Family Court Orders in the UK: 6 Most Common

Family courts in the U.K. can grant a host of orders regarding children.

In Scotland, anyone with an interest in the welfare of the child can apply for an order.

To apply for an order in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you first need to apply for leave of the court (i.e., permission) and show you have a significant connection to the child, unless one of the following applies:

  • You are one of the parents
  • You are a stepparent
  • You have lived with the child for over three years
  • You are named on a Residence Order or the lives with part of a Child Arrangements Order (explained below)

The three countries make an exception if you're applying for a Parental Responsibility Order (also explained below).

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Note that the process for getting orders in England and Wales differs from the process in Scotland and the process in Northern Ireland.

Child Arrangements Order

When separated parents can't agree on a parenting plan, a Child Arrangements Order sets how they must care for their child. It includes a child residence and contact schedule.

In England and Wales, a single order covers both the child's residence and who has contact with the child. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the order splits into two parts: a Residence Order and a Contact Order.

For all of these, judges usually grant an interim order first. This gives parents time to live with the arrangements prior to receiving a final order. Often a final order is never granted at all, and the interim order serves this purpose unofficially.

Residence

Residence is where a child lives. England and Wales have recently moved away from the term residence and refer simply to whom the child lives with.

The court can order that a child will live one or both parents.

To officially live with both parents, the child must spend at least 40 percent of their time in each home. This is considered shared residence, and it's becoming increasingly common as shared parenting gains popularity.

Anyone given residence automatically gets parental responsibility if they didn't already have it.

Contact

Contact regulates who — beyond a parent with residence — is allowed to interact with the child. England and Wales have recently moved away from the term contact and toward simply spends time with.

Generally, the court only orders a child to have contact with a nonresidential parent. However, anyone else who applies can also receive contact.

There are two types of contact:

  • Direct: This allows face-to-face time.
  • Indirect: This allows video calls, phone calls, emails, etc. (This might be appropriate for long-distance circumstances or if a parent needs to re-establish a relationship with their child.)

Direct contact can be supervised if the court or both parents decide it's necessary. Usually, this means a social worker will be present when the child and parent meet at home. If there's a history of abuse, contact will take place at a specialised centre where it can be overseen by professionals in a controlled environment.

Judges often order supervised contact temporarily to monitor how a relationship develops before permitting unsupervised contact.

Specific Issue Order

A Specific Issue Order resolves a particular dispute about parental responsibility.

For example, it could determine:

  • Whether your child should change their name
  • What school they should attend
  • Whether they have a surgery

Prohibited Steps Order or Interdict

A Prohibited Steps Order (called an Interdict in Scotland) prevents a parent from taking some action that would affect the child.

For example, it could prevent them from:

  • Taking the child abroad
  • Allowing a specific person to see the child
  • Authorising a risky medical treatment for the child

Parental Responsibility Order

A Parental Responsibility Order (called a Parental Responsibility and Parental Rights Order in Scotland) grants parental responsibility to someone who's not a legal parent. You must be connected to the child closely to receive one, perhaps as a relative or a family friend.

If you're named in a Residence Order or the lives with part of a Child Arrangements Order, you get parental responsibility automatically, so a Parental Responsibility Order would not be necessary.

Parental responsibility is sometimes granted with a Contact Order or the spends time with part of an order, but this is not automatic.

Parental Order

When a child is born through surrogacy, a Parental Order transfers legal parenthood from the birth mother to the intended parents.

A Parental Order also grants the intended parents parental responsibility and permanently removes it from any other person who held it before.

If you apply for a Parental Order alone, you must be biologically related to the child via sperm or egg donation. If you apply as part of a couple, either you or your partner can be related to the child.

You can only begin an application once the child is born, and it must be made within six months of the birth.

Special Guardianship Order (England, Wales, Northern Ireland)

In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, a Special Guardianship Order appoints one or more people to be the special guardians of a child. It is for children whose legal parents are unfit to look after them.

This order grants the guardian exclusive parental responsibility, allowing them to make final decisions about the child. The legal mother and father can still be involved in their child's life, but they can't make decisions — not even minor, day-to-day ones.

Unlike with a Child Arrangements Order or Residence Order, a parent cannot apply to undo a Special Guardianship Order without permission from the court.

Staying in compliance with court orders

When a court issues orders, it's essential you follow them. If you don't, the court can enforce the orders with penalties, including jail time.

But orders are complicated, especially for the child's residence and contact schedule. When exactly does the weekend begin? Which day is considered the middle of summer holidays?

Use Custody X Change to transform your order into a calendar you can edit and print, so you'll never have to wonder whether you're staying in compliance.

You can even track how well court orders are being followed with our parenting time tracker and parenting journal.

Custody X Change has all the tools you need to set your child arrangements up for success.

Custody X Change is software that creates customisable parenting plans and schedules.

Yes, I Want to Make My UK Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates customisable parenting plans and schedules.

Yes, I Want to Make My UK Plan Now
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Custody X Change is software that creates customisable parenting plans and schedules.

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