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Children

Family Law

Meet Sarah Finnis

We represent parents, step-parents and grandparents and understand the importance of ensuring that the needs of children are put first whether that it is when dealing with how they should spend time with each parent following separation or in relation to financial issues.

Our aim is always to support parents in minimising the potential negative impact upon children following relationship breakdown. Our Family Law team are available at our offices in Ashford, Canterbury and Herne Bay to offer you specialist advice tailored to your own individual circumstances

Children Act 1989 – applications for a court order

If you have parental responsibility for a child you may make an application for a court order. A mother automatically has parental responsibility, unmarried fathers will also have it if named on the birth certificate and same-sex partners acquire it in certain circumstances.

Parental responsibility is defined by Section 3 of the Act 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'. Having parental responsibility gives you a legal right to be involved in the major decision making in relation to that child.

In many cases where matters are agreed between all parties with parental responsibility, no order in respect of the child will be made.

If you do not have automatically have parental responsibility, say if you are a grandparent, you may still make an application to court but you would need the court’s permission in order to do so.

The Children Act sets out that the child's welfare is the paramount consideration and the court will apply what is known as the 'welfare checklist' to help it work out what is in a child ’s best interest . The welfare checklist looks at:

  • The child's wishes and feelings, considered in the light of his/her age and understanding
  • Their physical, emotional and educational needs
  • Their age, sex, background and any characteristics which the court considers relevant
  • The likely effect of any change in the child’s circumstances
  • Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
  • How capable each parent is of meeting the child’s needs.
  • The range of powers available to the court.

Even if an application is made to a court in respect of a child, the court will not make the order unless it considers that doing so will be better for the child rather than making no order at all.

Child Arrangements Orders

These orders deal with whom a child is to live, spend time, or otherwise have contact with.

Prohibited Steps Orders

These orders prevent a person from taking certain steps/action concerning a child e.g. taking a child abroad.

Specific Issue Orders

These orders are where the court has to determine a specific question which has arisen where the persons with parental responsibility cannot agree e.g. where parents cannot agree what school their child should attend.

Mediation

There are alternatives to court such as Mediation, Collaborative Law & Arbitration.

For most types of applications relating to children, under the Children Act (unless certain exemptions apply) you are expected to first attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (“MIAM”) to consider whether the dispute can be resolved through mediation without the need to proceed with court action. The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) will become involved if a court application is made.

CAFCASS

CAFCASS independently advise family courts and their role is to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. A CAFCASS officer will often speak to each parent in advance of the first court hearing and CAFCASS will sometimes also be asked by the court to prepared a detailed welfare report to assist the court in making its decision.

Financial Issues Relating to Children

The Child Maintenance Service deals with maintenance issues in relation to children. However, it may be possible to pursue top-up maintenance from the non-resident parent through the court for maintenance in respect of a child.

It is also possible to pursue maintenance against a step-parent although additional criteria have to be considered.

An unmarried parent may also be able to make a claim for financial support under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989.

For further advice, please contact a member of our Family Law team based in Canterbury, Ashford and Herne Bay.

Our Experts

Sarah Finnis

Head of Department
Family Law

Amanda Wilson

Partner
Family Law

Gemma Purt

Partner
Family Law

Curtis Wray

Associate Solicitor
Family Law

Megan Mahesan

Assistant Solicitor
Family Law

Related Pages

CURTIS WRAY PROFILE

Cohabitation Agreements - Financial Support for Children

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

I have reached an agreement with my child’s other parent, is this binding?

An agreement with your co-parent about the level and duration of contact that your child, or children, will have with each parent can often be the best solution for the child or children in the long term.

However, arrangements between co-parents are not legally binding even if these have been agreed and can be evidenced.

To make agreed arrangements of this kind legally binding, a Consent Order can be agreed by the Court which is a relatively straightforward process.

What is a MIAM?

In most cases, any individual wishing to issue legal proceedings must first attend a Mediation information and Assessment Meeting (“MIAM”) with a trained family mediator.

At the MIAM a mediator will assess whether mediation is the best solution to resolve your dispute. If both parties agree to mediation, this can often be cheaper and quicker than issuing legal proceedings.

If mediation is not suitable or the other parent does not agree to mediate you will be provided with a form confirming this position and you can then seek to issue legal proceedings relying on this form to demonstrate that you have attempted mediation.

The other parent keeps breaching a Child Arrangements Order what can I do?

If you have a Child Arrangements Order and the other parent breaches this order, you may apply to court to enforce the terms of the Child Arrangements Order. If a parent has a valid reason for not acting in accordance with a Child Arrangements Order the Court will take this into account.

If the Court is satisfied that the Child Arrangements Order has been breached it has a wide range of powers at its disposal which include:

  • Varying the existing Child Arrangements Order in regard to the current living or contact arrangements.
  • Referring the parties to mediation or confirming that they must undertake a specific activity, such as attending a parenting information programme for separated parents
  • Making an enforcement order which can impose unpaid work
  • Making an order for compensation for financial loss
  • Ordering a fine
  • Committing the individual breaching the order to prison.