Co-parenting can be challenging for parents especially if you and your former partner are not on amicable terms. If your co-parent or someone else wants to make a decision about your child’s upbringing that you don’t agree with, you can apply for a prohibited steps order which can stop them.
What is a Prohibited Steps Order?
A prohibited steps order is issued by the court to prevent a parent from making a decision about a child’s upbringing without the express approval or permission of the court. This is usually someone with parental responsibility, such as one of the child’s parents.
A prohibited steps order can deal with a wide range of parental decisions such as:
- Relocating a child within the UK or overseas.
- Moving a child to a different school.
- Changing the child’s surname.
- Consenting to a child undergoing a certain medical procedure or treatment.
How long do Prohibited Steps Orders last?
It depends on the circumstances and the nature of the issue. A prohibited steps order will last for as long as the court says it should, which can be a defined period, such as 6-12 months or the order may last until particular events, for example until the child finishes their education.
When can you apply for a Prohibited Steps Order?
You can apply for a prohibited steps order if you’re concerned that the other parent is going to make a decision about your child, without your consent. A prohibited steps order can therefore prevent a parent from acting alone in choosing a school place, changing the child’s name and prevent the child from being removed from the UK permanently.
The court will not make a prohibited steps order if your child is over the age of 16 unless there are exceptional circumstances.
How do you apply for a Prohibited Steps Order?
You can apply for a prohibited steps order if you have parental responsibility. People with parental responsibility can include the following:
- The child’s parents.
- The child’s guardian.
- Anyone who has been granted a lives with order (formerly known as residence) in relation to the child.
If you do not have parental responsibility, you may still be able to get a prohibited steps order but you must apply for permission from the court first. This could happen for instance if you’re the father, but you were not married to the mother before you separated and your name is not on the child’s birth certificate.
The application for a prohibited steps order is made on a C100 Form and you need to pay the court fee of £232. If the order is granted, you’ll need to arrange for the application to be personally served on the respondent, usually via a process server. It’s advisable to have a solicitor acting on your behalf as the solicitor can ensure that all the court documentation is completed and served accordingly.
Often, prohibited steps orders are considered emergency orders and may be made without notice hearings. This means the respondent will not be made aware of the application at this stage and will not be invited to attend the first hearing, although the court would then list a further hearing at which both parties are present. The court may consider that an order cannot be made without the respondent present. In such circumstances, the respondent would be invited to attend the first hearing.
Can a Prohibited Steps Order be challenged?
The court will only make a decision that it considers is in the best interests of the child. The court would weigh up all the factors of the case, such as:
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs.
- The child’s wishes and feelings.
- The impact of any change in circumstances of the child.
- The child’s age, sex, background and any other relevant characteristics.
- Whether the parent or any other relevant person can meet the child’s needs.
- Whether the child is at risk of harm.
- All the powers the court has in relation to decisions about the children.
The above list is called the “welfare checklist”.
The court will encourage you and the other party to reach an agreement without the need for a court order.
If a prohibited steps order has been made against you, it’s important to attend the hearings (with legal representation if possible).
What happens if you break a Prohibited Steps Order?
Failure to comply with a prohibited steps order when issued can be viewed as a contempt of court and result in actions being taken against the offending party. If a parent breaches the terms of the agreement, the other party may apply to the court to enforce the order provided that the child in question is under 16. The court will then consider making an order such as a specific issue order to reverse the decisional action which was prohibited by the prohibited steps order. This could mean:
- Ordering for the return of the child to live with a certain parent.
- Ordering for the child’s passport to be held safely, to prevent international travel taking place.
- The respondent in contempt of court could face a fine or in extreme cases a prison sentence.