with a court.

Set Aside: Cancelling a judgment or court order.

Significant Harm: The definition of harm is set out in section 31 of the Children Act 1989 as being "ill treatment or the impairment of health or development". To decide whether harm is significant, the health and development of the child is "compared with that which could reasonably be expected of a similar child".

Solicitor: A lawyer who advises their client, prepares case paperwork, and may speak on their client´s behalf in court.

Special Guardian: A person named in a Special Guardianship Order as a Special Guardian (see our guide on Special Guardianship Orders).

Special Guardianship Orders: See our guide on Special Guardianship Orders.

Stare Decisis: The legal principle of deciding points of law according to precedent.

Statement: A statement is a form of written evidence produced at the request of the court. It is a document which sets out the parties´ or their witnesses´ arguments, opinions and evidence. In the case of the party to proceedings it may address why they are in court, any concerns they may have, proposed arrangements for the children and requests for certain court orders. A statement can have other documentary evidence appended to it, which supports the parties´ contained within. A statement may also address specific matters which the court has asked the parties to comment on.

Statute: A written law passed by Parliament.

Stay: To call a halt to court proceedings.

Strike Out: The court deciding that certain evidence should not be relied upon.

Supervised Contact: Contact with a child that is monitored by another person (see our guide to Contact Centres).

Supported Contact: Contact with a child where another adult will be present to assist, if needed.

Swear: To give a promise that what is said or in written evidence is the truth.


Transcript : A record of the spoken evidence in a court case. Most court hearings are recorded. The court does not order transcripts in all instances and does not provide transcripts to parties. If a party orders a transcript, they will be responsible for the costs.


Undertakings: An undertaking is a legally binding promise to the court to do something, or not to do something (depending on the circumstances). See our guide on Undertakings.


Wardship: The High Court becomes the legal parent of a child.

Welfare Checklist: The Welfare Checklist is a legal list of considerations related to decision making in family law, set out in the Children Act 1989. The Court must heed these considerations when determining arrangements for children.

Wide Ambit of Discretion: The extent to which judges have the right to individually decide outcomes in court cases within the confines of statute and precedent.

Without Prejudice: A phrase sometimes used in correspondence or documentation meaning that the contents and any offer made within the document may not be used in relation to legal proceedings.