Protecting Your Child’s Best Interests with A Prohibited Steps Orders

Protecting Your Child’s Best Interests with A Prohibited Steps Orders

The breakdown of any relationship can be stressful but when a child is involved, tensions can quickly escalate, and the situation becomes even more anxiety-inducing.

Whether the separation is marred by extreme levels of conflict, or continual disagreements about what’s in the best interests of the child, it can feel impossible to see a way forward. While the thought of your child living elsewhere for at least part of the week or month is undeniably heartbreaking, some parents face a more extreme fear; the worry that their child may be permanently removed from their care or even taken overseas without consent by their former partner.

What are the grounds for a prohibited steps order?

Prohibited Steps Orders (PSO) are often used in high-conflict co-parenting cases. That’s because they are used to prohibit one parent from exercising some of their parental rights over their child.

This means they are used to ensure one parent can’t take a decision or carry out an action relating to the child that the other parent opposes. This could take many forms, for example:

  • Changing the child’s name.
  • One parent removing the child from the other’s care.
  • Taking the child out of their present school to enrol them in another.
  • Leaving the country with the child, either on a temporary or permanent basis.
  • Having the child follow a certain religion.
  • Giving consent for medical treatment against the wishes of the other parent.

If there is a dispute, a parent, guardian, or someone with a care order for the child can apply to the court for a Prohibited Steps Order to be issued. This turns the matter over to the family court. The court will then need to decide what’s in the best interests of the child, and if the decision or action should be allowed or, if it should be legally prohibited.

It should be noted that mediation will be required before the application is filed with the court. This isn’t required if there is evidence of domestic violence between the parents, or where there is an immediate threat to the child’s safety and wellbeing.

Any order which is granted will be done so to ensure the child’s welfare takes precedence.

If you believe the other parent doesn’t have grounds for a PSO and that you should be allowed to take the desired action or decision, you’ll need to be able to explain why that is the case and why it’s in the best interest of the child for that action to happen.

Is breaching a Prohibited Steps Order a criminal offence?

Once issued by the family court, a Prohibited Steps Order becomes legally binding. It will apply for a specified period of time which could span six months or several years. The order can be discharged earlier if it is no longer needed. For example, if the parents can come to a mutual agreement, an application can be made to the court for the order to be discharged. Likewise, CAFCASS could also recommend the order be overturned in their written report. The order will only be discharged if the court feels confident that the child’s welfare will not be placed at risk by doing so.

While a Prohibited Steps Order is in place, it is a civil offence to breach the terms of the order. Anyone found to do so may be considered to have acted in contempt.

The punishment for breaching the order will vary from case to case but it is a serious offence and can result in that person being sentenced to a prison term or a fine.

The court will decide on the appropriate course of action if they find that the Prohibited Steps Order has been breached. The circumstances of the breach and the welfare of the child will play a part in determining the punitive measures handed out to the person committing the offence.

Can I get legal aid for a Prohibited Steps Order?

The current cost for applying for a Prohibited Steps Order is £215. However, the actual cost could be much higher when other legal fees, such as the cost of appointing a family solicitor to assist you through what could be a complex case, are also factored in.

If you wish to apply for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent your child being removed from your care, but are worried about the cost of doing so, it is possible to obtain legal aid in some circumstances. If you’re the victim of domestic violence or abuse for example, or your child is at risk of abuse, you could be eligible for legal aid.

As one of the UK’s largest providers of legal aid to domestic abuse victims, National Legal Service can provide tailored advice and guidance based on your individual circumstances. If you’re considering applying for a PSO and would like to understand your eligibility for legal aid or discuss next steps, please get in touch. All enquiries are confidential.

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