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How Long Does A Prohibited Steps Order Last?

Even when separated parents get on well, it is not always easy to co-parent after a relationship breakdown, and these challenges are multiplied when you struggle to see eye-to-eye with a former partner.

If you wish to make a decision that affects the care and upbringing of your child, such as changing their surname, you may find yourself subject to a Prohibited Steps Order if the other parent, who shares parental responsibility with you, is opposed to that decision.

This can be a frustrating experience, but understanding how a Prohibited Steps Order works can help you consider your options.

What is a Prohibited Steps Order?

A Prohibited Steps Order (PSO) is a legally binding court order through which a parent or guardian of a child(ren) can prevent another from exercising their full parental responsibility. The order will prohibit a parent or guardian from taking certain actions in a child's life without the express permission of the court.

Prohibited Steps Orders can address a large scope of parental choices which often become contentious. These include decisions such as moving a child(ren) to another location, changing their school, consenting to a medical procedure and / or bringing them up in a new faith. They cannot, however, be applied for if a child is over the age of 16 or in the care of a local authority, who may need to make unilateral decisions regarding the child's safety or wellbeing regardless of parental preferences.

In considering an application for a PSO, the court’s paramount consideration will be the child’s best interests, and the court will assess this by carefully applying all of the factors set out in what is known as the Welfare Checklist. This allows the court take an unbiased view of what will most benefit the child in what can be very emotional situations.

Examples Where a Prohibited Steps Order Could Apply

It can be extremely difficult for separated parents to agree on what's best for their children once they are leading separate lives and their interests are no longer entirely aligned. To illustrate the problems that separated parents can encounter that could potentially lead to a PSO, we have outlined some examples below:

Scenario One:

Separated parents Phillippe and Amy have two children that Phillippe believes would have greater opportunities in his home country of France, where he owns a house close to his family. He argues that their school in the UK is inadequate and points to a lack of wider familial support where they are being raised.

Amy, on the other hand, contends that having to move or travel to France to parent her children is unfeasible, and maintains they would be adversely affected by her inability to be a key part of their lives.

If Amy believes that Philippe intends to relocate with children to France without her consent, she could make an application to the Court for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent Philippe from doing so.

Scenario Two:

Having been separated from her partner, Ryan, for several years, Alex has met a community she has felt welcomed by and converted to a religion which has strong views regarding sexuality and gender roles.

Ryan, however, is deeply uncomfortable with his children being brought up in this faith, considering its beliefs to be antithetical to his own and potentially harmful to his children's education and well-being.

Ryan could apply to the court for a PSO limiting the extent his children become part of this religion and preventing Alex from submitting their children for formal acts of conversion (such as baptism).

Scenario Three:

The parents of one toddler, Angela and Robert, broke up soon after the baby was born, but Robert has always taken an active role in the child’s life. After noting more reluctance from Angela to maintain contact, Robert discovers that Angela is seeing a new partner, and has heard through mutual acquaintances that this new partner is jealous of Robert and Angela’s former connection.

Alarmed by this news, Robert asks more people about this new partner and hears that he was violent towards his ex-wife.

Robert could apply to the court for a PSO preventing Angela from introducing their child to her new partner and / or (subject to substantial evidence) preventing Angela’s partner from spending any unsupervised time with their child.

In some circumstances the court will make a time-limited PSO upon receipt of an application, for example, grant a PSO until the date of the first hearing when the application and the need for an ongoing PSO will be considered further.

Please note, the Court will need substantial evidence in support of an application to make a PSO.

How Long Does a Prohibited Steps Order Last?

The length of a PSO will vary case by case dependent on the reason behind the application and any potential risk of harm to the child(ren). The court will set the duration according to the best interests of the child(ren) subject to the application. As such, a PSO can be granted for a number of months or be in place for a number of years. Generally, and unless the subject child(ren) to the application remain at risk of harm, the Court will discharge a PSO at the conclusion of court proceedings when a determination on the issue in dispute will have been made. In some circumstances, a PSO can remain in force until “further order” meaning until a subsequent superseding order is made and in such circumstances (where no further order is made), the PSO will automatically end when the subject child(ren) turns 18 years old as the child is then no longer considered a child.

What happens if you break a Prohibited Steps Order?

If a parent ignores or breaches a PSO and goes ahead with their decision, the other party can apply to the court to enforce the order and reverse the action that has been taken (such as returning a child from a new location or holding their passport for safety). Breaching a PSO once it has been issued could be viewed as contempt of court and will result in punishment permitted under the law being taken against the offending party. In some cases, this can include a fine or even a prison sentence.

Discharging a PSO

There are a variety of scenarios where it is possible to have a PSO discharged:

  • If the PSO is no longer needed. If, for example, you have been prevented by a PSO from introducing your child to a new partner but have since separated, your co-parent may decide to discharge the PSO by making another application to the court.
  • Both parties agree to change the PSO. It is advised in this situation that rather than simply allowing the PSO to stand and ignoring it, co-parents apply to vary the order so these decisions are sanctioned by the court (and are therefore legally binding).
  • Prohibited Steps Orders can also be lifted if a CAFCASS Advisor conducts a report and recommends the court removes it. In some circumstances, individuals can also appeal the court’s decision, although this process can be lengthy.


While we hope this overview of Prohibited Steps Orders has provided some of the information you need, as is always the case when it comes to legal matters, every situation is unique and you should obtain tailored advice to your specific circumstances before making any decisions.

If you are finding co-parenting challenging and have some specific legal issues to resolve regarding the care of your children, our legal experts at Girlings Solicitors can help. Contact the team to discover how we can support you today.

Further information about our Family Law expertise and services are also available here.

Family Law

Before relying on this commentary please read the Reliance on information posted section in our Terms of Website Use in our Legal section. Please note that specialist advice should be taken in relation to any specific queries and the information above is provided for general information purposes only.


Anisha Teelwah

Senior Associate Solicitor
Family Law


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