A prohibited steps order prevents someone with parental responsibility from making a decision that affects a child’s upbringing.
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Such an order deals with a wide range of matters and lasts for as long as the court stipulates. This can either be for a defined period, such as six months, or may last until specific events, like the child leaving full-time education. The court will not make a prohibited steps order if the child is over the age of 16 unless there are exceptional circumstances.
A prohibited steps order can deal with a wide range of issues, the most common of which are:
1. Relocating a child either in the UK or overseas
When deciding on relocation cases, there is no procedural difference between a proposed relocation within the UK or relocating abroad. The welfare of the child is of paramount importance and is the primary legal principle where there is a dispute over relocation along with the welfare checklist, as set out in the Children Act 1989.
The courts must also look at the facts of the case and the different factors and considerations which will need to be afforded merit. They must also look at the relationship the parent making the prohibited steps order has with the child, taking into account the role they play in the child’s life, the impact of the move on the child’s future development, and the role of ongoing contact reducing that impact. In addition, depending on the child’s age, their wishes and feelings will carry increasing weight.
2. Moving a child to a different school
Sometimes a disagreement may arise as to where a child goes to school; this issue can become pressing if school places are few and far between, and an immediate decision is required. One parent cannot arbitrarily move the child without first obtaining the consent of the other parent, but if it becomes apparent such a move is on the cards, an application to prevent this via a prohibited steps order can be made.
As with any application involving children, the welfare checklist provides the framework for the court’s decision.
3. Changing the child’s surname
If a child is 16 or 17 years old, they can change their surname themselves. However, any younger, and all parties who hold parental responsibility, must agree to the change of name. If the parent wanting to make the change has sole parental responsibility, they can legally change their child’s surname without obtaining approval from the other parent or the court. That said, if the absent parent has regular contract with the child, they are likely to be able to challenge this in court.
When cases concerning change of surnames have been reported, it would appear that successfully changing a child’s surname can be difficult to win, particularly when it is opposed by the other parent. In the 1999 case of Dawson v Wearmouth, it found that a change of surname should not be allowed without evidence that it would improve the welfare of the child.
4. Consenting to medical treatment or procedure
When it comes to medical treatment or procedures, the court will focus on what is in the best interests of the child. The child themselves should be involved as much as possible, notwithstanding their age, in decisions about their healthcare. But if parents disagree and disputes cannot be resolved informally or via mediation, one of them can apply to court for a prohibited steps order to determine the matter.
Depending on the circumstances of the case, it is possible to make an emergency application for a prohibited steps order without notifying the other party. An emergency prohibited steps order may be granted by the court if there is “strong evidence or an imminent threat”. In such circumstances, the court can grant an order without notifying the other parent, although a further court hearing will be listed for a later date to hear the case in full.
Who can apply for a prohibited steps order?
An individual can apply for a prohibited steps order if they have parental responsibility. This includes the child’s:
- Anyone who has been granted residence (Child Arrangements Order)
If you do not have parental responsibility, you may still be able to obtain a prohibited steps order but must apply for permission from the court first. This could include an unmarried father whose name is not on the child’s birth certificate.
Can grandparents get a prohibited steps order?
Typically, unless grandparents have been granted a child arrangements order in relation to the child living with them, they will not have parental responsibility. If grandchildren do not live with them under such an order, they will first need the permission from the court to apply for a prohibited steps order.
Can a prohibited steps order prevent my children from meeting my ex’s new partner?
If it is not in your child’s best interest to meet your ex’s new partner, the court may make a prohibited steps order. You should think carefully before applying to the court for such an order as it can exacerbate your relationship with your ex, which will impact negatively on your contact with the child. In such a situation, it may be better to reach a suitable outcome using alternative dispute resolution methods, such as collaborative law or mediation.
Can a prohibited steps order help with domestic violence?
Prohibited steps orders can help to protect children at risk of domestic violence and/or in cases where it is not appropriate to negotiate with an ex because of domestic abuse concerns. For example, a prohibited steps order could stop a parent from taking a child away from school or nursery without consent. Without the order, the school or nursery could not prevent an abusive parent taking the child away.
How much does getting a prohibited steps order cost?
There is a court fee to pay when you make your application, and if you have instructed a solicitor, then there will also be the costs of legal advice and court hearings which differ depending on which part of the UK you live.
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