Grandparents play an important role in children’s lives and research has shown that they can have a positive impact, particularly on adolescents and when families are going through difficult times. Their involvement is strongly associated with reduced adjustment difficulties in all family types, but particularly so amongst adolescences from divorced or separated families. When a parental relationship comes to an end, it often has far reaching implications in respect of the child/ren’s ongoing relationship and access to their wider family, such as grandparents. It is a sad reality that grandparents do not have an automatic right to contact with their grandchildren. However, family courts do recognise the often invaluable role that grandparents have to play in their grandchildrens lives and it is very rare that the court would refuse a grandparent access to grandchildren unless there is a safeguarding issue that would prevent that access taking place and/or unless there are practical/logistical reasons that would mean any contact would not be in the child/ren’s best interests (having regard to the welfare checklist in s.1(2) of the children act 1989). Can I make an application to the court? Only people with parental responsibility, for example parents, step-parents or guardians can make an application for a Contact Order (see s.10(4) and (5) of the children act 1989 for full details). Grandparents are not automatically entitled to apply for a child arrangements order, and they must obtain the permission of the court (“known as applying for leave”). When deciding whether the grandparents should be given permission, the court will consider (see s.10 (8)-(10) of the children act 1989 for full considerations):- The nature of the proposed application that the grandparent wishes to make Their connection with the child Whether the application might be potentially harmful to the child’s well-being in any way. If one or both parents raise objections, there is likely to be a full court hearing where all the parties can put forward… [...]
According to a recent article in the Guardian, the most senior Family Judge in England and Wales (Sir Andrew McFarlane) has stated that Family Courts are having to “run up a down escalator” particularly due to an unprecedented increase in childcare cases.
Ever since the drastic legal aid cuts in 2013, the family courts have come under increasing pressure. Most professionals within the family justice system predicted that the cuts would lead to not only significant injustice in cases, but also a huge increase in litigants in person – As a result, far more pressure exerted on the family court.
The volume of cases has increased significantly since the beginning of 2016. The number of “public children law” applications for care or supervision orders – issued by local authorities – has risen by about 25% . Last year, there were 53,164 new private law cases issued involving 123,334 children.
Ideally, the commencement of legal proceedings should always be a last resort as it can cause further stress for families that are already dealing with a number of issues following a breakdown in the parental relationship. Parents and carers who are representing themselves often have not sought legal advice as to their options and may think that an application to court is their only option. Really, it is only if an agreement cannot be reached between parents that an application to court may become necessary. The removal of early legal advice for separated parents has had a real impact on the rise of applications, further increasing the pressure on court staff and the judiciary.
As family lawyers, we understand the importance of children spending quality time with both parents (when it is in the child’s best interests to do so), and agreeing fair arrangements for children and we understand how challenging it can be if a parent is being prevented from spending time with their child by the other parent. The child/ren at the heart of the dispute will also be impacted by warring parents and it is very important that legal advice can be obtained so that issues can be narrowed wherever possible.
Legal Aid is available for parents/ carers of children subject to care and supervision proceedings, brought by a local authority and early advice is critical to the presentation of any party’s case at the outset. (There are also other public children law applications that fall within the scope of cases for which legal aid is still available but you should speak to one of our advisors as to what the application is and we can advise if it is means/merits tested or not).
Legal Aid is also sometimes available for some private children law disputes subject to the satisfaction of the evidential requirements of Reg 33 and 34 of LASPO (such as evidence of domestic abuse or child protection issues). That is known as “gateway evidence”. However, even with gateway evidence you will be subject to financial means testing and it is important to understand whether you would be eligible for legal aid.
If you find that you are ineligible for legal aid, you can contact our team to obtain information about our fixed fee work that would mean you could receive advice and assistance in relation to your family law matter.
