Frequently asked questions relating to children issues

Orders that can be made by the Court under the Children Act 1989

Parental Responsibility
  1. What is parental responsibility?

    Parental responsibility is not an easy concept to understand. It is defined in the Children Act 1989 as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”. A person who has parental responsibility has the right to be involved in major decisions concerning arrangements for a child e.g. education, medical treatment, change in residence. However, acquisition of parental responsibility does not give a person the right to interfere in day to day arrangements for a child.

  2. Do I have parental responsibility for my child?

    A mother has automatic parental responsibility – so does a married father. An unmarried father will only have parental responsibility if the registration of the birth took place after 1.12.03 and the father is named on the birth certificate.

  3. I don’t have parental responsibility how do I acquire it?

    You can do this in two ways:
    a) By entering into a written agreement with the mother on a prescribed form. This form has to be witnessed by a court official and is then sent to the Principal Registry of the
    Family Division in London and sealed copies are returned to each parent.
    b) By applying for a court order. The courts rarely refuse a father an order for parental responsibility particularly if he can demonstrate commitment towards the child by contact and financial support.

  4. I am a step‐parent can I acquire parental responsibility?

    It is possible to acquire parental responsibility in two ways:
    a) You can enter into a written agreement with the parent or parents who already have parental responsibility for the child.
    b) The court may grant a parental responsibility order.

  5. What is a residence order?

    A residence order sets out the arrangements as to the person with whom a child will live. A residence order gives parental responsibility (if not already held) to the person in whose favour the order is made.

  6. What about shared residence?

    A residence order can be shared between two people, so the children in effect have more than one place they consider to be their home and their time is shared between the two.

  7. What is a contact order?

    A contact order requires the person with whom a child lives to allow the child to visit or stay with the person named in the order or to have contact in some other form.
    Contact can be direct (visiting/staying) or indirect (letter/cards/presents).
    Contact with his/her natural parents is regarded as a fundamental right of the child and there have to be strong reasons for a court to refuse contact.

  8. What is custody and access?

    These are outdated legal terms. Parental responsibility and residence have replaced custody and contact has replaced access.

  9. I am a grandparent/ step‐parent can I apply for residence or contact?

    As a grandparent, you will need leave of the court to bring an application for residence or contact unless the child has been living with you for a period of at least three years. The court will look at the connection you have to the child, the type of order you seek and whether there will be any disruption to the child’s life to the extent that harm will be caused.
    As a step‐parent (if you are married or have been married to the child’s parent) you can bring an application for residence or contact without the necessity of applying for leave of the court.

  10. What is a prohibited steps order?

    A prohibited steps order is designed to prevent a parent from doing a specific thing relevant to their child without the consent of the court. Such an order can be made in conjunction with a contact or residence order. Frequently, it is used where a parent is threatening to take the child out of the jurisdiction of the court.

  11. What is a specific issue order?

    This order allows the court to determine an issue usually relating to some aspect of parental responsibility e.g. where there are differences as to schooling, medical treatment, changing a child’s surname and other specific aspects of a child’s upbringing. As with prohibited steps, the order can be made in conjunction with residence or contact orders.

  12. What does the court consider when making an order under the Children Act 1989?

    Under the Children Act 1989, the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration of the court when looking at the child’s upbringing or the administration of a child’s property or income. In reaching many decisions the court has to consider the welfare checklist set out below:
    a) the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding).
    b) his physical, emotional and educational needs
    c) the likely effect on him of any change of circumstances
    d) his age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant
    e) any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering
    f) how capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs
    g) the range of powers available to the court under the Act in the proceedings in question.