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Home and Away, closer each day… or not?

Irene Roberts has been a character in Home and Away since 1991. Irene is an alcoholic (currently sober), and in the early part of the series, she struggled to meet the needs of her children Damian and Fin. Long standing viewers may remember that after she fell down the stairs following a binge, her children and Foster carer Pippa Ross told her to leave the Bay and undergo treatment.

Irene then appeared to turn things around, and not only did her three biological children move back in with her, she fostered a large number of children and later adopted homeless child Tasha.

Most recently it has transpired that Irene had another biological child, Mick, whom she gave up for adoption as a teenager. Mick returned to the Bay, kidnapped Irene and later raped Billie Ashford; he is the biological father of her daughter baby Luc, and now wants to have visiting rights.

What if it were real?

Alcoholism and child arrangements

  • Alcoholism can affect anybody, parents and carers of children included. It can become a feature in Public Law Children Act proceedings and Private Law Children Act proceedings.
  • In the Public Law context, if for any reason social services become involved in your family situation and the arrangements for the care of your children, and they have concerns surrounding alcoholism, they may ask for you to undergo testing and/or treatment – the steps taken may be as follows:-
  1. Social Services receive a referral, possibly from a neighbour/ teacher/ friend or another parent and undertake an investigation.
  2. If they are concerned, Social Services will send a letter asking for you to take specific steps to address their concerns.
  3. If you do not take the steps Social Services ask you to take and engage with them, they may invite you to a pre-proceedings meeting, which you should attend with a legal representative.

Top Tip: get advice early on. Do not be worried or embarrassed to contact a solicitor to obtain expert advice and guidance on your position and how to deal with the local authority

  • In the Private Law context (where one parent or carer makes an application for an order concerning the arrangements for a child, to which the other parent or carer will be the respondent), if issues of substance abuse are raised it is relatively common to see an application for liver function or hair strand testing, where there are grounds to make an application using Part 25 of the Family Procedure Rules.
  • The court will be concerned, in any set of proceedings, to ensure the parents or carers of any child whose welfare they are considering, are able to meet that child’s physical and emotional welfare needs – in all proceedings, the welfare of the child is the court’s paramount consideration.

Top Tip: Again, it is not too early to seek advice. Sometimes doing nothing, i.e. allowing a situation that may become dangerous or difficult for you or your child, is more damaging than doing something – find out where you stand from a legal perspective and what your options are.

Applications for Access/ Contact/ Spending time with a child

  •  The child’s best interests are the court’s paramount consideration in such applications. 
  • In considering what is in a child’s best interests the court will apply the welfare checklist, which requires the Judge hearing the case to consider all of the following factors before making a decision about what order to make in respect of any child:- 
  1. the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding);
  2. his or her physical, emotional and educational needs;
  3. the likely effect on him or her of any change in his circumstances;
  4. his or her age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant
  5. any harm which he or she has suffered or is at risk of suffering
  6. how capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs;
  7. the range of powers available to the court under this Act in the proceedings in question.
  • It is possible, albeit extremely rare, for a court to order there should be no direct contact – the situation with Luc would likely be one of those cases, if it were in this jurisdiction.

Top Tip: If you are considering making an application in relation to the arrangements for the care of your child, either to ask the court to order that he or she live with you (residence) or  spend more time with you (contact), speak to a solicitor early on to consider your position and the strength of your position if you were to apply to the court- the welfare checklist will be applied in every case, but the outcome of the application will be different depending on your individual circumstances. At Rayden Solicitors we have a wealth of experience and expertise in Children Act applications, and can provide you with discreet and confidential advice, and our top expertise from the very outset.

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