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The UK has extensive child protection laws, and a Prohibited Steps Order (also known as PSO) is a court provision that prohibits a parent from taking decisions that directly relates to a child’s welfare.

This guide extensively covers all you need to know about Prohibited Steps Orders, including:

  • What is a Prohibited Steps Order?
  • When can you use a PSO?
  • How do you apply?
  • When can a PSO be overturned?

And a lot more...

So, keep scrolling for your ultimate guide to Prohibited Steps Orders.

What Is A Prohibited Steps Order?

A Prohibited Steps Order, or PSO, is an order issued by the family court which prevents anyone with parental responsibility from taking an action or exercising a right in relation to a child.

The order is often used after a divorce or separation of the parents.

Prohibited steps order infographic

What Actions Can A Prohibited Steps Order Prevent?

There are multiple things you, as a parent or child’s guardian, can get a Prohibited Steps Order issued for.

A court can:

  • Prohibit an ex-partner from taking the child out of the country.
  • Prevent a parent from enrolling their child at a different school.
  • Restrict a parent from making certain risky medical decisions for the child.
  • Avoid letting a parent move the child out of the house.
  • Attempt to change the child's last name.
  • Pose a restriction that the child shall not meet the ex-partner's new spouse.

For better understanding, here's a hypothetical example...

James recently divorced, and has discovered that his ex-wife's new partner is known drug dealer. James might apply for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent their daughters from meeting his ex-wife's new partner.

Who Can Apply For A PSO?

Prohibited Steps Orders can be applied for by anyone with parental responsibility for the child (the legal duty and right of raising a child). This clearly includes any parent who has parental responsibility, but can also include any legal guardian of the child.

Any individual other than those mentioned above might still be able to get a PSO by getting permission from the court.

Here is an example…

Although you are not married, you have a child with your ex-girlfriend. However, your name was never added to the child's original birth certificate. In this case, you can ask permission from the courts to grant you parental responsibility, and subsequently you could apply for a PSO.

Important:

Bear in mind that, while only someone with parental responsibility can apply for a PSO; they can be made against anyone (for example an ex-spouse's new partner).

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What Factors Are Taken Into Account When The Court Issues A Prohibited Steps Order?

The primary consideration of the courts when making a PSO is the safety and welfare of the child.

Furthermore, the courts are interested in knowing the purpose behind the making of the application.

For example, the courts will be more inclined to order a PSO to ‘not take the child out of the UK’ if an ex-partner is moving abroad just to keep children away from their father/mother without any other valid reason.

On the contrary, it is less likely that a PSO is granted where the ex-partner is moving because they have a legitimate reason, such as having been offered a new job or they wish to move closet to their relatives. The courts tend to make a decision that allows the children to have a purposeful relationship/contact with both parents where possible.

A child takes a flight

While each case is assessed according to its own facts, the prime consideration is always the child's welfare, and the courts will not entertain parents trying to use the legal system to wage their own personal battle with their ex-spouse.

Furthermore, a  Prohibited Steps Order is also generally a remedy/order of the last resort, and are always time-limited in their duration. If the purpose of the person applying for the order could be met by another type of order (such as a child residence or contact order), or by some other non-legal means entirely, then the courts will generally not grant a PSO.

How Do I Apply For A Prohibited Steps Order?

The procedure of applying for a PSO is fairly simple. You can opt to apply yourself or hire a solicitor to do it on your behalf.

If you choose to do it yourself, all you need to do is follow these steps:

  1. Make an online application for a Prohibited Steps Order using the <bloglink>form C100<bloglink>. Fill out the details - seek out an expert’s help whenever needed.  
  2. Pay the fee of the application which is £232.
  3. Submit the online form to the court.
  4. Wait for the validation procedure to determine if you have supplied enough information for your case to continue.
  5. After validation, you and the respondent will both be provided with (1) a copy of your application (2) an information booklet, and (3) a notice informing you of the date and time of your first hearing.
  6. The court will also send a copy of your application and the notice of hearing to <bloglink>Cafcass<bloglink> who will contact you prior to your first hearing

A PSO application can also be made without prior notification to the respondent in the case of an emergency order (see below).

Some Things to Consider Before Applying For A Prohibited Steps Order

To avoid any hurdles in your PSO application, you need to keep a few factors in mind:

How Does The Court Enforce A Prohibited Steps Order?

