When parents cannot agree over the arrangements for their children after separation or divorce, they do not necessarily need to apply for custody or a child arrangements order. Instead, their legal remedy may be an application under the Children Act for a specific issue order.
What is a Specific Issue Order?
A specific issue order is an order made by a judge of the family court. The order decides an issue that is in dispute in connection with any aspect of the exercise of parental responsibility for a child.
It is hard to explain what a specific issue order is and what it is used for without using examples of situations where parents have applied to court for specific issue orders.
Examples of Specific Issue Orders
A family court judge can decide on almost any aspect of parental responsibility if a parent applies for a specific issue order.
The most frequent types of specific issue order applications are about:
- Whether a child should be educated privately or state educated;
- The specific choice of private school or nursery. To some parents a school’s education and examination record is the key factor in choice of school. However, to the other parent, the distance from home or the quality of pastoral care or the fact that they went to a particular school are the reasons why they are at loggerheads with the other parent over the choice of school;
- Whether a child should observe a particular religion and attend religious ceremonies or go to a religious school;
- Whether a child should follow a gluten free or meat free vegan or vegetarian diet ;
- Whether a child should be baptised or circumcised ;
- Whether a child should be allowed to change gender;
- Whether a child should be immunised;
- Whether a child should be given a new first name or surname ;
- Whether a child should go to a family event, such as a second wedding or act as bridesmaid or pageboy.
There are many other specific issue order topics. That is because the ‘’burning issue’’ in every family or separated family is always different. Therefore specific issue order applications are as individual as the families who struggle to agree on parenting decisions.
How Do You Agree a Specific Issue?
The best children law solicitors will not just give you the option of applying to court for a specific issue order from a family judge. That is because there are alternative options to making an application to court for a specific issue order. For example, you could:
- Have direct discussions ; with the help of a solicitor in the background;
- Go to a round table solicitor meeting ;
- Attend family mediation ;
- Use family arbitration;
- Attend family counselling.
In appropriate family cases, mediation or counselling sessions can involve the child if the child is old enough to express an opinion and the child’s parents and professionals think that involving the child in the discussion is right for the child.
Deciding a Specific Issue Order Application
The way a judge decides a specific issue order application is no different to how a judge decides on a child arrangements order application. That is because the judge has to consider and apply the same welfare criteria to make a decision.
A judge decides a specific issue order application based on what the judge believes is in the child’s best interests. The judge must consider a number of statutory factors (known as the welfare checklist) when making court decisions about children.
The Children Act 1989 welfare checklist lists the factors that the judge considers, including:
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned, in light of his or her age and understanding; and
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs; and
- The likely effect on the child of any change in his/her circumstances; and
- The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics the court considers relevant; and
- Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering; and
- How capable each of the parents and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant is of meeting the child’s needs; and
- The range of powers available to the court.
The judge will carry out an assessment, of what they believe to be best for the child after considering the evidence and the welfare checklist.
It is not unusual for parents who are living together or who are separated to fall out over a specific issue relating to the parenting of their child , for example one parent not wanting the child to meet the new partner of their former spouse. There is often no one right or wrong answer when it comes to a specific issue order, as in most cases both parents think their standpoint is in their child’s best interests.
If you cannot reach an agreement over a parenting decision then the best option is to take some legal advice so you know where you stand legally and whether a specific issue order is a reasonable step to take in the interests of your child.
For information and advice about any aspect of children law please call Louise Halford on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email Louise at [email protected]