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One of the most common concerns after divorce or separation is resolving disagreements regarding a child. When the two parties are unable to come to an agreement on their own, the court must sometimes step in to mediate these disputes.

A Specific Issue Order is one way courts can do this. But how exactly?

Well in this detailed guide you'll learn:

  • What is a Specific Issue Order?
  • Who can apply for a specific issue order?
  • What can they be used for, and how do I apply?

Read on to learn more...

What Is A Specific Issue Order?

A Specific Issue Order is an order issued by the family court that specifies what must happen to a child, and requires individuals with parental responsibility for the child to act in accordance with that judgment.

It is made in accordance with section 8 of the Children Act 1989, and can make decisions about "particular issues" relating to a child that either have occurred, or are likely to occur in the future.

The importance of a specific issue order is that it allows one parent to make decisions and take actions relating to the child, without the permission of the other parent. If the court makes the order, then it must be carried out, regardless of whether the other parent agrees.

Specific issue order infographic

What Can A Specific Issue Order Be Used For?

A parent who has successfully applied for a Specific Issue Order from the courts can ask for a wide range of terms. Typical examples include:

  • The living arrangement of the child - where the child will live or stay; this could include taking the child to live abroad.
  • Who the child is allowed to see or interact with, or who they must not see.
  • The type of education the child will receive - such as which school they will attend.
  • What medical treatment the child should received- such as immunisations.
  • Whether the child should alter or change their name.
  • Whether or not they should receive any religious education.

This list of examples is not exhaustive. But you should keep in mind that the court will not grant a Specific Issue Order if it believes that it might negatively affect the mental or physical health of the child.

The first priority of the court when granting a specific issue order is always the well being of the child.

Who Can Apply For A Specific Issue Order?

Anyone who has "Parental Responsibility" (PR) for the child in question can apply for a Specific Issue Order.

But what is Parental Responsibility?

The law describes Parental Responsibility as:

"all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property".

<bloglink>Section 3(1) of the Chidlren Act 1989.<bloglink>

The mother of a child automatically has parental responsibility, as does the father if he is married or in a civil partnership with the mother. If the parents are not married or in a civil partnership, provided he is named on the birth certificate, then the father will still have parental responsibility.

But it it not just parents who can have parental responsibility. Grandparents, stepparents, and legal guardians can all have parental responsibility if it has been granted by the courts.

Top Tip:

If you are a father without parental responsibility, you can obtain PR by:

  • Marrying or entering a civil partnership with the mother;
  • Applying to be registered on the birth certificate as the father;
  • Entering a written agreement with the mother that you will have RR, or;
  • Obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order from the court.
  • An icon of a lightbulb

    Parental responsibility does not mean that the child must necessarily live with that individual. What it does mean is that major choices in the child's life should typically be made by all individuals with parental responsibility, preferably by agreement.

    It also grants the ability to make decisions without consulting the other parent, by obtaining a Specific Issue Order or a <bloglink>Prohibited Steps Order<bloglink> from the court.

    How Do You Apply For A Specific Issue Order?

    If you are trying to get a Specific Issue Order, the first step is to a attend a <bloglink>mediation assessment session<bloglink>. If, after the assessment, you decide not to try mediation, then you can apply to the court for a Specific Issue Order. You can apply yourself online, or hire a solicitor to do it for you. Either parent may make an application to the court.

    The steps to apply are:

    1. Attending a mandatory mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM). in some situations you may be able to apply for an exemption.
    2. Once you have attended a MIAM (or been granted an exemption) you need to complete the <bloglink>C100<bloglink> application form.
    3. Submit the form online after paying the application fee (£232).
    4. If you are submitting a paper copy, you will need to send the original and 3 copies of the form to the nearest family court.
    5. The court will contact you shortly afterwards to let you know your hearing date.

    What Happens At The Specific Issue Order Hearing?

    If you've decided against <bloglink>mediation<bloglink> (or are exempt), then the case will first be listed for a directions appointment. This is a short hearing lasting about an hour. No substantial decisions are made at this appointment, but directions and timetabling are given for the final hearing. The judge will want to clearly define the issues at this stage, and will give directions such as whether either party needs to provide additional evidence.

    If the case proceeds to a final hearing, each party will give evidence and make their arguments to the judge. The opposing side (or their lawyer) will be allowed to ask you questions. The final hearing could last anywhere from a few hours, to a day or more, depending on the complexity of the case.

    A family courtroom

    The court's main concern will be the child's welfare. In order to make a Specific Issue Order the court must be satisfied that it is better for the child than not making an order at all. The court will therefore also hear from a <bloglink>Cafcass officer<bloglink> who will prepare a report and give an unbiased opinion. This provides an independent recommendation in respect of the application and the child's welfare.

    It is quite common that the judge will follow the Cafcass officer's recommendation, and so many cases resolve at the point that their report is received without going on to a final hearing. If the judge does decide against the Cafcass recommendations they will give their reasons why at the final hearing. If the judge had made any mistake in their reasoning, this can be challenged on appeal- but this is a complex process and legal advice should be taken before any appeal is lodged.

    How Long Does A Specific Issue Order Last For?

    When the family court makes a Specific Issue Order it will end automatically when the child reaches the age of 16 unless there are exceptional circumstances, in which case it may last up to the age of 18.

    What Is The Difference Between A Prohibited Steps Order And A Specific Issue Order?

    A Specific Issue Order can be applied for when an individual with parental responsibility wants the court to make a positive order about child. Ie. It determines what must be done regarding the child.

    A Prohibited Steps Order on the other hand can be applied for to prevent the other parent from taking a specified action related to the child. Ie. it determines what must not be done regarding the child.

    If you think a Prohibited Steps Order might be what you need instead, check out my detailed guide here:

    How Much Does A Specific Issue Order Cost?

    The court fee for for applying is currently £232. This is the minimum you will have to pay in order to get a Specific Issue Order. If you represent yourself there will be no further costs, but many people choose to hire a solicitor and/or a barrister to make the application and represent them in court. <bloglink>Fees charged by lawyers<bloglink> will vary depending on your location, the law firm you choose, and how complex the case is. To learn more about how much family lawyers charge, check out my detailed guide:

    FAQ

    Can a Specific Issue Order be used to change a child's name?

    Disputes over a child's surname are very common following a <bloglink>divorce<bloglink>. So yes, if you can't agree then a specific issue order an be obtained that determines what name the child should use. However, a good compromise that can avoid the cost and stress of court proceedings is to agree the child will use a double barrelled name that incorporates both surnames.

    Can the court make a specific issue order on its own?

    Yes. If a judge believes one parent might act without the other's consent, they can make a Specific Issue or Prohibited Steps Order of their own volition. This might occur when the judge feels the child is a risk, for example where the parent might take them to an inappropriate or unsafe location.

    Can I make an urgent application?

    Yes- If your application is very time sensitive (for example an emergency situation could include when your ex partner is threatening to relocate your child abroad), you can make a without notice urgent application which can be listed in court in as little as a day.