How does the court approach cases about children?
What happens when parents cannot agree on what arrangements should be made for their children?
There are no hard and fast rules about arrangements for children following relationship breakdown. The relevant law is the Children Act 1989 which states a child’s welfare is paramount, and it includes a checklist of factors to be considered when making decisions about a child – but every case is different. What works for one family will not always work for another.
The court’s approach is ‘hands off’. This means that the court will not get involved in arrangements for children unless there is a specific disagreement between parents. After all, who knows the children better than their own parents?
Disagreements arise from time to time, and it is sometimes necessary to refer matters to the court. The main orders a court can make are:
A Child Arrangements Order
This sets out the time the child spends with each parent. “Child Arrangements Orders” have replaced contact orders and residence orders (which no longer exist). These orders can be made in favour of either parent, or sometimes other third parties such as grandparents or other carers.
A Child Arrangements Order does not remove their parental responsibility.
It can affect the parents ability to take the children abroad. Child Arrangements can take many forms; such as visits, overnight stays or even by other means such as telephone, letter or email.
Specific Issue Order
A parent (and sometimes other third parties) can apply to the court in respect of any “specific issue” concerning their children. Examples of this include disputes over a child’s schooling or medical treatment, or where a child should live.
The order will only deal with the specific issue in question, and cannot be used as a way of attempting to review other arrangements for the child such as contact or residence.
Prohibited Steps Order
This order prevents a parent from taking action in connection with a child, without first seeking the permission of the Court. This could involve preventing the removal of a child from the country.
Special Guardianship Order
These are intended to offer a long term arrangement for children who can’t live with their parents. The order confers parental responsibility on the “special guardian” which overrides (but not extinguishes) the parents PR. This order can only be made with the involvement of the local authority.