This information was last updated: 8 December 2015
Since the introduction of new legislation in this area, there are three orders a court can make in relation to children:
Prohibited steps order:
This is an order that no step which could be taken by a parent in meeting his parental responsibility for a child, and which is of a kind specified in the order, shall be taken by any person without the consent of the court.
Specific issue order:
This 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. An example would be the choice of school or religious upbringing.
Child arrangements order:
These orders have replaced contact and residence orders. These orders determine where the child lives, when they spend time with each parent and when and what other types of contact take place, for example telephone calls.
Prior to applying to court:
You must now attend a MIAM (a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) with an independent and impartial mediator to try and resolve issues without applying to the court. Mediation can be an effective way to negotiate and to agree an arrangement between you, although both parties must be willing to cooperate.
Applying to the court:
You can apply directly to the court for any order if you are:
- A parent (which includes an unmarried father, whether or not he has parental responsibility)
- A step-parent or civil partner who has parental responsibility for the child
- A guardian or special guardian
You can also apply directly to the court for child arrangement orders if you are:
- A foster carer who has had the child living with you for at least one year
- A grandparent, aunt, uncle, sibling or step parent and you have had the child living with you for one year
- Anyone else and the child has been living with you for at least 3 years (in the last 5 years);
- Have the agreement of anyone who already has ‘Residence Order’ in respect of the child or has a Child Arrangements Order (which says that the child should live with them); or Children’s Services if the child is in care; or everyone else with parental responsibility for the child
Otherwise you will need permission from the court to apply for an order in relation to children using a leave to apply form, a Form C2.
Once you have established you do not require permission of the court to apply, or you have obtained the relevant permission of the court if required, you then need to complete the application form, known as the C100 Form. You will also need to pay the court fee, which is currently £215. You can access all court forms online or ask for a copy from your local County Court. Guidance notes are also available online to assist you in completing some of the court forms.
You will need to send to the court:
- Your completed application form (you will need enough copies to serve on all respondents and for CAFCASS)
- Your court fee (or fee remission application)
- Any existing Parenting Plan
- (plus any leave to apply forms)
Following your application:
The court should issue your application within 24 hours of receipt. Your application will be allocated within the family court and you will be sent a Notice of Hearing. The respondent will then receive:
- A copy of the application
- Notice of Hearing
- Acknowledgement of Service form
- Directions on issue (informing of the necessity to attend a MIAM, if not already done so)
The respondent must complete the Acknowledgement of Service form and return it to the court within 14 days. Papers will also be submitted (by the court) to CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, an organisation independent of the courts and social services). They will conduct initial safeguarding checks within seventeen days and also conduct further investigations, should this be requested by the court.
The First Hearing:
This will be a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). All parties and a CAFCASS officer should attend the hearing. The purpose of the hearing is to attempt to discuss the issues in a conciliatory way and attempt to resolve some of the issues. If the parties are not in agreement the court will identify the issues that need to be determined and set a timetable for conducting further enquiries and producing further evidence, for instance CAFCASS may be required to carry out further enquiries and produce a welfare report. The court can also decide to make an interim order as to where the children live before the final hearing. The court will fix the final hearing date. There may also be a Fact Finding Hearing as well, if there are issues of domestic or child abuse. These issues will need to be determined before the case can proceed.
After the FHDRA:
The parties must comply with any directions ordered by the court. For example:
- Witness statements may need to be prepared and sent to all parties and the court
- Experts or CAFCASS will prepare a report and make a recommendation. They will meet with the children and with both parents separately
- The Applicant should send to the court a bundle of core papers at least 2 working days before the hearing
Dispute Resolution Appointment:
The judge will discuss the findings of the CAFCASS officer with the parties and will encourage them to make their own agreement in line with the report’s recommendation. If the parties still cannot reach an agreement, it will be listed for a final hearing.
The Final Hearing:
The court will consider all the evidence to date and may hear evidence from each of the parties before deciding whether or not to make the order applied for.
Following the Final Hearing:
If the Judge decides to grant the order applied for, a copy is sent to all parties to avoid anyone failing to comply with the order due to not knowing of its existence or terms.
Can we help?
If you are of limited financial means, you may be eligible to receive legal aid to fund an application. Alternatively, we are able to offer reasonable rates or fixed fees.
If you would like to arrange a consultation please telephone 0208 885 7986
The information provided in this How To: is general advice and information and Wilsons Solicitors LLP accepts no liability for its applicability to the facts of your individual circumstances.
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