Understanding Specific Issue Orders in UK Family Law: A Comprehensive Guide
What is a Specific Issue Order?
A Specific Issue Order, also known as a section 8 order, is an order made by the family court in Children Act 1989 proceedings to resolve disputes regarding a child’s upbringing or well-being, in situations where parents or guardians with parental responsibility cannot agree.
The variety of issues a Specific Issue Order can address include:
- Decisions about a child’s education
- Medical treatments or surgery for the child
- Changing the child’s name
- Taking the child abroad temporarily or permanently
- Decisions about a child’s religious upbringing
- Restricting someone’s contact with the child
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Who Can Apply for a Specific Issue Order?
Eligibility to apply for a Specific Issue Order extends beyond parents. Stepparents, legal guardians, and anyone named on a Child Arrangement Order also have the right to apply. However, those without parental responsibility will require court permission.
This inclusive approach ensures that all parties with a significant role in the child’s life can apply for the order when needed.
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When the court considers any application for a Specific Issue Order, any decisions about a child’s education, medical treatment decisions, religious upbringing, or cases involving taking a child abroad permanently will be determined in the best interest of the child, in accordance with the welfare principle and welfare checklist.
It is crucial to understand that the court’s primary concern is the child’s welfare. The authorities carefully scrutinise applications for Specific Issue Orders to ensure that the decisions align with the child’s best interests.
Real-life examples of a Specific Issue Order in use:
Example 1: A Specific Issue Order might be pursued if a parent wishes to change a child’s surname, and the other parent does not consent.
Example 2: If one parent plans to move abroad with the child and the other does not consent, this could lead to an application for a Specific Issue Order.
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What is the process of applying for a Specific Issue Order in Family Court?
- Step 1: Before applying, attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) is mandatory in most cases (unless an exemption applies) to determine if mediation could resolve the issue outside court.
- Step 2: If mediation is not successful, or you are exempt, the next step is to file the application with the Family Court.
- Step 3: An application under the Children Act 1989 must be prepared, typically using a C100 form. It is crucial to provide ample evidence to support your application.
For more guidance on this process, our blog on CAFCASS safeguarding in child arrangement cases is an excellent resource.
What to expect in the Family Court once a Specific Issue Order application is submitted?
After filing the application, the court typically schedules a first hearing (the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment, or FHDRA) within 5 to 6 weeks.
Before the first hearing, the court directs a CAFCASS officer to carry out Safeguarding checks. This involves a CAFCASS officer speaking with both parties to gain their views on any safeguarding or welfare issues and making their own enquiries e.g. with the police and social services, and sometimes the school or GP as appropriate.
The first hearing aims to reach an agreement, but if that is not possible, the court may direct the CAFCASS officer of the local authority to prepare a detailed welfare report (known as a s7 report). The court may also direct the parties to file position statements or detailed witness statements outlining their positions.
The court will then list the matter for a second hearing (the Dispute Resolution Appointment, or DRA). If agreement still cannot be reached then, the court will list the matter for a final hearing. If there are welfare concerns that need determining before a final hearing the court may also list a fact-finding hearing and/or a pre-trial review hearing.
How do Courts Evaluate Applications for Specific Issue Orders?
The evaluation of Specific Issue Order applications by the court is thorough, always prioritising the child’s best interests.
The Children Act 1989 provides guidelines for judges to consider several factors outlined in the welfare checklist, including but not limited to:
- The child’s wishes and feelings
- The child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs
- The potential effect of changes in the child’s circumstances, and any risks of harm.
- The capability of the parents to fulfil the child’s needs.
How long does a Specific Issue Order last for?
Specific Issue Orders, as with all Section 8 orders, typically end when the child reaches 16 years of age unless exceptional circumstances warrant an extension until the child is 18.
It is important to note that these orders are not usually made or effective beyond the age of 16, barring special situations. Additionally, the court cannot issue these orders if the child is under the care of a local authority.
What is the difference between a Specific Issue Order and a Child Arrangement Order?
Understanding the difference between a Specific Issue Order and a Child Arrangement Order is crucial. While the Children Act 1989 issues both orders, known as section 8 orders, they serve different purposes.
A Child Arrangement Order decides where a child will live and who they will spend time with, whereas a Specific Issue Order resolves a particular disagreement about a child’s upbringing. This distinction is vital for parents and guardians navigating family law.
What is the difference between a Specific Issue Order and a Prohibited Steps Order?
While a Specific Issue Order authorizes a particular action regarding a child’s upbringing, a Prohibited Steps Order, as the name suggests, prevents a parent or party from taking specific actions.
For instance, a parent might use a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent the other parent from moving a child abroad, changing the child’s school, or changing the child’s name without their consent.
Legal Advice: Navigating Specific Issue Orders Effectively
Navigating the complexities of Specific Issue Orders can be challenging. It is advisable to seek legal advice to understand your position and the best course of action. A family law expert can provide guidance tailored to your unique situation, helping to resolve issues amicably and efficiently.
Specific Issue Order: Other Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it typically take to obtain a Specific Issue Order?
Depending on the case’s complexity, court schedules, and at what stage in the proceedings an agreement is reached or a final order is determined, getting a Specific Issue Order can take several weeks to months.
Can a Specific Issue Order be appealed or modified once it is granted?
Yes, one can appeal or modify a Specific Issue Order once granted, but only under specific circumstances, such as significant changes in circumstances or new evidence.
What are the costs associated with applying for a Specific Issue Order?
The costs associated with applying for a Specific Issue Order vary, including court fees and potential legal representation costs.
Are there any common reasons why a Specific Issue Order might be denied by the court?
Two common reasons why a Specific Issue Order might be denied are:
- Lack of evidence supporting the application’s necessity
- Negative impact on the child’s welfare.
How does a Specific Issue Order interact with existing child arrangement orders?
A Specific Issue Order can complement or address specific issues not covered by the existing Child Arrangement Order.
What role does CAFCASS play in the process of obtaining a Specific Issue Order?
The CAFCASS provides a safeguarding letter, independent welfare reports and recommendations on the child’s welfare to the court.
Can grandparents or other relatives apply for a Specific Issue Order?
Yes, grandparents or other relatives who do not have parental responsibility can apply for a Specific Issue Order with the court’s permission.* Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*