With the school holidays around the corner, please also read our blog on how to avoid contact issues over the holidays. Rather than making an application to the court, we would recommend that you first seek advice from a family solicitor who can guide you through the various options available. In the event a court application is unavoidable, we will represent your interests as best we can throughout. Please call us on 020 3601 5051 for further information or fill in our contact enquiry form.
Head of Family, Kirsty Richard comments
I was practicising family law prior to the LASPO cuts and there is a link in my bio for the interview I did with BBC London in 2011. I had discussed my concerns about how the legal aid cuts would most likely impact those that needed legal advice the most and sadly, like many practitioners, our fears and predictions have been borne out. I had discussed at the time (among other issues) that in preventing parents/carers from getting early intervention legal advice and potentially having to deal with private children law applications (around child arrangement disputes); that would most likely have the reverse effect and instead of saving court time and costs by introducing LASPO restrictions, there would actually be an increased strain on the court system and all professionals involved in this type of work. I also feared that in not having legal advice as to what is reasonable and talking through the welfare checklist (for example) that parents/carers may take matters into their own hands, causing an increase in violent offences and more instances of children being withheld following arranged visits with the other parent/carer. That can then escalate to the involvement of the police which in turn sees referrals to social services and could easily lead to the commencement of care and supervision proceedings. What we have seen since the introduction of the very drastic legal aid cuts is a rise in applications for interim care and supervision orders (ss.31 and 33 of the Children Act 1989) as well as a rise in applications under s.8 of the Children Act 1989. It has caused a massive strain on the judiciary and family practitioners from the Bar and in private practice and at local authorities. It is also widely discussed as to how this is also having a devastating impact on the wellbeing of all of professionals trying their best to deal with surges of court applications and warring families. The early involvement of solicitors/ legal advisors used to prevent disputes escalating in a number of cases and it is the child/ren at the heart of these disputes that suffer the most in these present times.
An Emergency Protection Order (also called an EPO) is an urgent order granted by the Court if the local authority has satisfied the court that a child is in immediate need of protection from significant harm or a risk of significant harm. These types of applications are usually issued by a local authority.
They can follow situations where the police have exercised their powers to remove children under police protection (which is a temporary situation of up to 72 hours). If there is no immediate risk of harm, then the most likely application will be an application for a care or supervision order, sometimes on short notice if there is still an element of urgency to the facts of the case.
If an EPO is granted by the Court, the local authority/ children services then share Parental Responsibility for the child/ren and in support of their application they will have filed a proposed care plan detailing their views around the following issues:
It is a criminal offence to prevent someone from removing a child if an EPO has been granted. The child/ren are usually removed by a social worker and can be accompanied by police if it is felt necessary, depending on the situation.
An Emergency Protection Order usually lasts for up to eight days. However, an application may be made to extend this. This will be granted for up to 7 days if there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is at risk of significant harm.
The local authority is under a duty to allow reasonable contact between the child/ren and parent(s). However, what is reasonable depends entirely on the circumstances of the case and most often, any contact that is permitted by the local authority is supervised – usually in a children’s contact centre but sometimes other arrangements can be made to be supervised by family members although that usually comes much later on in proceedings.
You can apply to discharge (dismiss) the Emergency Protection Order within 72 hours only if:
However, if it was believed by Children’s Services that the child was at immediate risk of harm and/or in immediate danger, they have the right to apply for an EPO without giving notice to the parent(s).
More often than not, following any EPO application, the local authority will then apply for interim care orders (ICOs) to maintain the status quo of the children’s arrangements pending further assessments/investigation of the family. The parents (with parental responsibility) will be given notice of any ICO application listed before the family court and legal aid is available as it is not means or merits tested.
It is at that first hearing that the parents may wish to challenge the continuing separation from their child/ren and in reality, the ICO hearing may be listed sooner than an appeal can be prepared.
Head of Family, Kirsty Richards comments:-
Whenever the local authority is involved with a family, it is without doubt one of the most scariest times for the parent/s and child/ren as these decisions can be made very urgently after relatively little court time. There are some parents that I have helped in the past that have been working with social services for some time prior to the issue of court proceedings and when things then escalate to the family court arena, they do not always think it is necessary to get legal representation.
