We’ve created some basic definitions of words that come up in discussions about family law and family courts, so that you can make more sense of what we are talking about. Let us know if there are other terms we can help explain.


Attachment is a technical psychological term with a specific meaning, but it is used an awful lot in care proceedings and other cases about children, including by people who are not psychologists. It doesn't help that attachment has a meaning in everyday language,...

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Section 20 Agreements

Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 is about the local authority’s duty to provide accommodation for any child in need in their area who needs somewhere to live because there isn't anyone who has parental responsibility for him or the person who has been caring for...

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'Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service'  gives us the acronym ‘Cafcass’. The function of Cafcass is to advise the court about what is in the best interests of the child whom it represents in family proceedings. The principal functions of the Service...

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  ‘Proportionality’ is the key concept to understanding how family law operates. This comes from Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). The ECHR has been given ‘direct effect’ into domestic law by the Human Rights...

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Care and Supervision Orders

Care and Supervision orders were created by Part IV of the Children Act 1989. On the application of the local authority (LA) or the NSPCC the court can consider making either order if the provisions of section 31 are made out. This requires the judge to be satisfied...

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Threshold Criteria

A care or supervision order can only be lawful if the court satisfies a two stage test. The first stage – the threshold stage – there must be sufficient reasons to justify making a care or supervision order, i.e.  the case must cross a threshold. This threshold can...

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The Balance of Probabilities

In care proceedings, the civil standard of evidence applies. This means that the court has to be satisfied that the evidence to show that your child is suffering or is at risk of suffering significant harm has been proved on the balance of probabilities. This phrase...

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Significant Harm

Under section 31(2) of the Children Act 1989, a court can only make a care or supervision order if there is evidence on the balance of probabilities that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer 'significant harm'. 'Harm' is defined by section 31(9) of the Children...

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Emotional Harm/Abuse

  There are many ways we can hurt each other. The worst kinds of hurt are not necessarily the ones caused by physical attacks. To cause emotional harm to another person means that you have behaved in a way which will hurt someone's sense of self, by making them...

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