All proceedings relating to children are governed by the Children Act 1989 (as amended by the Children and Families Act 2014).
Section 8 Orders
Under section 8 of the Children Act 1989, three different types of Orders can be made in respect of children:
- Child Arrangements Orders;
- Prohibited Steps Order; and
- Specific Issue Orders.
A Child Arrangements Order can regulate (a) with whom a child is to live, spend time with, or otherwise have contact and (b) when a child is to live, spent time with or otherwise have contact with a person.
A Specific Issue Order is an order giving directions for the purpose of determining a specific question which has arisen or which may arise in connection with any aspect of Parental Responsibility for a child; or example, a Specific Issue Order can be used to decide which school a child should attend, whether a child should have a particular operation or course of treatment, or what religion the child should adopt.
A Prohibited Steps Order is an order that no step that could be taken by a parent in meeting their Parental Responsibilities for a child and which is of a kind specified in the order, shall be taken by any person without the consent of the court. A Prohibited Steps Order could be used, for example, to prohibit the removal of a child from the country, or prevent a change of their surname.
Each of these Orders will determine a particular matter relating to the child’s upbringing. A section 8 order lasts until the child reaches the age of 16; although an order can last until a child is 18 in exceptional circumstances.
Special Guardianship Orders
Special Guardianship is an order made by the Family Courts that places a child or young person to live with someone other than their parent(s) on a long-term basis. The person(s) with whom a child is placed will become the child’s Special Guardian.
A Special Guardian will get Parental Responsibility for the child until the child reaches the age of 18. Unlike adoption, a Special Guardianship Order will not remove Parental Responsibility from the child’s birth parent(s).
As well as making general day-to-day decisions, it is the responsibility of the Special Guardian to make important decisions concerning the long-term care and upbringing of the child, such as deciding which school the child is to attend.
A Special Guardian will have a higher level of Parental Responsibility than the birth parent(s). Therefore, the opinion of the Special Guardian will take precedence if a conflict was to arise between the parent(s) and the Special Guardian(s).
Section 3(1) of the Children Act 1989 defines Parental Responsibility as ‘all rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’.
In reality, Parental Responsibility gives a parent responsibility for taking all of the important decisions in a child’s life, for example, education, religion and medical care. It also enables a parent to take day-to-day decisions, for example, in relation to nutrition, recreation and outings.
The duties involved in Parental Responsibility will change from time to time with differing needs and circumstances, and will vary with the age and maturity of the child. It is important to bear in mind that a child will gradually become mature enough to take decisions for himself.
Married parents have joint Parental Responsibility; if parents are not married, only the mother has Parental Responsibility for a child. An unmarried father can acquire Parental Responsibility for a child by, for example, being registered as the father on the child’s birth certificate with the consent of the mother.
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) was established by the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000.
In respect of family proceedings in which the welfare of a child is in question, Cafcass has the principal function of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the child, giving advice to any court about any application made to it in such proceedings, and providing information, advice and other support for the child and the family.