If you have serious concerns about decisions being made in relation to your child’s upbringing, you may be able to apply for a Prohibited Steps Order (PSO).
What is a Prohibited Steps Order?
A Prohibited Steps Order is used to prevent someone from exercising their parental responsibility and taking specific action regarding a child.
Under section 8 of the Children Act 1989, anyone with parental responsibility for a child can apply to the courts for a PSO against another party.
PSOs are most commonly sought where parents of a child have separated or are in the process separating and one parent is threatening to take a specific course of action regarding their child, or children.
A Prohibited Steps Order can be considered the opposite of a Specific Issue Order, which is used to allow a parent to take certain positive action regarding their child’s upbringing, for example, determining the school that the child will attend.
In granting a PSO, the court’s main concern will be the welfare of the child in question. A PSO will not be issued if the court does not believe that it will benefit the child.
Although all parents want the best for their children, where relationships have broken down, discussing and agreeing the best course of action for your child can become difficult and in some circumstances, may simply not be possible.
In these cases, a PSO can provide peace of mind if you are concerned that someone may be about to take actions in respect of your child which would be against their best interests, such as moving them away.
Who can apply for a PSO?
Any individual with parental responsibility for the child can apply for a Prohibited Steps Order, for example, a parent, guardian, or other person who has been granted a residence order in relation to the child in question.
When are PSOs used?
With parental responsibility for a child, you can make decisions on fundamental aspects of their upbringing, such as their schooling, where they live and their religion. PSOs can be used to challenge and block decisions on these areas (and more), if the court considers it would be in the best interests of the child to do so.
There is no exhaustive list for when a PSO can be granted although it must be for genuine reasons. Common examples of use of a PSO could include:
- Stopping a parent from relocating with the child to another part of the country, or overseas.
- Preventing a parent from changing the child’s school.
- Ensuring a parent cannot change the name of the child.
- Preventing a guardian from agreeing to a child receiving certain medical treatment.
A PSO cannot, however, be applied for if the child in question is 16 years old or above, or is cared for by the local authority.
Nicola and Chris have a three-year old child, Jack. After an acrimonious split, Chris wants to move back to Canada where he was born and where his family still live and is threatening to take Jack with him. Nicola is from Leeds and her family all live in Yorkshire. She has no connections with Canada, other than Chris, and is not in a position to give up her job and relocate there. She would not be able to afford to visit Canada very often and does not want Chris and Jack to go. She applies to the court for a PSO to prevent Chris from taking Jack to Canada to live.
Liam and Vicky were together for seven years but got divorced two years ago. They have two children, Poppy who is five and Ben who is three. They all live in the same town and although the children mainly live with Vicky, Liam sees them regularly. Vicky has a new partner, James. Liam has strong suspicions that James is an alcoholic and also a drug-user and does not want him meeting his children, so makes an application to court for a PSO to prohibit Vicky from introducing them to James.
Can agreement be made without court action?
Obtaining a PSO is a serious step to take and one which should be carefully thought through. Bear in mind that making such an application is likely to impact relations with the respondent. If relations with your child’s other parent are generally amicable or at least civil, risking that may have more adverse repercussions than agreeing to the action in question or a compromise.
Fundamental to any application for a Prohibited Steps Order will be the need to show that, by bringing the matter before the court, you have the child’s best interests in mind and you have attempted to reach an agreement with the respondent about the action in question, (although the latter will not apply in certain situations, for example, where there is a history or risk of domestic violence).
How to apply for a PSO
To apply for a Prohibited Steps Order, you have to make an application to the courts using the C100 application form. You will need to show that you have tried to resolve the issue with the other party (the ‘respondent’) and have attempted mediation or attended a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting in a genuine effort to come to an agreement.
Once your application has been received and processed, a hearing date will be set by the court.
Prior to the hearing, a family court adviser from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) will provide you with some information and usually will speak to you on the telephone. Both the applicant and the respondent will attend the hearing as well as the Cafcass family court adviser.
At the hearing, the parties will be encouraged to come to an agreement over the relevant issue. If this is not possible, the court will prepare a timetable to set out what will happen next and you may be asked to attend a further mediation meeting to try and resolve the issue. The court may also ask Cafcass to prepare a report setting out their opinions on the matter but if they do, you will be provided with a copy.
If the parties reach an agreement at any point, the court will stop the process and if you wish to amend your application, you can do so subject to paying another fee and completing the relevant paperwork.
How much does a Prohibited Steps Order cost?
The current fee for applying for a Prohibited Steps Order is £215, although you may be able to receive help with this if you receive benefits or have a low income.
What is an emergency Prohibited Steps Order?
An emergency Prohibited Steps Order is applied for as a matter of urgency. For example, if you have become aware that your ex-partner is intending to take your child to live abroad within the next few days.
Where an application has been made for an emergency PSO, the respondent will not be informed of the application or of the hearing although should the court grant an emergency PSO, a further hearing will be required which the respondent will attend.
In order for an emergency order to be granted, there must be a real risk of the action being undertaken imminently and you must be able to evidence that this is the case.
How long does a PSO last?
The court has discretion as to how long a Prohibited Steps Order should last. Depending on the facts of the case, it could be in place until the child is 16 years old or it could be granted for a specific period of time. Occasionally, the court will grant that a PSO will be effective until the child has reached 18 years of age.
Can a PSO be overturned?
A PSO can be overturned or discharged if you feel that it is no longer needed. For example, a PSO may have been granted to stop a parent from introducing the child to a new partner but if they separate, you may feel that the PSO is no longer necessary. To discharge a PSO, you will need to make another application to court using form C100.
Alternatively, a PSO which has already been granted can be changed either by both parties if in agreement, or if you cannot agree, by the court.
If both parties agree to change the PSO, it would still be advisable to apply to the court to formally change the PSO. Any change which has not been sanctioned by the court would not legally binding or enforceable.
Are PSOs enforceable?
Breaching a Prohibited Steps Order is a criminal offence.
If the other party is in breach of the PSO, you can apply to the court to enforce the Prohibited Steps Order by following guidance CB5 and completing form C79. This will then need to be filed with the court and the relevant fee paid.
Where that the court enforces the PSO, they may instruct the respondent to repay you if you have suffered loss as a result of the breach of the PSO or an enforcement order might be granted by the court against the respondent. This will require the respondent to complete a specified number of hours of unpaid work (40 to 200 hours).
Potentially, the respondent could face a prison sentence if they are in contempt of court, especially if it is a repeat offence.
In certain situations, the court may decide not to enforce the order, despite the breach. This could be because the respondent’s actions, notwithstanding the breach, are deemed to be in the interests of the child or because the respondent can show reasonable grounds for breaching the PSO.
In all cases, if you are concerned that someone may attempt to do something in respect of your child that you do not agree with, and you fully believe that the action would be contrary to the child’s welfare, you should take legal advice as soon as possible to understand your options, which may include applying for a Prohibited Steps Order.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.