In its simplest terms, a prohibited steps order is a legally binding order that prohibits someone (usually a parent) from exercising some elements of their parental responsibility.
Such orders usually stop a third party from carrying out a certain activity in relation to the child or children, for example removing a child from school, changing their surname or taking them out of the country.
Parents, guardians or holders of a residence order (“lives with” child arrangement order) can apply for a prohibited steps order under S8 of the Children Act 1989 with the only exception to this rule arising if the child is 16 years old or over or if the child is currently in the care of a Local Authority.
How long does a prohibited steps order last?
Courts set the duration that the prohibited steps order is to last with time frames varying from case to case, so it is important that you fully understand how long the order is to remain in place.
Normally, the court will impose a duration that they feel serves the best interests of the child or children in question. This can range from several months to many years.
However, a prohibited steps order will usually remain in force until further order although it will end by the time that the child or children reach their 18th birthdays. It is not possible for a prohibited steps order to remain in place after this milestone as the child is then considered to be an adult in the eyes of the law.
How to get a prohibited steps order
If you are looking to get a prohibited steps order put in place, you must make an application in person to the family court or via a third party family solicitor who will be able to help guide you through what is often an upsetting and complex legal process.
Having good quality legal representation can help you achieve the best outcome as the court must be fully satisfied that involvement of the parent or guardian in question in a child’s life is having or has the potential to have a negative impact on their welfare.
How to apply for a prohibited steps order
A prohibited steps order can be applied for in-person at the family court or can be done on your behalf by a solicitor that deals with this particular area of family law.
Depending on the circumstances of your case, a prohibited steps order can be applied for without notice to the other party. You should really obtain legal advice as to the merits of an emergency, without notice application.
If you are applying on notice, there are considerations around mediation and attempts to settle matters (with certain exemptions, particularly around domestic abuse and issues of child protection).
If the case has been heard on notice to the other party, a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services Officer will usually liaise with the parties involved to see if an agreement can be reached without having to go through lengthy court proceedings.
If a settlement is unsuccessful, directions will be set for the filing of various evidence and the matter may be listed for a further hearing.
Legal Aid may be available if you have already got evidence of domestic abuse or child protection concerns and if you satisfy the rules around financial eligibility.
It is important to note that applying for prohibited steps orders can open the door to wider considerations around child arrangements (the time the child/ren will spend with each parent and who the child/ren will live with).
It is important to seek early legal advice so you are aware of all the options and possible outcomes before you take steps to issue a formal application.