Guidance on what a specific issue order entails and when you may need to apply for one.

What is a specific issue order?

A specific issue order is an order granted by the family court when parents cannot agree on a certain aspect of their child's upbringing. An application can be made and a judge will then decide upon the specific issue raised which can be in connection with any aspect of parental responsibility for a child (or children).

The issues that can be dealt with by a specific issue order are very open ended.

When might you apply for a specific issue order?

The court can decide on almost any aspect of parental responsibility when considering a specific issue order application.

The most common application issues concern:

  • whether a child should change their name
  • decisions on a child's education and where they should attend school
  • whether a child should receive certain medical treatment
  • preventing someone from having contact with the child
  • permission to take the child abroad.

However, all family configurations are different and therefore unique circumstances will always arise and so, as the name alludes to, many new and 'specific' issues can always arise.

Who can apply for a specific issue order?

Firstly, you must be eligible to do so.

Do I need permission?

A specific issue order can be applied for not only by parents but guardians, step-parents with parental responsibility and anyone named on a child arrangement order.

However, if you do not fall into one of the above categories by way of parental responsibility, you may still be able to obtain a specific issue order, but you must apply for permission from the court first in order to do so.

How to apply for a specific issue order

There are alternatives to making an application to court for a specific issue order and there is an expectation by the court that endeavours to resolve matters out of court will be considered beforehand in an attempt to settle the matter before applying to court.

If you are applying to court, there is a requirement to consider mediation in an attempt to settle the matter before applying. You must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment meeting (MIAM) unless an exemption applies.

Application forms and process

If you are unable to reach agreement, an application for a specific steps order can then be made on the C100 Form and you will also need to pay a court fee.

The court will arrange an initial hearing date to be listed within five to six weeks' time. This hearing will be heard in the presence of both a judge and a representative from Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services (CAFCASS). CAFCASS will undertake safeguarding checks and may be asked to prepare a report and to give a balanced opinion.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement at the initial hearing, the court will often make additional directions dependant on what is necessary in each case before listing the matter for a final hearing, (unless there are any welfare concerns, when a different process may apply).

When making a specific issue order, what factors are considered?

As with all cases involving children, the child's welfare will be the court's paramount concern. The court must also be satisfied that making a specific issue order is better for the child than making no order at all.

The Children Act 1989 also provides a list of guidelines for judges that must be followed while deciding on a specific issue order application:

  • feelings and wishes of the child
  • child's emotional, physical, and educational needs
  • likely effect of the court's decision on the child
  • the ability of the parents to fulfil the child's needs
  • child's sex, age, background, and any other characteristic relevant to court's verdict
  • any risk of suffering harm or harm already suffered.

How long does a specific issue order last?

A specific issue order will automatically end when the child in question reaches 16 years of age. However, if there are exceptional circumstances for the specific issue order to prevail, it may last until the child attains the age of 18. If an order is extended it cannot continue beyond this age.

What is the difference between a specific issue order and a prohibited steps order?

Although the process for both orders is the same, it is the effect of the order that is different. A specific issue order is made by a court to approve a particular action, whereas a prohibited steps order explicitly prohibits a parent or party from taking a certain course of action.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.