Children and Child Arrangements Solicitors
Issues concerning where children live, who they spend time with, and decisions about their future can often cause conflict between separated parents. At Wannops we can offer assistance in regard to:
- Child arrangements “spend time with” (formerly contact) orders
- Child arrangements “live with” (formerly residence) orders
- Specific Issue orders
- Prohibited Steps orders
- Parental Responsibility orders
We have experience of applying for orders on notice to the other party and in an emergency, and will always try to handle your case in a prompt, sensitive and efficient way.
Important decisions concerning a child can only be determined by those who have Parental Responsibility for him or her, or by a court order. Section 3 Children Act 1989 defines Parental Responsibility as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent has in relation to the child and his property”.
Parental Responsibility can be acquired in the following ways:
- You are the mother of the child;
- You are the father of the child and you were married to the mother at the time the child was born;
- You are the father of the child and you are named on the birth certificate of the child;
- You are the father and you later marry the mother of the child;
- You are the father of the child and you have a parental responsibility agreement with the mother or parental responsibility under a court order;
- You are the same sex partner in a civil partnership with the mother at the time of the treatment by which the child was conceived;
- You are same-sex partners and you have applied for parental responsibility after a parental agreement has been made;
- You become a civil partner of the other parent and you make a parental responsibility agreement or jointly register the birth.
Section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989 sets out a series of considerations for the court in determining any question in regard to a child, which are as follows:
- the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding);
- his physical, emotional and educational needs;
- the likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances;
- his age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant;
- any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
- how capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs;
- the range of powers available to the court under this Act in the proceedings in question
Child Arrangements Orders to “live with” or “spend time with”
In the past these were known as residence or contact orders, and are made under section 8 of the Children Act 1989. Since the Children and Families Act 2014 was passed the courts have been very careful not to distinguish between the rights of a parent with whom a child may live, and those of a parent with whom the child spends time, and the terminology of these orders has been changed to reflect that fact. To put it another way, the courts often remind parents there is no longer a hierarchy of parenting – both parents have the same legal status regardless of where the child spends most of his or her time. Section 2A Children Act 1989 makes it clear that the court must start from the position that it is in the interests of the child for both parents to be involved in the child’s life.
A Child Arrangements order may define which parent the child lives with, and the time he or she spends with the other. This may be in person, say after school, at weekends or in the school holidays, as well as by indirect means for example sending letters or cards, telephone calls or via skype or facetime. Where there has been a concern about the behaviour of a parent which may impact the life of a child time spent with a child may be supervised, until the court is satisfied that the risk has reduced.
There is no rule which states that a child must spend equal time with each parent, the question is always what arrangements would best meet the welfare needs of the child. It should also be remembered that a child’s welfare interests may change over time, and it is certainly the case that as children grow older their own views about who they live or spend time with become increasingly important.
Grandparents have no corresponding right to ask the court for a Child Arrangements Order in the same way that a parent does, but increasingly the courts recognise the valuable contribution that grandparents can make to the life of children, and often give permission for applications to be made.
Specific Issue Orders
A specific issue order may be required to determine a discrete question concerning the exercise of parental responsibility, for example, by what name a child should be known, which school they should attend or whether they should be permitted to travel abroad. The court can also be asked to adjudicate upon issues relating to medical treatment, or involvement in religious practices where parents can’t agree.
Prohibited Steps Orders
A prohibited steps order may be necessary to prevent specific steps being taken in relation to a child which might be regarded as contrary to the child’s welfare, for example to stop someone removing a child from the care of a particular individual, or to stop someone going to a child’s place of education, or to prevent the removal of a child from the jurisdiction of England and Wales.
All of the above orders are subject to the “paramountcy principle” established by s.1(1) Children Act 1989 which determines that the interests of the child are the court’s first priority in deciding questions about children. These types of orders are only available for children who are under the age of 16, except in exceptional circumstances – s.9(7) Children Act 1989.
If you wish to discuss any question concerning children, including who they spend time with, with whom they live or regarding the exercise of Parental Responsibility, please speak to our experienced team today on 01243 778844 (Chichester), 01903 228200 (Worthing) or 01243 864001 (Bognor Regis).
Cafcass (child and family court advisory and support service) are considered to be the eyes and ears of the court. Before the first hearing they will speak to the parents and find out whether there are issues which are likely to affect the child’s welfare, and carry out initial checks with child protection agencies such as police or local authority children’s services. They will usually see the parents at the first hearing and tell the court whether they think a welfare report is needed, and if so why. If a report is required this usually takes 10-12 weeks and may be written by a Cafcass officer or social worker. The court is encouraged to follow any recommendations made, unless there is good reason not to do so.
It depends on the urgency of the situation. Usually there is a delay of 8 -10 weeks after the application before a court hearing takes place, but in an emergency the matter can be listed within a few days, or even hours.
This can be a real worry where the other parent has family living abroad, or who has the means to relocate abroad. Thankfully this type of situation arises rarely, but if it does swift action may be necessary to protect the child. Usually this means applying for an order to prevent the child being taken abroad, or for a passport or travel documents to be issued. If the child is already with the other person then an order for the child to be returned may be sought, and the border agency put on alert. Very many countries (but not all) are now signatories to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which requires the authorities in country to which the child has been taken to secure the return of the child to the home country for a determination of any dispute about residence.
The courts have extensive powers to encourage parents to co-operate in child arrangements, including by imposing activity directions under section 11 Children Act 1989. If a party remains obstructive the court may impose a warning notice, reminding a party of the sanctions for non-compliance, or order enforcement measures such as unpaid work or compensation for financial loss. Ultimately the court may consider committing a parent who is determined not to obey a court order to prison for contempt. The courts are encouraged to take a robust approach to enforcement of court orders (see Re W (Family Proceedings: Applications)  1 FLR 2163, FD.
If you have tried all avenues of communication and you are not getting any answers then you should seek legal advice. We can help negotiate a reinstatement of contact with your child, or promote an agreement through mediation or other non-court dispute resolution methods, for example arbitration. In the last resort we can apply to the court for an order defining the time that you spend with your child, which can then be enforced if your ex-partner remains non-compliant.