(Please find our latest guidance on the law in relation to the COVID crisis here)
It is always best if arrangements for children can be made directly between the parents. If this is possible, we can assist parents by drafting a Parenting Plan setting out the agreements reached and, where appropriate, a draft Order for the court’s approval. When parents require help in reaching a solution our expert children lawyers can guide you through the options including: solicitors’ correspondence, mediation and arbitration, roundtable meetings and other forms of dispute resolution.
Sometimes it is necessary to issue a court application and we have extensive experience in all areas of children law proceedings. This includes cases where there are serious allegations of abuse and the involvement of agencies, such as Social Services.
In all cases we aim to improve the parents’ co-parenting relationship and prioritise the children’s best interests.
We are members of Resolution, which is an organisation for family lawyers committed to a non-adversarial approach to children and Family Law issues, and accredited children law specialists through the Law Society. Contact our specialist family lawyers today
There are three main Orders available through the court under the Children Act 1989 to deal with disputes about children:
A Child Arrangements Order deals with the issues which previously used to be called Residence and Custody. The Order sets out:
When parents cannot agree on a decision relating to a child’s care, aside from contact and who they live with, they will have to issue an application for a Specific Issue Order.
These applications can deal with issues including:
We specialise in cases dealing with relocation and Leave to Remove, which require careful preparation whether acting for the parent who wishes to move or the parent opposing this. We have successfully acted for parents wishing to move to Asia, Australia and Europe.
A Prohibited Steps Order is used to limit when certain parental rights and duties can be exercised for example, preventing a child from being removed from their school or being taken abroad. Once a Prohibited Steps Order is made the other parent is prevented from taking that step without the consent of the court.
We are highly regarded specialists and independently recognised as leaders in the field of Family Law by the Legal 500 who highlight the team as being ‘particularly known for its very high levels of client service.’
The firm has won several awards this year. Latest awards – The Lawyer’s London Law Firm of the Year and LexisNexis Legal Award – The Law Firm of the Year 2019.
Our aim is always to resolve disputes outside court by way of agreement. We can offer mediation and collaborative options, although in our experience solicitor-led negotiation most often results in successful agreement.
There is no one size fits all approach and the cost would depend on your individual circumstances.
Our lawyers will provide you with a clear cost estimate with transparency about the approach to costs.
For most Family Law matters, we would be able to offer a fixed consultation fee for £300 + VAT. We would ask for documentation and information from you beforehand, assess your case, and advise you of your position and the best course of action. You will also be able to ask all of your key questions at that meeting.
When making any decision, the court’s paramount consideration is the welfare of the child.
The court will always give the following three principles the highest priority:
The court will also have regard to the following criteria, which is called the Welfare Checklist:
The court fee to issue an application is £215. (June 2019)
Parental responsibility is defined in the Children Act 1989 as “all the rights, duties, powers and responsibilities and authority that, by law, a parent of a child has in relation to the child and their property.”
In practice, a person with parental responsibility is entitled to have a say in key decisions about a child’s life, such as:
A mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth and will not lose it if she separates from the father or divorces.
Married fathers automatically have parental responsibility and will not lose it if they divorce.
Unmarried fathers do not automatically have parental responsibility. However they can acquire it in a number of ways.
Same-sex partners will both have parental responsibility if they were civil partners at the time of the child’s conception, if this was after 6 April 2009 e.g. donor insemination or fertility treatment.
For same-sex partners who are not civil partners, the 2nd parent can consider obtaining parental responsibility.
We frequently advise parents and individuals, including step parents and grandparents, who wish to obtain parental responsibility.
You do not always need to get the consent of the other parent for routine decisions relating to parental responsibility, even if they also have parental responsibility.
If it is a major decision – for example, one of you wants to move abroad with the children – all individuals with parental responsibility must give their consent or it will be necessary to apply to court for a Specific Issue Order or a Prohibited Steps Order
During the current Coronavirus Crisis some parents whose children are the subject of Child Arrangements Orders made by the Family Court have been understandably concerned about their ability to meet the requirements of these court orders safely in the wholly unforeseen circumstances that now apply. This short statement is intended to offer advice but, as the circumstances of each child and family will differ, any advice can only be in the most general form.
1 Parental responsibility for a child who is the subject of a Child Arrangements Order [‘CAO’] made by the Family Court rests with the child’s parents and not with the court.
2 The country is in the middle of a Public Health crisis on an unprecedented scale. The expectation must be that parents will care for children by acting sensibly and safely when making decisions regarding the arrangements for their child and deciding where and with whom their child spends time. Parents must abide by the ‘Rules on Staying at Home and Away from Others’ issued by the government on 23rd March [‘the Stay at Home Rules’]. In addition to these Rules, advice about staying safe and reducing the spread of infection has been issued and updated by Public Health England and Public Health Wales [‘PHE/PHW’].
3 The Stay at Home Rules have made the general position clear: it is no longer permitted for a person, and this would include a child, to be outside their home for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work.
4 Government guidance issued alongside the Stay at Home Rules on 23rd March deals specifically with child contact arrangements. It says:
“Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.”
This establishes an exception to the mandatory ‘stay at home’ requirement; it does not, however, mean that children must be moved between homes. The decision whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the child’s parents to make after a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.
More generally, the best way to deal with these difficult times will be for parents to communicate with one another about their worries, and what they think would be a good, practical solution. Many people are very worried about Coronavirus and the health of themselves, their children and their extended family. Even if some parents think it is safe for contact to take place, it might be entirely reasonable for the other parent to be genuinely worried about this.
5 Where parents, acting in agreement, exercise their parental responsibility to conclude that the arrangements set out in a CAO should be temporarily varied they are free to do so. It would be sensible for each parent to record such an agreement in a note, email or text message sent to each other.
6 Where parents do not agree to vary the arrangements set out in a CAO, but one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the CAO arrangements would be against current PHE/PHW advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe. If, after the event, the actions of a parent acting on their own in this way are questioned by the other parent in the Family Court, the court is likely to look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice and the Stay at Home Rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family.
7 Where, either as a result of parental agreement or as a result of one parent on their own varying the arrangements, a child does not get to spend time with the other parent as set down in the CAO, the courts will expect alternative arrangements to be made to establish and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent within the Stay at Home Rules, for example remotely – by Face-Time, WhatsApp Face-Time, Skype, Zoom or other video connection or, if that is not possible, by telephone.
The key message should be that, where Coronavirus restrictions cause the letter of a court order to be varied, the spirit of the order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child.
The Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane
President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice
24th March 2020
The following websites and other resources may be of assistance to parents in the present crisis:
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|Address:||Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors 180 North Gower Street London NW1 2NB|