In this blog post I answer some of the most commonly asked questions about a Prohibitive Steps Order.
What is a Prohibitive Steps Order?
A Prohibited Steps Order (or PSO) is an order made by the Court that prevents a parent from carrying out certain events or making specific trips with their child or children without the express permission of the other parent.
For example, a PSO may be used to resolve disputes such as:
- Preventing one parent from allowing a child or children to associate with a particular person;
- Preventing one parent from changing a child’s name;
- Preventing one parent from taking a child or children out of the country;
- Preventing one parent from carrying out an internal (within the same country) relocation with a child or children, i.e. moving to a new house in a different town or county;
- In relation to the medical treatment of a child or children.
A Prohibited Steps Order may contain directions as to how the order is to be carried out, impose conditions that are to be complied with by any person in whose favour the order has been made and specify the period for which the order is to last for. For example, it is to be in place for as long as a child or children attends a particular school.
A PSO will not be used to prevent contact.
Who can apply for a Prohibitive Steps Order?
Parents, Step-Parents (who have parental responsibility), Guardians, Special Guardians and anyone named in a Child Arrangements Order as a person with whom the child is to live may apply to the Court for a Prohibited Steps Order. Anyone else, including the child or children themselves, will need to apply to the Court to get permission to make the application.
Are there any restrictions when making a Prohibitive Steps Order?
Yes, there are certain restrictions, such as:
- A PSO cannot be made in relation to a child who is 16 years old. If an order is made before the child’s 16th birthday, then the period that the order can last for cannot exceed beyond their 16th birthday, unless the Court is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances;
- If the Court finds that there are such exceptional circumstances to make the order last beyond a child’s 16th birthday, it will, however, cease once the child obtains the age of 18 years. A Prohibitive Steps Order cannot extend beyond the child’s 18th birthday;
- The Court cannot make a PSO whilst a child is in the care of the local authority;
- The PSO must concern an aspect of parental responsibility;
- A PSO cannot be made where a Child Arrangements Order would achieve the same result.
How long does a Prohibitive Steps Order last?
As mentioned above, a PSO can last for as long as the Court deems it necessary, but in any event, it will cease once a child reaches the age of 16.
How much does a Prohibitive Steps Order cost?
This will vary depending on how each party behaves and whether you instruct solicitors or make the application to the Court yourself.
It may be possible to avoid the need to make an application by discussing the issue with the other party and reaching an agreement, either through solicitors or directly. However, if an agreement can’t be reached, or there is a fear that the other party will imminently carry out whatever event it is you would like to prevent, and therefore an emergency application needs to be made, then there will be costs associated with drafting the application and representation at Court.
Because each case is different, it is best to make an appointment to speak to one of our solicitors, who will be able to give you an estimate of the likely costs involved for your specific situation.
In addition to the above, there will be a Court fee for making the application.
How to apply for a Prohibitive Steps Order?
It is now a requirement that you attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before you can make an application to the Court for a PSO.
At a MIAM you will meet with a trained Mediator who will provide you with information about mediation, how it can help to resolve disputes, and assess whether mediation is appropriate in your circumstances, thereby avoiding the need to make an application to the Court. Mediation is voluntary and both parties must agree to attend. It can take place with both of you in the same room, or if necessary, in separate rooms (known as shuttle mediation).
You may not need to attend a MIAM if you are making an urgent application to the Court, if there are child protection concerns or issues of domestic violence.
The application itself is made by completing the relevant Court form (C100) and it must include details of all the adults and children concerned and state what order you are asking the Court to make and why.
If you are making an urgent application, it may mean that the application is made without telling the other party what you are doing, however, in most cases, a copy of your application will be sent to the other party and any other relevant parties by the Court. The Court will then set a date and time for the first hearing.
The person who makes the application is the Applicant and the other party or parties are the Respondent or Respondents. The Court will send the Respondent(s) certain forms that they must return to the Court to confirm that they have seen the application papers (Acknowledgement of Service) and also asking them to prepare a statement setting out their case.
The Court hearings that take place are similar to those for a Child Arrangements Order.
The initial hearing is a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). This is where the Court looks into what the issues are, asks about the possibility of a resolution and then gives directions about how the case should proceed if it is not possible to reach an agreement.
The Court might order that a Child and Families Court Advisory and Support Service officer (CAFCASS officer) prepares a report to help the Judge at any Final Hearing, or it might order that the child concerned be legally represented. Sometimes the Court will adjourn the case in order to allow time for mediation to take place, if appropriate.
If the issues cannot be resolved, then the Court will hold a Final Hearing. At this hearing the Judge will hear evidence from the adults involved, the CAFCASS officer (if they have been involved) and any other necessary experts. They will then make a binding decision.
The Court will look at what the parent who looks after the child on a day-to-day basis wishes to do and the reasons why the application is being made. For example, if a parent is trying to prevent the other parent from relocating, the Court will look at why that parent wants to move. Do they have a genuine reason to do so, or are they just trying to be vindictive towards the other parent by trying to remove the child or children? The Court will also consider whether preventing that parent from leaving a certain area will make them unhappy, thus affecting the child or children.
The primary concern of the Court is the child’s welfare. The Children Act 1989 provides a list of things that the Judge needs to consider before coming to their decision. These are:
- The wishes and feelings of the child concerned (depending on the child’s age and the issues that are being considered);
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
- The likely effect on the child if circumstances changed as a result of the Court’s decision;
- The child’s age, sex, background and any other characteristics that will be relevant to the Court’s decision;
- Any harm the child has suffered, or may be at risk of suffering;
- The capability of the child’s parents (or other relevant adults) to meet the child’s needs;
- The powers available to the Court
The Court must also be satisfied that making the order is better for the child than not making any order at all.
Can a Prohibitive Steps Order be changed?
A change in circumstances may mean that the parties want the PSO to be changed. If all parties are in agreement with the changes, then they can request that the Court amends the order. However, a Judge will consider what the new agreement is and whether it still complies with the Welfare Principle. If a change to the order will have a negative effect on a child or children and their welfare, then it is likely that the Court will refuse to make any amendments.
What is an emergency Prohibitive Steps Order?
In certain circumstances, it may be necessary to take urgent action in order to protect a child or children. An application for a PSO may be made without notice to the other party (also known as ex parte), but it should be noted that the Court will only grant an order on an emergency basis in exceptional circumstances and with strong evidence.
If you would like to discuss Prohibitive Steps Orders further or if you have any questions, then please contact us.
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