Family Court Orders in the UK: 7 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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The process for getting orders in England and Wales differs from the process in Scotland and the process in Northern Ireland.

Consent Order or Minute of Agreement

Family court orders are not only for parents who can't agree. Many parents who do reach agreement get a court order to formalise it. This is common when parents want to formalise a parenting plan, but other parenting orders can also be reached by agreement.

In England and Wales, a court order by agreement is called a Consent Order. To turn your parenting plan into a Consent Order, complete form C100, marking "yes" next to "Are you applying for an order to formalise an agreement?" Attach your plan (signed by both parents) before you submit the form to your local court.

In Scotland, a court order by agreement is called a Minute of Agreement. Each parent must consult a solicitor before filing for a Minute of Agreement, so have one of these legal professionals file for you. They can do this relatively inexpensively if you hand them a court-ready parenting plan.

In Northern Ireland, you may ask the court to make your parenting plan into a Consent Order using Form C1 for Family Proceedings Court or Form C1 for Family Care Centre and High Court. If you already have a parenting case open, instead use Form C2 for Family Proceedings Court or Form C2 for Family Care Centre and High Court. Attach your parenting plan.

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 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 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
  • 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.

Following court orders correctly

When a court issues orders, you must follow them. If you don't, you can be brought back to court, fined and more.

But orders are complicated, especially for residence and contact. When exactly does "Week 2" begin this month? Which day marks the middle of summer holiday?

Use Custody X Change to plug your order into a calendar you can edit, share and print so you'll never have to wonder whether you're following the order correctly.

With the Custody X Change online app, you can combine schedules for the school year, summer and special occasions into one calendar.

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 new parenting arrangement up for success.

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