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Parental Disputes

A court will only make an order in relation to a child if it considers that it is necessary to do so. In most cases, parents will agree the arrangements for their children and the court will not make any order.

When making decisions about children the most important consideration is the welfare of the child.

Once an application for any of the above orders has been made, the court can make any order it decides and is not limited to the order applied for. Once made, an applicant cannot decide to withdraw their application even if the other party agrees. The court has to give permission, and the court may still make any order it decides.

If a court has very serious concerns about the welfare of a child it can decide to place the child with someone completely different or invite a local authority to become involved and consider care proceedings.

A court only has the power to make one of the above orders in respect of a child under 16 years of age. Such an order will only be in force until the child reaches the age of 16 years old (or 18 years old in exceptional circumstances).

A court order can have important implications on the future arrangements for a child and it is important to obtain specific legal advice on your circumstances before making an application to the court or agreeing to an order being made.

How FJG Can Help?

We offer a fixed fee service for Children Act applications. Full details of what is included in the fixed fee package can be found here.

We also offer a range of different alternatives to resolving disputes without going to court including mediation and collaborative family law.

If you have any questions regarding options available to you and your children, please contact our Family Law Specialists – call 01206 835320 or email [email protected].

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Parental Disputes - What a Court can Do

Child Arrangements

A child arrangements order sets out who a child is to live with and/or who a child is to spend time with. The decisions made by this type of order used to be set out in residence orders, and contact orders. The aim behind the introduction of child arrangements orders was to be more straightforward and child focused. If you currently have a residence order or contact order in place, you do not need to reapply.

A court will only make an order in relation to a child if it considers that it is necessary to do so.  In most cases parents will agree the arrangements for their children and the court will not make any order.

When making decisions about children the most important consideration is the welfare of the child. The court must ensure that any arrangements put in place are safe for the children, and that they will not be exposed to any risk of harm. The court will have regard to the welfare checklist as set out below:

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned considered in the light of their age and understanding
  • The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs.
  • The likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances.
  • The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics which the court considers relevant.
  • Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
  • How capable each of the child’s parents or any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant is in meeting their needs.
  • The range of powers available to the court under the Children Act in the proceedings in question.

If parents cannot agree where a child will live and/or who they will spend time with, the court will make a decision. Parents will however be encouraged to reach agreement between themselves, including using mediation.

The making of a child arrangements order does not take away parental responsibility from people who already have parental responsibility.

A child arrangements order setting out who a child will live with can be made in favour of people who do not have parental responsibility. In such a case, that person will automatically acquire parental responsibility as well, but only for so long as the Order is in force.  Parental responsibility acquired in this way is subject to limitations.

The court does sometimes make an order for the child to live with more than one person. This used to be called shared residence. It does not necessarily mean that the child would spend equal time with each party. The court has wide ranging powers and will tailor the order to meet the specific needs of each case.

A child arrangements order is often made at the same time as a specific issue order or a prohibited steps order.

Where an application for a child arrangements order concerns who the child is to spend time with, the court has wide ranging powers as to the forms of contact that can be put in place. The contact can be direct, face to face, or indirect, such as telephone calls, emails and letters, or by Skype. Indirect contact may be agreed or ordered by the court in cases where the parents live far apart or where there are serious concerns of risk of harm to the child if direct contact takes place.

The contact may be supervised where another appropriate person is present. Contact may also take place at a contact centre. Contact centres have been set up across the country and are often staffed by volunteers. Contact at a contact centre is usually for a short term only and is often supported rather than supervised.

Where there is a child arrangements order specifying with whom a child is to live in force, no person can cause the child to be known by a new surname or remove the child from the UK, without written consent from all those with parental responsibility or permission from the court. However, this does not mean that, just because a child arrangements order is not in place, anyone can change a child’s name or remove a child from the UK without the permission of all those with parental responsibility or an order of the court. See parental responsibility and taking children abroad.

A person with a child arrangements order specifying the child is to live with them, may take the child referred to out of the UK for periods of less than one month without consent of the other person or a court order.  The person without the Order needs to seek consent if they wish to take that child abroad.

Should a party not comply with a child arrangements order, an application can be made to the court to have the order enforced. The court has various powers to enforce an order, including ordering the other parent to pay a fine, do unpaid work, pay compensation and even committal to prison. Sometimes a court may consider changing who the child lives with if contact is not taking place.

If the court considers it would be helpful, it can direct that the parents attend a parenting information programme (SPIP) to assist parents in understanding the impact of their separation on their children.

A child arrangements order can have important implications on the future arrangements for a child and it is important to obtain specific legal advice on your circumstances before making an application to the court or agreeing to a child arrangements order being made.

We offer a range of different alternatives to resolving disputes without going to court including mediation and collaborative family law.

If you have any questions about child arrangements order, please contact our Family Law Specialists – call 01206 835320 or email [email protected].

Specific Issue Order

A specific issue order gives directions for the purpose of determining a specific question which has arisen or which may arise in connection with any aspect of parental responsibility for a child.

This can be used in an emergency or to resolve an anticipated dispute. In emergency cases, the courts have the power to act quickly to take decisions about children.

Examples of possible specific issue orders:

  • An order determining issues of a child’s religion or medical treatment
  • An order requiring the return of the child to the UK – see taking children abroad
  • An order determining a child’s name
  • An order determining which school a child should attend
  • An order determining that a parent can take the child abroad for a holiday

Specific issue orders can only relate to actions that could be taken by a parent in meeting his or her parental responsibility. The court cannot make a specific issue order with a view to achieving a result that could be achieved by a child arrangements order.

A specific issue order will not normally remain in force after the child’s 16th birthday unless there are exceptional circumstances. However, the order may be varied or discharged by the court before this time.

A court will only make an order in relation to a child if it considers that it is necessary to do so. Child arrangements orders are often made at the same time as specific issue orders.

When making decisions about children the most important consideration is the welfare of the child.

We offer a range of different alternatives to resolving disputes without going to court including mediation and collaborative family law.

If you have any questions about specific issue orders, please contact our Family Law Specialists – call 01206 835320 or email [email protected].

Prohibited Steps Order

A prohibited steps order prevents a specific action being taken by a person in relation to a child.

This can be used in an emergency or to resolve an anticipated dispute. In emergency cases, the courts have the power to act quickly to prevent steps being taken by one parent without the consent of another parent.

Examples of possible prohibited steps orders:

  • An order preventing removal of a child from the UK
  • An order preventing the child from having certain surgery
  • An order preventing the change of a child’s schooling
  • An order that a child’s name should not be changed
  • An order prohibiting someone from allowing a child to have contact with another named individual

A prohibited steps order can be directed at ‘any person’ but the actions prohibited may only be those that could be taken by a parent in meeting his or her parental responsibility. The court cannot make a prohibited steps order with a view to achieving a result that could be achieved by the court making a child arrangements order.

A prohibited steps order will not normally remain in force after the child’s 16th birthday unless there are exceptional circumstances. However, the order may be varied or discharged by the court before this time. A court will only make an order in relation to a child if it considers that it is necessary to do so. Child arrangements orders are often made at the same time as prohibited steps orders.

When making decisions about children the most important consideration is the welfare of the child.

We offer a range of different alternatives to resolving disputes without going to court including mediation and collaborative family law.

If you have any questions about prohibited steps orders, please contact our Family Law Specialists – call 01206 835320 or email [email protected].

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