If a child’s parents can not agree on how often, or when, the child should get to see their non-resident parent an application can be made to the Court for a Judge to decide the issue; this is known as a Contact Order.
The Court has broad powers in this respect and can make orders that are very general (stating that one parent should have “reasonable contact” for example) or quite specific; setting out the precise times and dates for all contact. The type of order that the Court chooses to make will obviously depend upon the nature of the case and the relationship between the parents. Generally, however, the Court will try to clearly set out the arrangements for the most significant period of contact (weekend contact for example) and will then allow the parties to arrange other contact between themselves. Contact orders can also cover things such as how much time the child should spend with each parent during the school holidays or over the festive periods. When making such orders the Court must always have regard to the best interests of the child.
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If there are allegations of abuse or violence, either by one parent towards the other or by one parent towards the child, the court may be asked to decide whether that parent should have any contact with the child at all or whether any contact that they do have should be supervised. Depending on the complexity of the issues involved, and the nature of any allegations made, the court may ask a CAFCASS officer and other experts to prepare reports to help the Court make it’s decision. Again, the court’s paramount consideration will always be the child’s best interests.
The Children Act 1989
As well as Residence and Contact Orders parents may also make other applications under the Children Act 1989.
Specific Issue Orders
Applications can be made for the Court to decide a specific issue about a child. This process is reserved for important decisions but the Court can help if parents are unable to agree on whether a child should undergo specific medical treatment or which school they should attend.
Prohibited Steps Orders
A parent may also apply for an order preventing the other parent from taking a particular course of action in relation to the child. These orders (known as Prohibited Steps Orders) could be used to stop the other parent from removing the child from their home or school or to prevent the other parent from taking the child out of the jurisdiction.
Finally, in some cases it may be appropriate for the child, either in their own right or through a guardian, to start proceedings themselves for orders under the Children Act 1989.