I would advise any parent/ carer with parental responsibility that it is crucial to get legal advice at the earliest opportunity when the local authority has given you notice of any court hearing. Most local authorities will have a list of specialist lawyers attached to any letter advising of imminent legal proceedings, otherwise you can search for a solicitor that is a Member of the Law Society’s Children Panel via the Law Society’s website. We have many accredited solicitors here at NLS and a team of junior lawyers that assist with this type of case. We have experience of this type of proceedings nationwide and are committed to providing a high quality of legal advice to all parent/s in this situation.
Our expert team of family solicitors are specialists in the area of Emergency Protection Order/Interim Care Order applications and are experienced in responding quickly in what is almost always a very rapidly developing situation.
Please call 0203 6015051 for specialist legal advice from one of our accredited solicitors. It is crucial to obtain legal advice as early as possible whenever the local authority is involved with your family and has taken the decision to issue court proceedings.
With summer holiday’s around the corner, it is imperative to consider the legal implications of taking your child abroad and or agreeing to holiday contact arrangements.
We are aware of situations arising where children with different surnames to the parent they are travelling with, have been stopped at the airport by officials requiring proof that the other parent consents to the child going abroad.
With border control agencies tightening up on this issue, it is advised that you obtain a letter, email or even a text message to show the other parent approves the holiday plans and that you have let them know when you will be back. You may also have to travel with other ID documents, such as a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate naming both parents. National Legal Service Solicitors are able to certify copies of passports for clients for a small fee.
When taking children on holiday abroad, if there are no court orders in place as to any of the children arrangements since the parents separated, there is nothing to prevent the de facto primary carer from taking the children abroad for a family holiday. However, if the other parent has parental responsibility for one / all of the children, then attempts should be made to consult with that parent about the intended holiday, providing details of where you intend to go, where you will be staying and intended return flight details. If the other parent agrees to those plans, you could ask them to put that consent in writing so there is no doubt as to the permission having been obtained. Similarly, if it is not possible to consult with the other parent, due to the whereabouts being unknown or serious domestic abuse, for example, then provided there are no orders in place, you are able to take that holiday abroad. However, if the other parent has parental responsibility but objects to the holiday plans and will not provide clear consent, the parent objecting to the holiday will have to apply to the court for an order preventing the removal of the children from the UK. Both parents will be directed to file evidence in respect of the application, CAFCASS may become involved and asked to make a recommendation and the family court will decide whether the holiday can take place and if so, it will grant permission. All decisions relating to children in this respect are dealt with under s.8 of the Children Act 1989 and the court’s paramount concern is the child’s welfare. There is a checklist that is adopted in this type of decision and that can be found at s.1(2) of the Children Act 1989. If you have any issues relating to whether you need permission to leave the UK for a family holiday, please seek early legal advice as all cases depend on the full circumstances and the information within this blog can not be relied upon in respect of your situation without first seeking full clarity from one of our legal team.
If a Court Order is in place to prevent you taking your child abroad without permission and you do so, intentionally or not, it may be considered as international child abduction.
If you have a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) confirming a child lives with you, then in those circumstances you can take your child out of the UK for up to 28 days without the need for consent. However, it is best you notify the other parent of the planned holiday, particularly if there are any contact arrangements that may be impacted by the holiday. You may need to seek legal advise about what to do if a planned holiday may put you in breach of a CAO – spend time with order. One of our legal team can assist you in this and to check the terms of any CAO that is in place as the wording of your particular order is key to what you can/can’t do in terms of whether there is any flexibility around holidays, for example.
If you are looking to move abroad with your child you must obtain agreement from the other parent. Even if they do not have Parental Responsibility there should be discussions. This is so new contact arrangements can be planned for and made and it can stop any late attempts to prevent your intended move by way of formal court applications. This can be a complicated issue and early legal advice is essential to prevent and disappointment, for example, if the court does not grant permission for the relocation.
