When separated or divorced parents cannot make decisions about their child’s future together, one parent can apply to the family courts and ask that they make the decision instead. The courts will consider all of the facts, and base their decision on the best interests of the child.
The court’s ruling will then be set out in a Specific Issue Order, a legally binding form of Child Arrangements Order. This legal order must then be followed by all parties involved.
Specific Issue Orders can be used to resolve various family disputes, including:
To apply for a Specific Issue Order you must make an application to the family courts under section 8 of the Children Act 1989.
We recommend that you seek legal advice before making an application. A specialist child law solicitor will help guide you through the legal process, work towards resolving issues without court intervention wherever possible, and clarify arrangements as quickly and amicably as possible.
In most cases, before applying for a Specific Issue Order, it’s mandatory for both parents to attend an initial Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM).
The purpose of the MIAM is to determine whether Mediation is appropriate and gauge whether it’s possible to resolve the issue without court intervention.
If Mediation is unworkable or unsuccessful, you can file your application for a Specific Issue Order with the Family Court.
Once the application has been issued a representative form Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services (CAFCASS) will speak to both parties and undertake some basic safeguarding checks then send a short report to the Court summarising the outcome of their checks.
The Court will then schedule a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) where the case will be heard by a Judge or Magistrates. A CAFCASS officer will usually be present. The Court will consider the safeguarding information and will encourage the parties to reach an agreement.
If the first hearing does not resolve the issue the Court will set out how the case should proceed. The Court may order CAFCASS to prepare a report. Typically, these take about 12 weeks to prepare and once the report is finished, the parties will attend a Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA) to see if an agreement can be reached.
In the event that the issue remains unresolved, the case will go to a Final Hearing in which the Court will hear the evidence from the parties involved, the Cafcass officer, and other experts to make a legally binding decision.
Decisions made by the court are centred around the child’s welfare and best interests. The Children Act 1989 outlines guidelines for judges to consider when reaching a decision:
A family court specific issue order usually ends when a child reaches 16 years of age. In some cases, the court can set the order for a specific period of time or, in exceptional circumstances, they can last until the child reaches 18 years of age.
A prohibited Steps Order is another form of Child Arrangements Order. While the process is similar to a Specific Issue Order, the purpose is different.
A specific issue order is made to agree on a particular course of action, while the purpose of a prohibited steps order is to prevent action, for example removing a child from school, changing their surname, or taking them out of the country.
Submit your details, and we’ll arrange a free, no-obligation callback at a time to suit you. Please note that we cannot offer Legal aid.