We understand how difficult the breakdown of a relationship can be on both parents and children. When parents cannot agree on what arrangements are best for their children following separation, tensions can build very quickly and we will work with you to find the best solution to any dispute.
In the event that you and your ex-partner cannot agree what arrangements may be best for your child, and after considering with you a dispute resolution process such as mediation, an application can be made to the court for an order under the Children Act (1989).
The court has the power to make a wide range of orders based on what is in your child’s best interests. This is known as the ‘welfare principle’. What is in a child’s best interest depends on a number of factors listed in the Children Act (1989), known as the welfare checklist:
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned, considered in light of his/her age and understanding
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs.
- The likely effect on the child of any change in his or her circumstances.
- The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics that he or she has which the court considers relevant.
- Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering. This includes emotional, as well as physical, harm.
- How capable each of the child’s parents, and any other person in relation to whom the Court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting the child’s needs.
- The range of powers available to the court.
Where one party is not having the desired level of contact with their children, or if there is a dispute as to whom the child should live with, the court can make orders relating to who the child will live with and how much time the child will spend with the non-resident parent. These are known as child arrangement orders.
Disagreements can arise on other matters, such as educational or medical issues, the name by which a child is known and even the religion that the child will be brought up under. In these circumstances you can ask the court to make a ‘Specific Issue Order’ in order to determine a particular issue.
Similarly, where one parent proposes to do something that the other does not consider to be in the child’s best interests, an application can be made to the court to prohibit the parent from taking that particular action. This is known as a ‘Prohibited Steps Order’. For example, often upon the breakdown of a multicultural relationship one parent may seek to return to their country of origin and take the child of the parties with them. If this is the case then our family solicitors can request that the court make a prohibited steps order preventing that parent from removing the child from the country.
Broadly speaking, only a child’s parent, guardian or a step-parent with parental responsibility can make an application for an order under the Children Act (1989) without permission from the court. Grandparents and other family members will usually need permission from the court in order to make an application, which the court will grant if it is considered to be in the child’s best interests. Our family team can provide advice to non-parents wishing to apply to the court for permission to begin children act proceedings and the subsequent proceedings thereafter.
Our family team treat each case and client individually, meaning that there is a careful consideration of the most appropriate way of resolving any dispute. If an order under the Children Act is clearly the way to resolve your dispute we will pursue this solution with sensitivity and vigour and either represent you ourselves in the family court or arrange appropriate representation.
We offer advice on:
- Applications for Child Arrangement Orders;
- Applications for Prohibited Steps Orders;
- Applications for Specific Issue Orders;
- Preparing parenting plans;
- International and domestic movement of children;
- Child maintenance.
Before proceedings are issued
Before an application concerning a child can be commenced in the Family Court, the Court will wish to be satisfied that agreement cannot be reached through mediation: consequently, attendance at a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) is required, save for certain circumstances where the parties are exempt. The most common exemption will be where there are allegations of domestic violence or harassment.
The Court process
Once an application to the Family Court has commenced, the Court will aim to list the matter for the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) 4-5 weeks after receipt of the application. The Court and a CAFCASS officer (who will be present at the Family Court) will consider with the parties involved whether agreement is possible. (CAFCASS is the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, a body set up to promote the welfare of children and families involved in Family Court.)
If agreement is possible, then such an agreement would be embodied in a Court Order, probably made by consent.
In the alternative where there is disagreement and additional concerns about the child, the Court will specify steps for the future conduct of the matter. This may involve directing the CAFCASS officer to report to the Court on specific issues; for example, the child’s ascertainable wishes.
The Court manages each case according to its individual characteristics: for example, if a non-resident parent is having interim contact with their child/children, there may be a review hearing to assess whether this is progressing. Hearings must have a purpose, be consistent with a timetable for the child and must serve the child’s interests.
There are other interim hearings which may take place before a final hearing if the facts of a case suggest that this is necessary; for example, fact finding hearings or a Dispute Resolution Appointment if a report on the child has been necessarily prepared.
Our family team treat each case individually, meaning that there is careful consideration of the most appropriate way of resolving any dispute. If a Child Arrangement Order clearly is the way to resolve your dispute, we pursue this solution with sensitivity and vigour and either represent clients ourselves in the Family Court or arrange appropriate representation.