Specific Issue Orders are one of many types of orders that can be made by the Family Courts, director Gemma Sparks explains more.
A Specific Issue Order is usually made when the parents/guardians of a child cannot agree on a particular issue, and the Court therefore must intervene to make a decision in the best interests of the child. The order will set out the specific issue that the Court has ruled on and the steps that the parties involved must take to comply with the order.
The order can address a specific aspect of a child’s welfare or upbringing covering things like:
- Where the child should go to school;
- Any changes to their legal name;
- What medical treatment the child should receive; or
- Whether the child can travel abroad with a person who has parental responsibility.
Who can apply for a Specific Issue Order?
Anyone who has parental responsibility for a child, such as a parent or a guardian can apply for a Specific Issue Order. Other individuals who have been granted parental responsibility, including step-parents, grandparents, or someone named in a “live with” Child Arrangements Order could also apply. If someone doesn’t fall into any of these categories, in some circumstance they may be able to apply for a Specific Issue Order, but they will need to get permission from the Court first.
We always recommend that individuals should try to discuss and solve issues amicably themselves when able but sometimes this just isn’t possible. When there is a dispute between individuals with parental responsibility, they will need to apply to the Family Courts to resolve the issue. In cases where there is an urgent need for resolution, such as in situations involving the child’s safety, an individual with parental responsibility can also ask the Court to deal with the case as an emergency.
How do I apply for a Specific Issue Order?
To apply for a Specific Issue Order you must apply to the Court using the designated form available from the HM Courts and Tribunals Service website, it is a good idea to get a specialist family lawyer who can support you to do this. Often the process of applying for a Specific Issue Order can be complex so ensuring you follow the procedure correctly and are presenting your case effectively is important. When filing the application, it is often vital to ensure you include evidence which meets the criteria in which the court consider, to ensure your case takes the right direction at the outset. This can often reduce costs.
You will need to give all the relevant information about the adults, the child, and the solution you are asking the Court to favour. It is advisable to include evidence you rely on in support of the application. A fee is payable upon filing the application unless you can meet the exemption criteria.
After the application has been filed, the Court will schedule an initial hearing where both sides will have the opportunity to present their case and evidence. If a resolution isn’t agreed at the initial hearing, the Court will typically request that each side file statements before the matter is listed for a final hearing. If there are any welfare concerns or other complexities, then this may not be the case as each case is different and should be dealt with as such. In any event, at the end of the case, the Court will decide on the specific issue and issue a Specific Issue Order.
What will the Court consider?
Firstly, the Court will look at the best interests of the child or children involved. Alongside that the Court will consider a range of other factors including things like the child’s wishes and feelings, their physical, emotional, and educational needs, plus any risk of harm and the impact of any change by the order sought.
The Court may seek the opinion of experts like Cafcass, social workers, guardians or other relevant expertise.
How long does a Specific Issue Order remain in place?
A Specific Issue Order can remain in place for a prescribed period of time until the specific issue of relevance has been resolved or until the child reaches the age of 18.
After the Court has made its decision, the order will set out the steps that the parties must take to comply with it.
The Court can vary or discharge a Specific Issue Order if there is a change in circumstances or if the original order is no longer in the best interests of the child. An application to the Court will have to made to have the order varied or discharged.
If there is a breach of a Specific Issue Order there can be serious consequences for the person not complying with it. They may be held to be in contempt of Court, be fined, or in the very worst case face imprisonment.
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