In the words of The Act: “a contact order” means an order requiring the person with whom a child lives, or is to live, 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;
Contact orders made by the court are tailored to individual circumstances. They can be brief and expressed in very general terms: e.g. the mother will allow the father ‘reasonable contact’ to the child. They can be very detailed, explicitly stating collection and return times, locations for handover, who can be present at handover, arrangements for replacement contact if contact doesn’t take place, dates of holiday contact etc – with the actual definition perhaps stretching even to a couple of pages. This, the inclusion of prescriptive details, tends to happen after previous orders, made in less detail, have proved to be unworkable since the court will initially prefer the parents themselves to agree and sort out the detail within the general boundaries set out by the court.
Within contact orders certain descriptions may be used: ‘Direct contact’ refers to face-to-face contact with the child, actually meeting your child, whereas ‘indirect contact’ means that contact takes places by phone, email or post. ‘Visiting contact’ describes a situation in which a child has direct contact with the parent on outings or visiting the parent’s home, but does not stay overnight. When the child sleeps overnight on a contact visit this is referred to as ‘staying contact’.
In the words of The Act: “a residence order” means an order settling the arrangements to be made as to the person with whom a child is to live;
The use of the singular term ‘person’ in the above definition can be read in the plural (“persons”) just as the term “child” also covers “children” in The Act.. Any doubts about this are dispelled by s11(4) which specifically states: “Where a residence order is made in favour of two or more persons who do not themselves all live together, the order may specify the periods during which the child is to live in the different households concerned.” There is no explicit ‘shared residence order’ under the legislation, simply the ability to order (under s8) that the child shall live with the individuals named for the times specified in the order (s11(4)). See further material elsewhere on this website specifically dealing with shared residence.
If there is no dispute as to which parent the child shall live then logically, taking into account the ‘no order principle’, a residence order is not required and should not be made. However, even though a contact order, by definition (see above), actually confirms which parent the child lives with, courts are far too easily persuaded by mothers that they need a residence order to ‘reassure’ them that the child lives with them and not the father – especially when contact to the father is substantially increased. Besides giving the mother the increased formal status of ‘resident parent’ a residence order also permits that parent to remove the child from the UK for a month without the need to obtain the other parent’s (parent with parental responsibility) written permission [s13(1)(b)]. Where there is a residence order in force there is also an explicit prohibition on causing the child to be known by a new surname.
Prohibited steps orders
In the words of The Act: ” ‘a prohibited steps order’ means an order that no step which could be taken by a parent in meeting his parental responsibility for a child, and which is of a kind specified in the order, shall be taken by any person without the consent of the court.” A parent can be prohibited from taking any number of steps, though the most common scenario is where one parent, suspecting that the other may be planning to move abroad with the child, applies for an order that s/he be ‘prohibited from removing the child from the jurisdiction’. Others examples could be: prohibiting the parent from allowing the child to: have body/ear piercings; her hair cut (when with either parent); take part in dangerous activities; do glamour modelling; be fed food contrary to religious beliefs; etc
Specific issues orders
In the words of The Act: “a ‘specific issue order’ means an order giving directions for the purpose of determining a specific question which has arisen, or which may arise, in connection with any aspect of parental responsibility for a child.” These orders are ‘positive’ orders in that they require a parent to do or allow something rather than ‘prohibit’ a certain act . A common example is where the court is asked to determine which school a child shall attend. Other examples could be: determining that a child should be circumcised; that the child should be take part in certain religious practices; that a child should be entered for entrance exams; etc
Neither prohibited steps orders (PSO), nor specific issue orders (SIO) are to be used to achieve a result which could be achieved by a contact or residence order [s9(5)(a)]. For example, rather than use a PSO to prevent the child visiting the home of an undesirable adult during contact, the conditions attached to a contact order should deal with this if required.