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 Gosforth in 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 Residence Order?
A Residence Order specifies the person with whom a child will live.
When the court makes a Residence 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 Residence Order remains in force.
What is contact?
Formerly known as “access”, contact refers to any communication or meeting between a child and his / her family. This can include contact by letter, phone (“indirect contact”) as well as actual visits (“direct contact”). 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.
A contact order is an order requiring the person with whom a child resides, or is to reside with, to allow the child to visit or stay with the person named in the order, or for that person and the child otherwise to have contact with each other.
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 residence, contact, specific issue and prohibited steps orders on behalf of parents.
If all direct contact has stopped, then you should consider maintaining indirect contact until matters are resolved. We would recommend cards, letters and social media. If you have parental responsibility, you are entitled to school reports and medical records about your child so you could 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. 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. (The Children’s Services department of the local authority combines the old Social Services and Education departments with other children’s services.)
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 co-operate 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) at a heavily discounted rate of £95 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.