During the summer holidays, separated parents quite often wish to vary the existing regular contact arrangements. It is good to discuss your plans early so that if there are any disagreements, these can be smoothed out before the summer holidays arrive. A lot will depend on whether there is an existing court order or whether the existing arrangements have been agreed outside of court. If you are a parent with concerns about taking your child on holiday, or you want to stop your child being taken abroad, contact our specialist family law team on 0203 601 5051
While the overwhelming assumption is that domestic abuse victims are female, research from Mankind Initiative highlights some concerning statistics:
Owing to regressive ideas of what abuse looks like, male victims of domestic abuse find it harder to access help. Nearly half of male victims fail to tell anyone they are a victim of domestic (only 51% tell anyone). They are nearly three times less likely to tell anyone than a female victim (49% as opposed to 19%).
National Legal Service Solicitors has helped more than 3,000 victims of domestic abuse in the last year. We feel strongly that each victim should be seen as an individual and helped accordingly irrespective of their gender.
Positive Steps Undertaken
In September 2017, The Crown Prosecution Service published its first ever public statement recognising the needs and experiences of male victims of offences including rape, domestic abuse, harassment, stalking and child sexual abuse. The CPS statement covers
Over the years I have assisted many male victims of domestic abuse and it is my experience that despite there being lots of positive campaigning around domestic abuse, there can remain a prejudice in the court arena. This was more so around 10-12 years ago, when I remember vividly, that I was helping a male victim to obtain a non molestation order and there were linked children act proceedings wherein we were trying to keep the child of the family safe from the mother’s abuse. Despite clear photographic evidence of injuries to the male victim and supporting statements from doctors and teachers, the Judge that heard the case did not accept the risks posed by the mother to my client or the child. In fact, a comment was that the mother’s outburst were as a result of her “latino temperament”, a comment that haunted me for some time as what flowed was that the father went from being primary carer of the couple’s child, to the Judge changing the arrangements on the ground, giving the mother the majority time each week, and my client went from being primary carer for 5 years, to having an order detailing the 3 nights a week he would care for the child.
That was one of the most extreme cases I have ever dealt with and I have continued to do all I can to assist male victims whenever they have approached me but I have continued to face difficulties. Even securing legal aid can be troublesome if you have a male victim (the “true applicant”) but the respondent issues cross applications and makes representations about your funding. Again, photographs of injuries had to be sent as justification and that case was another example where there was disbelief that a woman of relatively small stature could cause the violence and injuries alleged in my client’s witness statements. We need to continue giving male victims a voice and we need to educate everyone that domestic abuse can be committed by women. The law is there to protect the victim, we have to have our eyes open to who the true victim is when we are dealing with this area of law.
If a local authority is involved with your family, you will have a social worker assigned to do direct work with you and your child/ren. There are a few levels of social work intervention such as children in need plans, child protection plans, PLO intervention and court proceedings.
When social workers have been working with a family for some time and/or if serious concerns are highlighted as to the safety of any child/ren in the family, the local authority can decide to invite parents to a Public Law Outline Meeting (PLO) or a pre-proceedings meeting. A PLO meeting tends to be the last opportunity to try to resolve matters by agreement prior to the issue of care proceedings. If care proceedings are issued, you are entitled to free legal advice – legal aid – and you should not delay in securing representation ahead of the first hearing date.
The main reason for the meeting is to discuss the concerns the local authority has in respect of the perceived safeguarding concerns for the children, this could be due to neglect, suspected abuse, domestic abuse in the parents’ relationship or a child/ren that is beyond parental control. The local authority will discuss what needs to change and they will explore if an agreement can be reached to prevent the commencement of court proceedings.
Parents are advised to instruct their own Solicitor who can then attend the PLO meeting with them. Together with the social worker and the Local Authority’s Solicitor, they can then try and reach an agreement as to how to keep their child safe and well.
