Specific Issue Orders and Prohibited Steps Orders

A Specific Issue Order is an order sought from the family court to determine a specific question which has, or may arise, in connection with any aspect of Parental Responsibility for a child. Prohibited Steps Orders are ones that are put in place to prevent a parent from making a decision about the child’s upbringing, such as taking a child abroad. The issues that need to be dealt with by a specific issue Order or prohibited steps Order are very open ended. By way of example, it has been held that this power extends to compelling a parent to tell a child the truth about its paternity.

Examples of Specific Issue and Prohibited Steps Orders

  • Whether your child or children should change their name(s)
  • Decisions pertaining to their education and where they should be schooled
  • Whether they should have a particular medical treatment or operation
  • Whether they should receive religious or non-religious education
  • Taking the child to live abroad on a permanent basis
  • Preventing someone from having contact with your child

Disputes often arise over choice of religion. However, children of mixed heritage are generally allowed to decide for themselves which, if any, religion they wish to follow.

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Specific Issue or Prohibited Steps Order Process

How is a Specific Issue or a Prohibited Steps Order made?

Generally these orders take place because an issue has arisen, such as one parent finding a new partner and wanting to move to a new location, or one parent wanting to take the children abroad on an extended holiday etc. The court’s main concern is always the welfare of the child in question and their best interests, so this will determine the outcome of any application for an order.

Applications are made on a C100 form and are heard before a judge and a representative from Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services), who is a qualified social worker. This first meeting will be in private and will endeavour to facilitate an agreement between the parents as to how to determine the issue. This needs the consent of both parents, which can often be impossible, particularly if there have been allegations of domestic violence.

Can the Court Make an Order of it Own Volition?

In situations where a magistrate or judge is satisfied there is a risk that one of the parent’s may go ahead with a particular course of action without seeking the other’s consent, they can make a Specific Issue or prohibited Steps Order of their own volition. When there are grounds to do so, they have been known to make an Order when the responsible parent is acting in an inappropriate way. Examples would be; taking the child to places that are not deemed suitable for children, or leaving them in the care of a person who is unsuitable to provide childcare.

Next Step - Directions for Hearing

If the initial meeting does not resolve the issue, the parents and the Cafcass officer, along with any solicitors representing them, go before a District Judge or magistrate in order to obtain directions for a trial. Both parents would usually submit a witness statement, and the appointed Cafcass officer will then interview both parents and prepare a report. If possible, the Cafcass officer will also see the child with each of the parents.

Final Hearing

If the case goes to a final hearing, each parent will give evidence in the Family Court and will be asked questions under oath by the opposing side. In most instances the Cafcass officer’s report will often settle matters before the final hearing happens and it is quite rare for a judge to find against the recommendations made in the report. If this does happen, the judge must provide reasons for his judgement. If the judge has made an error of law in coming to this decision, it can be challenged by way of judicial review. However, this is a complex legal procedure, and we would recommend you seek legal advice before embarking on such a claim.