The Children Act 1989 makes clear that, where parents are in agreement over the arrangements for the children, the Court is unlikely to become involved in making Orders in favour of either parent. However, problems can arise, and set out below are some issues that commonly have to be resolved. In dealing with any such issues, the Court’s primary concern is to do what is best for the child. The child’s views will be considered if the child is old enough and has sufficient understanding of what is being asked.
Parental Responsibility: Parental responsibility has little to do with the day to day arrangements for a child, and everything to do with the child’s overall welfare and upbringing. Where parents share parental responsibility, they should consult one another on matters of importance relating to their child’s welfare. For more information on parental responsibility and acquiring parental responsibility click here.
Child Arrangement Orders: Since 22 April 2014, “Child Arrangements Orders” have replaced “Residence” and “Contact” Orders in relation to private law children proceedings determining with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person. For more information on Child Arrangement Orders click here.
Third Parties: There is a misconception that the Children Act 1989 gives rights to various third parties, such as grandparents for example. In fact, all that the Children Act 1989 and the supporting Rules of Court do is to establish a procedure whereby interested third parties might be able to make applications to the Court for Orders in relation to a child. In most cases, any third party wishing to make such an application will first of all have to obtain permission (“leave”) of the Court. In deciding whether or not to give leave, the Court will endeavour to weed out those cases that do not seem to have any realistic prospect of success. The idea of this is to avoid the stress of contested Court proceedings in those cases which appear to be without reasonable merit.
Court Applications – The Procedure: It will generally be expected that before an application is made to the Court both parties will see if the issues arising can be resolved through mediation. This means that, unless a specified exemption applies, attendance at a Family Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) is compulsory before an application relating to children can be issued at Court. For more information on the factors a court will take into account if mediation is unsuccessful, the timescale and the likely costs involved click here.
Financial Support: There are some financial Orders that can be made under the Children Act 1989, but these are infrequently used. Within divorce proceedings there are different provisions which, for example, would enable a party to a marriage to apply to the divorce Court for a Maintenance Order from the other party in respect of a step-child. The involvement of the Court however, has been much reduced by the Child Support Act 1991 (CSA 1991), which deals with the obligations of parents to provide maintenance for their natural children. For more information on financial support click here.
The detail above relates to Private Law issues arising between parents and step-parents of children. They do not relate to Public Law Child Care proceedings involving Social Services and other parties. Entirely different provisions relate to such matters, and will be discussed separately if they arise.
The Essex Family Courts have issued guidelines which give information as to the sort of things a Court will be looking for in any Court application relating to the arrangements for children. A copy of this PDF can be downloaded by clicking here.