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Q&A on the types of Court orders available under the Children Act of 1989

February 2012

Solicitor Nadifa Ahmad answers questions on Family law.


This section will deal with the types of court orders which can be applied for involving children, the role of CAFCASS at court and Parental Responsibility and how parents acquire it.

There are four different orders the court can make under the Children Act 1989

  1. Residence Order (sometimes referred to as "custody")
  2. Contact Order
  3. Prohibited Steps Order
  4. Specific Issue Order

Residence Order

A residence order determines where a child's main place of residence is and with whom the child shall reside with. A residence order can be made in favour of one person or in some circumstances; the court can make an order for "joint/shared" residence in favour of two parties who live separately.

A residence Order will normally last until the child reaches the age of 16 unless there is good reason for the residence order to continue for longer.

If a residence order is made in your favour and you do not have parental responsibility of the child concerned, then you will gain this automatically when the court grants a residence order. Once a residence order has been granted, you will be prohibited from removing the child from the jurisdiction for more than 1 month and/or changing the child's name unless you have written consent from all those who have Parental Responsibility in relation to the child or an order from the court. (For further details on Parental Responsibility please see notes below)

Contact order

An application can be made for a contact order in circumstances where contact arrangements in relation to a child or children cannot be agreed amicably between parents who have separated or indeed other members of the family such as grandparents.

A contact order will require the person with whom the child/ren lives with to make the child/ren available to contact with the person named in the order. This is usually the absent parent, but can also include grandparents and other family members. Contact can be indirect contact, which consists of letters, gifts and cards, with telephone contact but without actual direct contact taking place. This would normally be the case where there has been a long period of time where contact has not taken place between the child and the applicant and in practice, indirect contact is a sensible way of re-establishing that relationship.

Contact can also be supervised, for instance at a contact centre if there are any safe guarding issues or again if there has been a period of time where one party has not had any contact with the child concerned. The court and/or CAFCASS may think that it is beneficial that contact starts in a supported environment such as a contact centre, before progressing to unsupervised contact.

A contact order can include specific details such as dates/days/times/location of contact. If a party to the contact order breaches the order then they can run the risk of being fined, carrying out community work and in some cases, imprisoned if the order is consistently breached without good reason.

Prohibited Steps Order

A prohibited steps order prevents one parent from doing a certain action that is stated in the order without the courts permission. For example, if one parent wishes to take the child/ren out of the country and the other parent objects or if one parent fears that the other parent may remove the child from their care and control then the court can intervene to decide if it would be in the child/ren's best interests and whether the course of action should be allowed.

Specific Issue Order

If you cannot decide on a specific issue relating to your child/ren, then as the name of this order suggests, you can apply to the court to decide on a specific issue. This could include issues such as where the child goes to school, what religion the child should practice or even changing the child's name or whether the child should receive certain medical treatment.

The role of CAFCASS

When an application for an order is made concerning any child/ren CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) will also receive notification of the application and details of the parties. Their role is to look at the best interests of the child/ren involved in any proceedings. CAFCASS will work together with each of the parties and children (if they are of an appropriate age) and will then make recommendations to the court. The recommendations will be based on their opinion having spoken to the parties and having carried out initial safeguarding checks (with police and social services and any other relevant organisations) on what would be in the best interests of the child/ren.

Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility is all the rights, duties, powers, responsibility and authority, which a parent has in relation to the child. The mother of the child will always have parental responsibility (except where adoption takes place). If you are a father married to the birth mother then you will automatically have Parental responsibility.

If the child concerned was born after 1st December 2003 and the father is named on the birth certificate then he will also have Parental responsibility. Alternatively, a natural father who is not married to the birth mother and not named on the birth certificate can acquire parental responsibility by way of a formal parental responsibility agreement or by making an application to the court.

At Norrie Waite & Slater we have a team of experienced solicitors who deal with these types of matters every day. If you are thinking about making an application to the court for an order or if you have been served with an application your ex-partner has made then we can represent you.

Contact our family department to make an appointment with one of our solicitors. Depending on our availability, we sometimes are able to offer same day appointments for your convenience so give our friendly team a call and see how we can help you today!

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