If an agreement can be reached, the local authority will draw up a written agreement which will need to be signed by the parents. A PLO meeting may also be used to inform the parents that care proceedings are being commenced if they feel the risk of harm to the child is too high.
If you receive a letter inviting you to a PLO Meeting it is vital that you seek urgent legal advice. If you are a parent you will be entitled to legal aid and will have representation at that meeting for free. If you are not a parent but are the main carer for the child, you may still be eligible for free legal advice.
As part of the firm’s wider charitable activities, we will once again be taking part in this year’s London Legal Walk on the 17th of June.
The London Legal Walk is a 10km sponsored walk across the city to raise funds for charities that give free legal advice. The team will be walking alongside a number of other law firms, chambers and organisations raising money in aid of a great cause.
There were 870 non-profit legal aid providers in 2013, according to statistics from the Ministry of Justice. By 2014 this had fallen to just 95. Significant cuts to Government spending as well as Legal aid has resulted in reduced funding bring available for important issues such as immigration and homelessness.
This year again, we walk with other members of the profession to raise funds so the poorest and most vulnerable people in the community can have access to justice and avail free legal advice.
Harun Matin, Head of Crime commented :
We took part in the walk last year and felt the community came together perfectly to highlight the importance of supporting vulnerable people. These ongoing funding cuts affects those who are vulnerable and on the margins of society, it’s our duty to ensure that their plight is not forgotten
Kirsty Richards, Head of Family said:
This is such a worthy cause and its lovely to see so many legal professionals and all those involved with law coming together to champion what we do on a daily basis. NLS will continue to be a part of this walk as it is vital for spreading awareness of the plight of legal aid
If you would like to sponsor the team and raise money for a great cause, please visit our fundraising page here. Any donations would be greatly appreciated.
An estimated 1.3 million women & 700,000 men experience domestic violence each year, according to the Office for National Statistics (ending March 2018)
It is now well accepted that domestic abuse can have a profound impact on a survivors’ mental health and is the main cause of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.
Head of Family, Kirsty Richards comments
Domestic abuse has far-reaching consequences for the victims and the children of those families. Many of the clients that we help at NLS describe the often-devastating impact on their mental wellbeing from the abuse they have suffered/ are continuing to suffer. There is a lot of campaigning for better understanding of domestic abuse which is seeing a positive change in the wider understanding of abuse and its impact on the health and wellbeing of victims but we need to keep talking about it. The more we discuss abuse and the mental health implications, hopefully strength is given to other victims to recognise they too are in an abusive relationship and hopefully give them the confidence to escape the life and put protective measures in place. Sadly, most of us will be impacted by domestic abuse at one point in our lives be it directly or through a loved one or friend that is a victim. We need to keep up the pace of these awareness campaigns to ensure that there are options for victims and we at NLS certainly remain committed to providing as much support as possible to anyone needing advice about what to do
If you have been a victim of domestic abuse and have decided to leave your abuser, there many organisations that can help you :-
The National Domestic Violence Helpline is a 24 hour helpline which provides advice and support to women and can refer them to emergency accommodation. The National Domestic Violence Helpline is a 24 hour helpline which provides advice and support to women and can refer them to emergency accommodation.
Refuge offers advice and support to women experiencing domestic abuse and also provides safe, emergency accommodation through a network of refuges throughout the UK, including culturally-specific services for women from minority ethnic communities and cultures.
The Men’s Advice Line is a confidential helpline for all men experiencing domestic violence by a current or ex-partner. They provide emotional support and practical advice, and can give you details of specialist services that can give you advice on legal, housing, child contact, mental health and other issues.
The Women’s Aid website provides a wide range of resources to help women and young people
The ManKind Initiative is a charity offering information and support to men who are victims of domestic abuse or violence. This can include information and support on reporting incidents, police procedures, housing, benefits and injunctions. They can refer you to a refuge, local authority or other another support service if you need it.
