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Types of Orders the Family Court can make

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Tania Derrett-Smith takes a closer look at the types of Orders that the Family Court can make if there is a dispute or concern about a child.


Welcome to Weightmans. My name is Tania Derrett-Smith. I'm a principal associate in our national team of family law solicitors. We are here to help you. This is one of a series of Q&A podcasts that we have produced for parents to help them resolve disputes about their children on or after relationship breakdown.

Today we are looking at the types of orders that the family court can make if there is a dispute or concern about a child. The most common orders are child arrangement orders.

What types of orders can the court make?

Child arrangements orders are often referred to as a ‘live with’ order (sometimes called custody or residence), a ‘spend time with’ order (sometimes called access or contact). In addition, there are prohibited steps orders or a specific issue order. All of these orders will usually last until your child is aged 16.

Other orders may relate to child relocation, whether within the jurisdiction or moving abroad, parental responsibility, special guardianship, child abduction and/or financial provision for children.

What is a live with/spend time with order?

A child arrangements order specifies with whom a child should live (a live with order) and the time they will spend with the non-resident parent (a spend time with order). Child arrangements orders have replaced custody, access, residence and contact orders.

A child arrangements order can specify that a child lives with one or both parents (formerly known as shared residence or joint custody) or with a third party, such as a grandparent, depending on the child's circumstances.

If the court considers that your child should live with both parents, the order can specify the periods during which your child is to live in the different households involved and it is not therefore necessarily the case that your child will divide their time equally between their parents.

A child arrangements order will usually include a requirement for the person with whom the child lives, to make the child available to visit or stay with the other parent or person named in the order. A child arrangements order can therefore be made in favour of a non-resident absent parent or a third party such as a grandparent or other relative. For certain people it may be necessary to first obtain the permission of the court to make an application. Another of our podcasts explains more about a grandparent's position.

In addition to specifying the time a child will spend with its non-resident parent, a child arrangements order can also cover indirect contact by letter, electronic media such as Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, or telephone.

The frequency of contact can also be recorded in the order and can be specific in terms of, for example weekends or holidays. It can also be more general allowing parents flexibility to make their own arrangements within a general framework. The court may determine where the time spent with the child takes place and whether it is to be supervised.

Temporary removal of a child from England and Wales: any party with a live with order (which can be both parties) can remove the child from England and Wales for a period of up to 28 days without the written consent of the other, provided that it does not impact on arrangements for the other parent to spend time with the child.

Any other removal from the jurisdiction will be unlawful without written consent of the other parent or a court order.

What is a prohibited steps order?

A prohibited steps order can prevent one parent from taking certain action without the other parent's consent and as such deals with a specific problem that has arisen. A common use of this order is to prevent one parent from taking a child abroad, taking a child out of school or to prevent a change of surname.

What is a specific issue order?

A specific issue order allows the court to make a decision on a disputed point, such as what school a child should attend, whether a child should be known by a particular name, have a particular operation or what religion a child should adopt.

When a child arrangements order is in force, no party can change a child's surname without the written consent of everyone who has parental responsibility.

What is a special guardianship order?

A special guardianship order is an order appointing one or more individuals to a child's special guardian. It is intended for those children who cannot live with their birth parents and who would benefit from a legally secure placement.

It is a more secure order than a live with or residence order because a parent cannot apply to discharge it unless they have the permission of the court to do so. It gives parental responsibility to the applicant which gives them responsibility for day-to-day decisions relating to a child's care and upbringing. The local authority will be involved in the process preparing a report for the court's consideration.

Thank you for listening. If I or any of my colleagues in Weightmans’ family law team can help further, please do get in touch. You will find our details at the end of this podcast. When you need support with a family dispute, we'll look to resolve it sensitively yet robustly through constructive communication. We will always help you to search for solutions which reduce conflict and costs, whether your case requires complex litigation or a non-court based approach.