It is always important to put the children first and help them cope with your separation or divorce as best you can. However, there are times when parents can’t or won’t communicate and it is impossible to reach an amicable agreement without involving the court.
Reasons for a specific issue order
A court grants a specific issue order when parents with parental responsibility cannot reach a decision regarding their children, such as:
- Change of surname
- Where the child should attend school
- Whether the child should follow a specific diet such as a vegan or gluten free diet
- Medical treatment
- Whether they should have a religious education
- Taking the child out of the country to live
- Preventing someone from having contact, such as introducing a new partner
Who can apply for a specific issue order?
If you do not fall within one of the categories below, you may still be able to apply for a specific issue order, but must first obtain permission from the court. The following people can apply for a specific issue order automatically:
- Anyone who holds parental responsibility
- Anyone named on a Child Arrangements Order
Before you can apply to court for a specific issue order, you may have to attend a MIAM (Mediation Information Assessment Meeting). However, there are some situations where mediation is unsuitable, for example, when domestic violence is involved or there is an emergency situation. In these circumstances, the mediator will sign the relevant form to confirm the case is exempt.
What factors will the court consider?
The court will always do what is in the child’s best interests, regardless of what the parents want. When making its decision, it will consider a range of factors which are contained in the welfare checklist. This includes, but is not limited to, the child’s wishes and feelings, their physical, emotional, and educational needs, in addition to any risk of harm and the impact of any potential change by the order being sought. To help it decide, the court may seek the opinion of outside agencies, such as CAFCASS, social workers, guardians, or other experts.
When does a specific issue order end?
A specific issue order can stay in place for a particular period of time, but will end automatically when the child reaches the age of 16, unless there are exceptional circumstances, in which case it can last until the child is 18. A specific issue order may also be varied or removed entirely if circumstances change, or the original order is no longer in the best interests of the child. Either party can make an application to have the order varied or discharged.
There are also some restrictions placed on making specific issue orders, including:
- Not making a specific issue order when the child has reached the age of 16 or has any effect beyond the child reaching the age of 16, unless exceptional circumstances apply
- If an order is extended beyond the age of 16, it must come to an end when the child reaches the age of 18
- The court cannot make a specific issue order if the child is in the care of the local authority
The order will set out the steps the parties must take to comply with its terms. Breach of a specific issue order can have serious consequences, such as being held in contempt of court, fined, or in persistent or serious cases, imprisonment.
The process of applying for a specific issue order can be complicated, so it is sensible to seek specialist legal advice to ensure you are following the correct procedures and presenting your case well.
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