The Everyman Project offers counselling to men in the London area who want to change their violent or abusive behaviour. It also has a national helpline, which offers advice to anyone worried about their own, or someone else’s, violent or abusive behaviour.
Helpline: 0207 263 8884
1 Trevillion, K., Oram, S., Feder, G., & Howard, L.M. (2012). Experiences of domestic violence and mental disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLOS One, 7, e51740
2Howard, L.M., Trevillion, K., Khalifeh, H., Woodall, A., Agnew-Davies, R. and Feder, G. (2010), Domestic violence and severe psychiatric disorders: prevalence and interventions in ‘Psychological Medicine’ (2010), 40 ,881-893. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
3SafeLives (2015), Insights Idva National Dataset 2013-14. Bristol: SafeLives
4 Gilbert, R., Kemp, A., Thoburn, J., Sidebotham, P., Radford, L., Glaser, D., & MacMillan, H. (2009). Recognising and responding to child maltreatment. The Lancet, 373(9658), 167–180
My current role is supervising a team of caseworkers, paralegal and a solicitor in our Birmingham office. I was previously working for a national law firm managing the Milton Keynes branch as well as supporting the Luton and Cardiff offices as a Director of the Family Law. I ultimately joined NLS, six months after my initial contact with them– I felt it was a natural progression for my career and me as a person. I accepted an offer to join and moved back to Birmingham to help launch & staff our Birmingham office.
My very first responsibility was to support a senior partner in childcare cases. I realised family law was my strength as I was helping the court make decisions for children – some of the most vulnerable in our society – and helping people in difficult family related situations.
I took on a family law caseload whilst still a paralegal and trained in the area. Now, I look back and feel it was the best decision and I am learning new things every day.
I specialise in private family disputes between families/couples in respect of children, divorce, matrimonial finances and domestic abuse protection. I also specialise in childcare law assisting parents and accredited by the Law Society to represent children and their interests involved in court proceedings including removal from their parents, supervision by the local authority and being placed in secure accommodation.
I particularly enjoy being in court- I believe I am an effective advocate in court and able to absorb large amounts of important information quickly and submit the key points to a court succinctly.
I am accused of being a perfectionist when it comes to content and presentation of court documents; I feel I am able to work well with vulnerable clients assisting the court in understanding their needs.
Challenging a local authority about the unfair and arbitrary way they had been treating my client over a month. This meant applying to court and waiting a further month before being able to bring the local authority to task about their behaviour. Once in court my actions asking for an urgent hearing were vindicated with the lack of care for my client being admitted by the local authority.
NLS is a firm focussed on client care- we deal with large volumes of vulnerable people whom need our help and help from the court.
We help our clients achieve what they need to safely live their lives without fear. To do this, we monitor every client very carefully ensuring discussions take place and court orders are secured where available within several days of first contact with a client.
Solicitors and caseworkers are directly available for clients to speak to, our teams are trained to high standards with direct support to empower them to work their best for the benefit of our clients.
My favourite element of my work is achieving a positive outcome for my client allowing them to walk away from court having achieved what they sought or needed for a safe, peaceful life or to ensure any children involved are safe & happy.
I am a volunteer for the University of Law and Birmingham City University as a mentor for students seeking help, guidance & support with entering the legal sector and working life.
When not at work, I enjoy spending time with my wife & sons, reading, cooking and keeping fit.
National Legal Service Solicitors has supported over 3000 victims of domestic abuse in the past year. One of the biggest fears expressed by our clients is the potential of having to face their violent ex-partner in court. We hope this blog can offer some advice on what to do if you find yourself in this position.
If you are the victim of domestic abuse, you may qualify for legal aid and therefore may be able to get legal representation to support you even more.
If you’re not entitled to legal aid (due to income or assets) , you act in person but instruct us to undertake a particular task in your presence such as the drafting of a statement; the drafting of court pleadings etc.
For more information, please review our fees page or contact us 0203 601 5051