Glossary of Terms

In this section we explain some of the terms you may hear if you go to court.

Abduction – When one parent takes the child to a place outside the legal authority of England and Wales without the permission of the other parent and the court.

Applicant – The person making the application for the court’s help.

Cafcass or CAFCASS Cymru – Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.

Case Law – Published cases from the High Court or Court of Appeal which are used to interpret the way the law works.

Chambers – A private room or court in which a judge may hold certain, usually informal, hearings.  Members of the public are not allowed into chambers.  ‘Chambers’ may also be used to refer to a barrister’s office away from the court.

Children arrangement order – A child arrangement order determines who a child should live with and where, and determines who a child should have contact and spend time with.

Contact centre – A place for a parent to have contact with a child in a neutral and ‘safe’ environment.  ‘Supervised’ contact centres provide a safe and neutral place for contact.  ‘Supported’ contact centres, which are often run by volunteers, offer a neutral place for contact in cases where no safety concerns exist.

Contested hearing – A hearing where evidence is put before the court and is disputed by one of the people involved.

Directions hearing – Where the judge decides how the case should be handled.  He may give instructions on filing statements, or may order a welfare or experts report.

Domestic violence or abuse  – Any situation where one parent feels harassed or intimidated by the other.  The violence or abuse may be emotional, physical, sexual or financial.

Ex parte – Also called a ‘without notice’ hearing, this is when only one of the parents is at the hearing.

Family court – Where family law cases are heard by a family judge, legal advisor or magistrate.

Family assistance order (FAO) – An order of the court which allows Cafcass or local authorities to provide social-work support to help parents establish child arrangements that might otherwise fail.

Filing papers or documents – Sending papers to the court (for example, your statement to be placed on the court file).

Final hearing – The hearing where a judge hears evidence and makes a final decision about the future arrangements for your children.

Indirect contact – Any contact which is not face-to-face (for example, letters, birthday cards, phone calls).

Interim contact – Contact that takes place between the first court hearing and the final hearing.

Litigant in person (LiP) – Someone who goes to court without a solicitor.

Litigation – When someone makes an application to the court and the court proceedings follow this.

McKenzie Friend – A person who can go to court with you to give you support and take notes.

Mediation – A process of discussion and negotiation between you and the other parent and another independent person who is not involved in your case (a trained mediator).  The mediator will help manage the discussion and try to help you and the other parent come to an agreement.  This is a confidential process.  The mediator is not allowed to take sides.

N0n-resident parent (NRP) – The parent the children do not usually live with.

Parental responsibility – All the legal rights and responsibilities normally associated with being a parent.

Parties – Each person involved in the court proceedings (see also ‘applicant’ and ‘respondent’).  In family proceedings this is usually the parents.

Pre-action protocol – A process you are required to go through before making your application to the court to consider, with a professional mediator, whether family mediation may be appropriate as a way to settle your dispute.  You will need to fill in a form confirming that you have attended a mediation information and assessment meeting  (a MIAM).  The action of filling in and returning the form is known as a pre-action protocol.

Primary carer – The person who has provided most of the care for the children.  The primary carer may also be known as the ‘parent with care’.

Resident parent (RP) – The parent the children live with.  There can be more than one parent who is a resident parent at any one time.

Residence – Where the child lives.

Respondent – The person who ‘responds’ to the application is known as a respondent.  There may be more than one respondent.

Review hearing – If the court makes an order, the judge, legal advisor, magistrates or a Cafcass officer may suggest reviewing the matter at a later date to see how things are working.  The review hearing is the meeting held for this purpose.

Section 7 report – A report for the court usually carried out by Cafcass, but occasionally carried out by the local authority’s children’s services.

Section 8 report – An order made under section 8 of the Children Act 1989.  Section 8 orders can be child arrangement orders, prohibited steps, or specific issue orders.

Serving papers or documents – Delivering your court papers to the respondent, or Cafcass and the court.  You can do this either by hand or by post.

Shared child arrangements order – ‘Shared arrangements’ is a term used to describe a situation where a child spends time living with each parent and not just with one parent.  The amount of time a child spends with each parent will depend on what is best for the child.  It is quite unusual for a court to decide that a child should spend equal time with each parent.

Welfare report – Another name for a section 7 report.