Children

Children

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Court proceedings regarding your children

If you cannot agree the arrangements for your children (for example, where they will stay or how often they will see the other parent), you may need to seek court orders.

The courts are not meant to make orders about the children unless they are satisfied that it is better to make an order than not make an order (this is known as 'the no order principle'). The courts will not grant an order if it is unopposed, on the basis that there is no need for an order. The courts will not 'rubber stamp' arrangements that parents have for their children, as they feel that it is better for these to be a matter of agreement between the parents rather than a court order. If an agreement cannot be reached then the courts are there to make a decision.

In making any of the below orders the court must have the welfare of the child as its paramount concern. In deciding what is best for the child's welfare the court must take into account a number of issues (known as the 'welfare checklist'), including the age and sex of the child, their educational and health needs as well as their cultural needs.

There are four main types of orders under The Children (NI) Order 1995 that parents may apply for, namely:

Residence order

This decides where the child will live. This doesn't mean that the non-resident parent has no say in major decisions about the child. It simply decides where the child's principal residence will be. It is sometimes possible for a joint residence order to be made, where the parents have shared care of the children.

Contact order

If there is no agreement between you about when the child will see the non-resident parent, you can apply for a contact order. This asks the court to allow you to see your children on particular days and times. The court will consider all the relevant facts and decide what is in the child's best interest. The court may make the contact subject to certain conditions, for example, that contact is:

  • not to include an overnight stay;
  • is to take place at a contact centre; or
  • is supervised by a family friend.

Specific issue order

If there is a particular concern about something, it's possible to ask the court for an order relating to that matter. A specific issue order can be about any particular issue in relation to the child. This could, for example, be:

  • Whether to change the child's name
  • Whether the child should be allowed to go on a foreign holiday
  • Whether the child should receive particular medical treatment
  • What school the child should go to

Prohibited steps order

This prevents someone from doing something specified in the order without getting the court's permission first. For example, you may want to prevent your spouse or civil partner from taking your child on a holiday abroad.

Court considerations

Family Proceedings Courts are private closed courts. A judge will sit with normally two lay members, although sometimes there may just be one lay member (known as the panel). The panel will hear your case. There are a number of principles the court must have regard to in any Children Order case. Firstly, the welfare needs of the child must be paramount - in deciding this the court will have regard to 'the welfare checklist'; secondly, there must not be any undue delay in making a decision and finally, they must be satisfied that it is better to make an order than to make no order at all.

A child's view on an issue before the court may be taken into account when the panel is making this decision but will not necessarily be decisive. Generally, the older a child is the more weight will be put on their wishes and feelings. Children are sometimes spoken to independently by a specialised social worker, known as a Court Children's Officer (CCO). The CCO can meet the child and speak to them in the absence of either parent to ascertain their true feelings without any influence being exercised by either parent. The CCO will then report back to the court, sometimes verbally but more commonly in writing, as to what the child's wishes and feelings are. The CCO may also provide their view and recommendation to the court on what they feel is in the best welfare interests of the child.

If informal arrangements for contact break down, the court may order when contact occurs on the basis of an application by either parent. Contact applications can also be brought by other interested parties, such as grandparents, however they are required to make a preliminary application to the court seeking permission first.

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