Guidance on what a Prohibited Steps Order entails and when you may need to apply for one.
What is a prohibited steps order?
A prohibited steps order is a court order that is used to prevent someone, (most likely a parent), from taking certain action or exercising some elements of their parental responsibility without the other parent's consent or the permission of the court.
When might you apply for a prohibited steps order?
As a prohibited steps order sets out what a parent cannot do in respect of their child (or children) you should consider applying for a prohibited steps order if you're concerned that someone else with parental responsibility over your child is going to make a decision about them without your consent.
As such, a prohibited steps order can be a useful tool when dealing with a wide range of parental decisions such as:
- relocating a child — whether in the UK or overseas
- changing a child's surname
- consenting to a child undergoing certain medical procedures or treatments
- removing a child from school
- taking a child on holiday.
How to apply for a prohibited steps order?
Firstly, you must be eligible to do so.
Do I need permission?
A prohibited steps order can be applied for in the family court if you have parental responsibility over the child (or children) in question.
However, if you do not have parental responsibility you may still be able to obtain a prohibited steps order, but you must apply for permission from the court to do so.
Is it an emergency?
Often, prohibited steps orders are considered emergency orders and may be made without notice where the respondent is not at that time aware of the application or invited to attend the hearing. Your ability to apply in this manner depends on the circumstances of your case.
To do so you must demonstrate to the court there is a real need for an emergency hearing because the proposed change in the child's circumstance will have a serious effect on the child's welfare. Otherwise, a hearing will be listed in the usual way.
Do I need a MIAM?
If you are applying to court on notice, there is first a requirement to consider mediation in attempts to settle the matter before applying. You must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment meeting (MIAM) unless an exemption applies.
Application forms and process
The application for a prohibited steps order is made on a C100 Form and you will also need to pay the court fee.
The court will arrange an initial hearing date to be listed within five to six weeks' time. This hearing will be in the presence of both a judge and a representative from the 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 be followed).
Why might a prohibited steps order not be granted?
In the first instance, a prohibited steps order will not be made by the court if the likely outcome is the same as that which could be achieved by an alternative order, e.g. an occupation order or non-molestation order.
A court is also unlikely to make a prohibited steps order if it clearly goes against a competent child's wishes unless it is required to protect their welfare.
Therefore, in order to have a higher chance of success, an application for a prohibited steps order should be clear, specific and is not to be used in the case of frivolous matters.
How long does a prohibited steps order last?
There is not one answer — it varies from case to case — and the court will impose a duration that they feel serves the best interests of the child (or children) in question.
The length will ultimately depend upon both the circumstances and the nature of the issue but, in short, a prohibited steps order will last for as long as the court says it should. This can be for either a defined period, ranging from several months to many years, or until a specified given event, such as until the child finishes their education.
It is important to note that a prohibited steps order will usually remain in force until a further order is made. However, it is not possible for a prohibited steps order to remain in place after a child's 18th birthday as the child is then considered to be an adult in the eyes of the law and it would no longer be enforceable. Most commonly, a prohibited steps order will usually only last until a child is aged 16.
What happens if I ignore or break a prohibited steps order?
Once it has been made, failure to comply with a prohibited steps order can be viewed as a contempt of court. If one parent breaches the terms of the agreement, the other party may then apply to court to enforce the order.
This can result in action being taken against the offending party, such as a fine or, in extreme cases, a prison sentence. The court will normally also consider making a further order, such as a specific issue order, in order to reverse the prohibited action taken which was protected under the prohibited steps order.
Co-parenting can be hard, especially when the parties involved are not on amicable terms, so if someone wants to make a decision about your child's upbringing that you don't agree with, there are options that you can take to prevent this.
However, it is important to seek early legal advice so that you are aware of all the options available and possible outcomes before you take any steps to issue a formal application.
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.