Specific Issue Order
A Specific Issue Order (SIO) can be made under section 8 of the Children Act 1989. It gives directions for a specific question that has arisen, or that may arise, about any aspect of parental responsibility for a child.
A specific issue order (SIO) is used for more than arranging contact between child and parent, although it can be made with a chid arrangement order. It is used to determine questions about a child's upbringing, perhaps, for example, whether the child should go to a state school or be educated privately or even in relation to medical treatment, including immunisation. A SIO can be made on its own, without a child arrangement order (CAO) if both parents are happy with the contact that they have with their child but where there is a specific issue that they do not agree on.
In considering whether to make an order, the child’s welfare must always be the courts first consideration. In relation to contested applications, where the parents do not agree, the court must have regard to the welfare checklist. The court needs to be sure that making an order is better for the child than making no order at all.
The welfare checklist includes taking into account
- the wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age)
- the childs physical, emotional and educational needs
- the likely effect of any change in their circumstances
- their age, sex, background and any characteristics which the court considers relevant
- any harm which they have suffered or is at risk of suffering
- how capable each of the parents are, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers to be relevant of meeting their needs
- the range of powers available to the court under this Act in the proceedings in question
There are several issues that may come up where parents feel they need to go to court. Whether the child should receive religious or non-religious education, taking the child to live abroad on a permanent basis or perhaps preventing someone from having contact with the child.
What the Court Will Do
The welfare of the child in question is always the courts main concern. The court will always put the child’s best interests first, this will determine the outcome of any application for an order. Applications for a Specific Issue Order are heard before a judge and a representative from Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services Officer), who is a qualified social worker. In the first instance, this meeting will try to reach an agreement between the parents as to how to determine the issue. This needs the consent of both parents, which can often be impossible if there have been allegations of domestic violence.
Court's Discretion to Make Order of its Own Volition
A magistrate or judge may make a Specific Issue Order of their own volition. This is in situations where the judge is satisfied that there is a risk that one of the parents may go ahead with a course of action without seeking the other’s consent. In other circumstances, and only if there are grounds to do so, the judge or magistrate may make a Specific Issue Order if the responsible parent is acting in an inappropriate way. This could relate to, for example, taking the child to places that are not deemed suitable for children, or leaving them in the care of a person who is not suitable for caring for children.
Directions for Hearing
If there is still a disagreement, after this first meeting between the judge, Cafcass and the parents, then, the parents and the Cafcass officer, along with any solicitors representing either party, go before the District Judge or magistrates to obtain directions for a trial. Usually both parents submit witness statements, and the Cafcass officer will interview both parents and prepare a report. If possible, the Cafcass officer should see the child in the company of each of the parents.
If the case then goes to a final hearing, each parent will give evidence in the Family Court and will be asked questions under oath by the other side. It is commonplace for the Cafcass officer’s report to settle matters before the final hearing happens and it is quite rare for a judge to find against the recommendations made in the report. If this happens, the judge must provide reasons for doing so. If the judge has made an error of law in coming to this decision, you can challenge the decision by way of judicial review. This is a complicated legal procedure; it is advisable to seek advice from a solicitor.