A prohibited steps order is legally binding court order, and breaching it is a serious issue. If the subject of a PSO breaches the order, you can bring the matter back to court. If the court agrees that the order has been breached, then the offending party can be found to be in contempt of court.

This is very serious and can lead to punishments such as a fine, an unpaid work requirement, or even imprisonment. Other less onerous sanctions can include the court mandating <bloglink>mediation<bloglink> between the parties, or the court making an enforcement order.

Top Tip:

If you believe your ex-partner is breaching the order, keep any relevant evidence (such as images or text messages) as these may help you prove the breach in court.

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What Are Emergency Prohibited Steps Orders?

Legal orders and proceedings take time to process. However, if you think there is an imminent threat to your child (such as <bloglink>violence in the home place<bloglink>), then an emergency Prohibited Steps Order can be filed for urgent action. It is crucial that there is "strong evidence of a imminent threat" in order for an emergency application to be successful.

Emergency applications will be made 'without notice' meaning the respondent (the person you are filing against) will not be aware of the hearing and an order can be made in their absence.

They will, however, be allowed to bring the matter back to court at a later date to try and overturn the order.

What Prevents A Court From Issuing A Prohibited Steps Order?

A court’s ability to issue a PSO can be restricted in certain circumstances.

These are comprehensively outlined in <bloglink>the Children Act 1989<bloglink> including the following:

A PSO can't be issued:

  • If the child is 16 or above - unless the court grants an exemption.
  • For a period in which the child will turn 16 years of age.
  • In case a prohibited steps order is extended for a period beyond which the child has turned 16 years of age, it will come to an end when the child reaches 18 years of age.
  • If the child is under the care of a local authority.

Prohibited Steps Orders interfere with a parent or guardian's legal authority to govern their child. As a result, the court must conduct a thorough investigation before it can make such an intervention.

Is It Possible To Change A Prohibited Steps Order In The UK?

The short answer is yes.

It is not unknown for partners to get back together or make a <bloglink>consensual agreement<bloglink> to change the Prohibited Steps Order. In such a circumstance, a request can be made in court to revoke or amend the order.

A family lawyer can help in assessing existing Prohibited Steps Orders and provide help in reaching an agreement to alter it's terms.

Bear in mind that the court's primary concern is the welfare of the child. So even if the parents agree, the court may still refused to amend or revoke the order if they feel it would not be in the child's best interests to do so.

A small girl in a crop field

Can A Prohibited Steps Order Be Overturned?

Yes, it is possible for a PSO to be overturned. If you think the PSO has been made for the wrong reasons, or unfairly granted, you can appeal the court's decision.

However, the court will still have as it's primary objective the protection of the child's welfare, and will not overturn an order if it puts the child at risk.

How Much Does A Prohibited Steps Order Cost?

The current court fee for applying for a Prohibited Steps Order is £232.

However, most applicants <bloglink>engage a family lawyer<bloglink> for legal advice before filing for a PSO, which adds to the total cost of filing for a Prohibited Steps Order. To learn more about how family lawyers charge, check out my separate guide:

Prohibited Steps Orders-FAQs

What is the difference between a prohibited steps order and specific issue order?

It’s simple: a Prohibited Steps Order prevents a parent or guardian from taking specific actions relating to a child; while a Specific Issue Order requires a parent of guarding to undertake certain actions.

For example, a prohibited steps order could be used to prevent a parent from taking a child out of a specific school; while a specific issue order could be used to dictate which school the child must attend.

Can you discharge a Prohibited Steps Order?

Yes. In order to discharge a PSO you can make another application to the court using the Form C100, arguing that the PSO is no longer required (for example the circumstances have changed or there is no longer a risk to the child).

In addition, PSOs are also always time limited, and will expire after the stipulated period (unless an application is made to court to renew the order).

Can the court issue a Prohibited Steps Order if a child does not wish it?

Yes.

Nevertheless, if the child is about to turn 16, the court will determine if the child is competent to make decisions for their own welfare. If so, the court will take this into account.

However, if the child is in need of protection, this will usually overrule the child's personal wishes.

How long does a Prohibited Steps Order last for?

Generally, prohibited steps orders are granted for 6 to 12 months, or for the amount of time specified by the court, based on the facts of the case.

Important: Generally, as soon as a child is 16 years old, a Prohibited Steps Order is no longer valid. Although under special circumstances, it could be granted until the child turns 18.