How Long Does It Take to Discharge a Care Order?

How Long Does It Take to Discharge a Care Order?

If you’ve had a care order made following court proceedings that has led to your child/ren being placed in the care of the local authority, you may have since taken steps to change your circumstances. If you have had a change of circumstances since the time the order was made, speak to one of our specialist care solicitors now to see if you would be able to apply to the family court to discharge the care order.

Discharging a care order can be a complex process that involves demonstrating to the family court that your situation has changed and is now safe for the return of your child/ren. A specialist family solicitor can help you navigate this process.

What is a care order?

A care order can only be made following a formal application to the family court. The application is usually made by a local authority (social services). Those proceedings can take around 26 weeks (or longer in some instances) and a number of interim orders or arrangements can be in place before the final stage of the case. If a final (or full) care order is made, it means that the local authority will share parental responsibility for the child/ren subject to the order. They have a duty to consult with others that hold parental responsibility on all issues relating to education, health and religion but they will have the final say over decisions as they will have the overall responsibility for the care of the child/ren.

How do I apply to discharge a care order?

If you want to apply to discharge a care order, you must demonstrate to the family court that there has been a significant change in circumstances from the time when the care order was finalised (the “final threshold” document is a good point of reference for seeing what issues and concerns had been accepted at the final hearing).

You may have supporting evidence from people working with your family that can confirm such changes have been made. This evidence could come from people such as agencies that have been working with the family, therapists or a GP.

An application to discharge a care order can be made by a local authority, the child, parent, or any other person with parental responsibility.

A C110A form will first have to be completed and submitted to family court. There is a fee associated with submitting this document that will need to be paid before the application can be considered, unless you are eligible for legal aid or a fee remission. (Your specialist solicitor will advise you as to your eligibility for free legal advice at your initial consultation).

The application will be served on the local authority and other people with parental responsibility. A children’s guardian will also be appointed (usually the same guardian from the initial proceedings) and the court will invite all parties to comment on the evidence submitted in support of the “change of circumstances” and whether any further evidence is required to make a decision that is in the child’s best interest.

When to make the application and how long does it take to discharge a care order?

It’s unlikely that an application to discharge a care order will ever be deemed to have merits within a year of the order being made as it’s very difficult to prove a significant change in circumstances in that time.

After a reasonable amount of time has passed and an application has been made, it’s hard to say just how long it will take for the court to then decide whether the care order should be discharged. Each application is dealt with on a case-by-case basis, so it could take weeks or months, depending on the position of the other parties.

There may be delays if the court does not believe there is enough evidence to show a change in circumstance but that rather than dismissing the application, further evidence should be submitted to the court. In these instances, there may need to be further hearings and assessments for the court to decide on whether a child would receive adequate care should they be returned home.

Our expert team of specialist solicitors have successfully supported families in a wide range of difficult, emotionally charged circumstances.

Having someone you can trust to help you understand the legal process and provide clearheaded legal representation can help reduce the stress and anxiety felt by the family and help ensure the best possible outcome for all parties.

Our family law and care departments also include members of the Law Society’s Children Panel, the Family Law Panel and Resolution Accredited Specialists.

To find out more, get in touch with the team at the National Legal Service on 020 3601 5051.

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Shaoli has been a solicitor at NLS for over two years, transitioning from a background in criminal law to full-time family law. Her experience as a Criminal Duty Solicitor has equipped her with unique skills that are invaluable in her current role.
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