Children Law FAQs
Solicitors from Burnetts in Carlisle, Penrith, Newcastle and West Cumbria answer your frequently asked questions on legal issues with children:
Do I have to come in to see you?
If you are seeking legal advice it is usually best to arrange an appointment to see a solicitor / legal adviser so we can discuss matters fully. We will advise you about your position, what steps you might take and your legal costs. We are able to offer appointments in Carlisle (city centre and Rosehill offices), Penrith, Cockermouth and Newcastle. Please specify which office when making the appointment.
Can you explain Parental Responsibility?
Parental Responsibility means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, a parent of a child has, in relation to the child and his property.
When a child is born, the mother automatically has parental responsibility. If the parents are married, both parents automatically have parental responsibility. If a child is born to unmarried parents and the birth is registered after 1st December 2003 with both parents’ details this also gives the father parental responsibility. Otherwise parental responsibility can be obtained by way of a parental responsibility agreement entered into amicably by both parents or a parental responsibility order made by the court.
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
A Child Arrangements Order specifies the person with whom a child will live and with whom they will spend their time (previously known as Access, Contact or Residence Orders). A Child Arrangements Order requires the person with whom a child resides, or is to reside with, to allow the child to visit or stay with the other person named in the order, or for that person and the child otherwise to spend time with each other.
When the court makes a Child Arrangements Order in favour of someone who is not the parent or guardian of the child concerned, that person will have parental responsibility for the child while the Child Arrangements Order remains in force.
Formerly known as “access” or “contact”, “Child Arrangements” refer to any communication or meeting between a child and his / her family. This can include contact by letter or phone, as well as actual visits. The family court’s view of contact is that it is the right of a child and is usually in the best interests of a child to spend time with the parent who does not live with them.
My partner won’t let me see my child – what should I do?
It is important to obtain legal advice at an early stage so we would recommend that you come in to see one of our childcare solicitors.
Solutions may arise from mediation or a collaborative approach. Alternatively, a strongly worded letter may be sufficient to get the situation resolved. In certain circumstances it is appropriate to bring court proceedings. We regularly make applications for Child Arrangements Orders, Specific Issue Orders and Prohibited Steps Orders on behalf of parents and other family members.
If arrangements for your child to spend time with you have broken down then you should consider maintaining letters and phone calls until matters are resolved. We would recommend cards, letters, phone calls and / or social media. If you have parental responsibility you are entitled to school reports and medical records about your child so you should find out how s/he is doing by contacting the school/ doctor.
Our legal advisers will outline the various options and the costs involved.
Will anyone listen to what my child wants?
It is important that children are not asked to choose between their parents and they should be safeguarded from exposure to conflict.
However, older children often want a say in the arrangements being made on their behalf. This can either be achieved by parents listening carefully to their children and adapting the arrangements, the children being involved in the mediation process or within the court process. If the Court has to decide what is best for your children, then their wishes and feelings are relevant, dependent upon their age and level of understanding. If necessary, a court can ask a special adviser from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) to ascertain the children’s wishes.
Our specialist childcare team will be able to advise you on the best way of dealing with your children’s wishes and feelings.
I’m worried about the safety of my children. What can I do?
If you have any concerns about the physical or emotional welfare of your child, contact Children’s Services as soon as possible (the Children’s Services department of the local authority combines the old Social Services and Education departments with other children’s services.) If you believe the child’s welfare needs would be best met by you, you should then seek legal advice with a view to making an application to the court for a relevant order.
Children’s Services want to speak to me about my child. What should I do?
If Children’s Services wish to speak to you about your child, you should cooperate fully with them. If Children’s Services have received a referral or are concerned about a child’s welfare, they have a duty to investigate the concern.
If the investigation raises no concerns for Children’s Services, that will usually be the end of the matter. Should Children’s Services have concerns about the welfare of your child / children, they may call a “case conference” where you will be invited to attend a meeting with people involved with your family like a teacher, health visitor, midwife or the police to discuss the concerns. You can take someone with you to the meeting and this may be a legal adviser /solicitor.
A decision will be made at the case conference as to whether your child’s name is to be places on the child protection register. If it is registered, a review conference (usually 3 – 6 months ahead) will be fixed.
Do you offer a free first appointment?
We do not offer a free first appointment to new clients to the firm, but we do provide the first meeting (of up to one hour) and a letter of legal advice at a heavily discounted rate of £210 including VAT. Payment needs to be made either before or immediately after the appointment.
What is family mediation and how does it work?
Mediation involves the parties talking together with an independent and impartial mediator to try to resolve their differences. The mediator does not give advice nor do they impose decisions – their role is simply to facilitate the parties’ discussion. We can provide further information about mediation.
I want to change my child's name. What can I do?
If you want to change your child`s name, you will either need an order of the court saying you can do so or you will need to execute a change of name deed.
Executing a change of name deed is a relatively quick and straightforward process providing all people who have parental responsibility for the child consent in writing to the change (and subject to confirming the identity of all parties to the deed).
Burnetts offer this service for a fixed fee of £90 inclusive of VAT. If you need more information then please contact a member of the family team who will be happy to talk you through the process. You can also find out more about change of name deeds here.