Prohibited steps and parental rights and reponsibilities
A person with parental responsibility over a child has the right to make independent decisions about certain matters in relation to their child(ren). These include:
- Medical Treatment
- Place of residence
Where two or more people share parental responsibility and one disagrees with the decision of the other, they can apply for a Prohibited Steps Order restricting the other person’s ability to exercise their parental responsibility rights. If granted, such an Order will result in them being unable to independently remove the child from the Country or even the area where they currently live, or can prevent the child from being sent to a school which the applying person believes would not be in their best interests of attending.
Who can apply for a prohibited steps order?
Any person who has parental responsibility can apply for a Prohibited Steps Order. This includes a parent, guardian, or other person who has been granted a residence order in relation to the child(ren) in question.
How to apply for a prohibited steps order?
An application can be made either via a Solicitor, or personally to your local family Court. Aside from the application form itself, it is usually helpful to write a brief ‘Position Statement’ setting out the reasons why you are seeking a Prohibited Steps Order and why you feel that such an Order would be in the child(ren)’s best interests.
Whilst such a statement is not essential for your application, it will help the Judge understand your position when the matter comes before the Court.
In addition to the above, there will also be a Court fee for the application.
What is the Court Process?
After an application is issued the Court will appoint a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services Officer (CAFCASS Officer). This officer will then try and meet with the parties to see if any agreement can be reached without having to go through a full hearing at Court.
If no agreement is reached the CAFCASS officer will then investigate the matter further and prepare a report to the Court with their recommendations. Often, if the matter does not settle before a final hearing, the Court will follow the officer’s recommendations. On the occasions where they don’t, the Judge will have to explain why.
Court considerations before making a prohibited steps order
When considering whether to grant a Prohibited Steps Order the Court will look at what the parent with day to day custody wishes to do and the reasons why the applicant wishes to prevent them from doing it. Additionally, as with all child cases, the Court will have the child(ren)’s welfare as their overriding consideration.
For example, if a parent is trying to prevent the other from relocating, the Court will have to consider why the other parent is seeking to move. Do they have a genuine motive and reason to do so, or are they just trying to be vindictive against the other parent by trying to remove the child(ren) from their life. On the other hand, the Court will also consider that where one parent truly wants to leave a country/area and by not allowing them to do so they will be unhappy, this may affect the child(ren).
It is this fine balance which the Court will consider before making any Prohibited Steps Order.
It should be noted that the Courts will not use a Prohibited Steps Order where another type of Order will produce the same result. For example, if one parent seeks to prevent another from having contact with their child(ren), this could be achieved by having a Residence Order and Contact Order setting out what contact, if any, the other parent can have. The Court will not use a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent contact.
Can a Prohibited Steps Order be changed?
After a Prohibited Steps Order is awarded, the parties may well want to change the terms of the Order due to a change in circumstances. If they are in agreement as to what changes should be made, they can request that the Court amend the Order.
However the Judge will first consider what the terms of the agreement are to see if they still comply with the Welfare Principle, in that such terms continue to be in the best interests of the child(ren). If a change in the Order will effect a negative change on the child(ren) and their welfare, it is likely that the Court will refuse any amendments to the Order.
Non-compliance with prohibited steps order
Any party who fails to comply with a Prohibited Steps Order is committing a criminal offence and they could face a prison sentence.
What if the Child(ren) have already been taken abroad?
If a persons child(ren) have already been taken abroad by their other parent without consent and they do not return it can be very difficult to try and have them returned to you. Currently there are 45 countries which have entered into an agreement with the UK to help with the recovery of children in such circumstances making the process much quicker. These include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain and the United States.
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