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Court Orders for Child Arrangements

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What do court orders for child arrangements entail?

When parents separate, there is often much talk of “Mother’s Rights” and “Father’s rights” and the conflict between the adults’ spills over onto the children with the inevitable damage that causes.  In fact, in law, the only right is the right of the child to have a “close personal relationship with both parents.”

With this in mind, it is expected that when a relationship breaks down, parents work to reach an agreement as to how their children will share their time between them. This can be done directly or using a Family Mediation service to help them stay focused on the issues.

It is the best for all concerned if agreements can be reached between the parents since they should understand their children’s needs best and make arrangements that suit the needs of their particular family set up.

If parents are not able to reach a mutually acceptable agreement on the children, then it is open to either parent to make an application to the court.

All applications are applied for under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989. As a general rule, you must have or have obtained Parental Responsibility for a child to apply for these types of orders, however, there are exceptions.

What Orders can I apply for in relation to my children?

There are a variety of Orders than can be applied for to suit the needs of your children. It is important to remember that when it comes to contact arrangements, the child’s best interests should always be the priority, unless there is evidence of domestic abuse or other safeguarding issues within a relationship, then a requirement of the Court is that mediation is attempted before making a child arrangements application.

What if my ex won’t attend mediation?

The requirement is that the applicant in a case attends a Mediation Information and Assessment meeting (MIAM) with a family mediator prior to sending the application to the Court. Whilst the mediator will write to the other parent, if they choose not to attend, this is a clear indication to the Court that it is unlikely that an amicable agreement could be reached.

Victims of domestic abuse are excused from this requirement, although evidence will be required such as a Restraining Order or police caution.

What if I’m not named on the birth certificate?

If you are a father not named on the Birth Certificate then it is possible for a Parental Responsibility Agreement to be drawn up with the mother of the child, or for a separate application to be made for Parental Responsibility.

If you are a step-parent or grandparent, or otherwise have had a close personal relationship with the child, then you may still be able to make an application, although you will have to ask the Court for permission to do so.

Should you have any queries to your rights and whether you can make an application, for example you are a grandparent or step-parent, then contact the office to speak with a member of our team who will be able to assist you.

Parental Responsibility Order

Mothers acquire Parental Responsibility for their child from the moment of birth, as do fathers who are married to or just divorced from the mother at birth.

Fathers who are not married acquire Parental Responsibility if they are named on the birth certificate.

It means all rights, duties, powers and authority, which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property. This includes the right to decide where the child should go to school, what form of religious upbringing the child should have and what medical treatment the child should receive.

Child Arrangements Order

This is an Order setting out such things as which parent a child will live with and what time they will spend with the other parent.

It is possible for the Order to say that the child will live with different parents at different times or to say that one parent must “make the child available to spend time with” the other parent.

When such applications are made, the Court will be taking into consideration the welfare of the child, any safeguarding issues there may be and what arrangements would best suit the needs of the child to create a safe and reliable routine. These arrangements can often involve handover by a third party where parents do not wish to see each other for various reasons.

Amongst the matters that the Court will consider is whether the time the child spends with the parent they do not live with should be unsupervised or if it needs the supervision of a third party or a Child Contact Centre.

If there are serious safeguarding concerns surrounding the parent seeking to spend time with the child, then the Court may order indirect contact such as telephone or virtual calls, or even simply letters, photos, gifts etc being sent to the child where appropriate.

In extreme cases the Court may order that there be no contact whatsoever, however, a parent would have to be a serious risk to the child, and this is rarely ordered by the Court. Should there be serious concerns in relation to both parents, the case may be transferred to public proceedings where the Court would consider the child going into care.

Prohibited Steps Order

This is an Order that stops a parent from taking certain actions.  It could be to prevent a change of schools without the agreement of the other parent, to stop the child being removed from the country or to prevent one parent from simply removing the child from the care of the other parent.

Specific Issue Order

This is an Order which allows or requires a parent to do something.  This may relate to schooling; the child’s name; travel or moving abroad.

Any major decisions such as those relating to education, religion, or health should be agreed by both parents, and if no agreement can be reached then an application can be made for a Prohibited Steps Order or a Specific Issue Order as appropriate.

What if I need more than one Order?

It is not unusual for a parent to seek both a Child Arrangement Order and either a Specific Issue order or a Prohibited steps order – or both.  These can be applied for at the same time using one application form.

The Welfare Checklist

This is the list of matters which the Court must consider when making its decisions:

  1. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned;
  2. The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
  3. The likely effect on the child if circumstances changed as a result of the Court’s decision;
  4. The child’s age, sex, background and any other characteristics which will be relevant to the Court’s decision;
  5. Any harm the child has suffered or maybe at risk of suffering;
  6. Capability of the child’s parents (or any other person the Courts find relevant) at meeting the child’s needs;
  7. The powers available to the Court in the given proceedings.

What if the other parent will not stick to the Court Order once made?

Should you have difficulties with the other parent once a Court Order is made, there is an option to apply to the Court to enforce the Order.

What if I need to change the Court Order in the future?

It is always possible to apply to vary an Order should circumstances change that again cannot be resolved without the Court’s assistance.

What if we both agree on arrangements within proceedings?

If both parents can reach an agreement prior to making an application, or within proceedings, a Consent Order can be drawn up for both parents to sign and be sealed by the Court. This helps keep costs to a minimum and resolves proceedings much sooner.

Should you be having any concerns when it comes to making arrangements for your children, whether you cannot agree with the other parent, or there is a specific issue that you may need to turn to the Court for help with, then please do not hesitate to give us a call and we can advise you further on the possible steps.

Andrew Isaacs Law are here to make the process easier for you. If you require our assistance, please call 01302 349480 or email family@andrewisaccs.co.uk.

Francesca Mears – Family Lawyer

09/02/2022

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