Children

The interests of children require sensitive and expert handling. Our team has extensive experience in acting for parents and children in difficult custody and contact disputes. Our team are accredited members of the Law Society’s Children Panel and able to represent children. We have a team dedicated to urgent cases involving children, including child abduction and international custody cases. We have extensive contacts overseas. We are available at any time of the day to take immediate action. We provide tailored advice to each individual case.
Parental responsibility

Both parents automatically have parental responsibility for a child if they were married when the child was born. This means that each of them is legally recognised as having all the rights and duties that parents normally have in relation to a child and that generally they both have to be consulted about major decisions in relation to the child’s upbringing in relation to education, medical treatment, any change of the child’s name and removal of the child out of the jurisdiction.

If the child's parents were not married, the mother automatically has parental responsibility. However, the father has parental responsibility as of right if he is named on the birth certificate of the child (after 1st December 2003). Otherwise the parents can sign a parental responsibility agreement giving the father parental responsibility or he can apply to Court for an order giving it to him.

A step-parent (who is married to one of the parents or is the civil partner of one of the parents) can acquire parental responsibility with the agreement of all those holding parental responsibility or by a court order.

Child Arrangements Orders

From 22 April 2014, Contact and Residence Orders are no longer available. Under the new scheme, Child Arrangements Orders are now available and replace Contact Orders and Residence Orders. A Child Arrangements Order therefore regulates arrangements relating to with whom and when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with. Before making a relevant family application a person must attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) except in certain circumstances, for example where there is evidence of domestic violence, child protection concerns or an emergency such as an abduction, requiring the help of child abduction specialists in Harrow or elsewhere.

A Court may also make “Activity Directions” when considering who a child should live with, or spend or otherwise have contact with in order to help establish, maintain or improve the involvement of a person in a child's life. This may include a requirement to attend parenting classes, mediation, Separating Parents Programme or counselling sessions.

If there are allegations of abuse or violence, either by one parent towards the other or by one of the parents towards the child, the Court may be asked to decide whether contact should be supervised.

Although there is a presumption, where a court is dealing with an application for a Child Arrangements Order, that each parent should be involved in a child's life, this presumption does not apply where that involvement would not further the child's welfare (this may include, for example, where there has been a history of serious abuse inflicted on a child by a parent). There is no presumption that parenting of the child should be equally split between the parents or that the time the child spends with each parent should be divided between them in predetermined proportions – each case will turn on its facts.

The Court may ask an officer from the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS) to meet with the child and both parents and to assess the situation and provide a report, which may necessitate the involvement of

childrens panel solicitors in Harrow or elsewhere.

As well as Child Arrangements Orders, parents may apply under the Children Act 1989 for the Court to decide any specific issue about the child (Specific Issue Order) for example whether the child should undergo specific medical treatment or which school they should attend. A parent may apply for an order preventing the other parent from taking a particular course of action in relation to the child (Prohibited Steps Order) for example forbidding the other parent from removing the child from his or her home or school or from the jurisdiction without consent. These may often require urgent or immediate applications and we are able to offer urgent appointments with resolution solicitors in Harrow and elsewhere.

International relocation (leave to remove)
Over the last decade there has been an increase in relationships formed by partners of different nationalities and subsequently led to an increase in the number of applications for relocation on the breakdown of those relationships. This is one of the most difficult and emotive areas of family breakdown which may arise when one of the parents wishes to relocate with the children to live in another country. A parent cannot do so without the consent of all holders of parental responsibility or the permission of the court, often requiring dispute resolution solicitors. Speak to our team for expert advice.
Wardship

Wardship is Court proceedings and the child is made a ward of Court. In effect, the Court becomes the legal guardian of such a child.

In cases where there are disputes concerning children with an international element, it is sometimes advisable to commence Wardship proceedings for their protection. Wardship proceedings can be started by a person connected with the child, without seeking permission of the Court. Particularly in cases where the only persons who have parental responsibility for the child are the child’s parents and the child is in conflict with those parents, it may be more appropriate to start Wardship proceedings, in which event parental responsibility can be vested in the Court.

In cases where a child has been wrongfully removed from the jurisdiction and an order for return is made, it is often thought that a High Court Wardship order may carry greater weight in the country to which the child has been removed than an order made under other proceedings.

Adoption

We specialise in Adoption both in the UK (Domestic) and Internationally.

Domestic Adoption

Adoption is a legal process by which a child becomes a permanent and full member of a new family. Adoption has become the goal which is sought for most children who require a permanent family placement away from their natural parents.

If you are considering adopting a child in this country, you will first need to be assessed and approved as potential adopters either by a local authority or an approved adoption agency. The assessment process can take many months to complete and it is important that you are realistic about the process, pressures and time involved. Our team can guide you through this process including in circumstances where there are concerns about an assessment or if a recommendation has been made that you should not be approved as an adopter.

An adoption order made by the court gives adopters legal parental status as if the child was born to them and ends the parental rights of the birth parents. To apply for an adoption order in England and Wales you must satisfy requirements in respect of your age, where you permanently live (known as habitual residence or domicile), and the length of time that the child has been living with you. Normally adopters are helped through the adoption process by their local authority, such as child abduction lawyers. However, there are times when a case is not straightforward for one reason or another, and in these circumstances our team can advise and represent you at all stages of the adoption process.

International Adoption

As families become more and more international we find increasingly that parents are looking to international adoption or adoption orders being made in other countries to complete their families. The rules relating to international adoptions are complex – often requiring a children panel lawyer – and this is a highly specialist area of law which can involve complex immigration and regulatory issues.

We can advise:

  • Parents who are living in this country and want to adopt a child from abroad
  • Parents who are living or working abroad and want to adopt a child, either abroad or in the UK
Surrogacy

Surrogacy is an arrangement between two people who want to parent a child and a woman who agrees to carry and give birth to that child. Under English law the surrogate mother remains the legal mother, wherever the child was conceived and/or born. Unless orders are made to the contrary by the court. These are known as “parental orders” and give the intended parents legal parental rights and ends that of the surrogate mother. Once a parental order is made a new birth certificate naming the intended parents will be issued to replace the first birth certificate.

These arrangements can be very complex and you should always seek specialist legal advice, ideally in advance of making any agreements.

Forced marriages

In a forced marriage a person is coerced into marrying someone against their will and under duress. They may be physically threatened or emotionally blackmailed to do so. It is an abuse of human rights and is unlawful. It is important to distinguish between an arranged marriage, which is not unlawful, and a forced marriage. An arranged marriage is where you have a choice as to whether to accept the arrangement or not. The tradition of arranged marriages has operated within many communities and countries for a long time and continues to do so.

In cases of potential forced marriage, victims may need swift action taking on their behalf to stop the marriage taking place. If the victim is under 18 he or she can be made a ward of court so that a marriage cannot go ahead without the court’s permission. If the victim is over 18, non-molestation injunctions may need to be obtained against those applying the pressure. However, as these cases involve complex family issues and complex issues of international law they need to be handled with great sensitivity and expertise.

Abandoned spouses
There are a significant number of cases where an allegation is made, usually by the mother, that she has been abandoned abroad without the documents which she needed to re-enter the jurisdiction of England and Wales. The child of the family remains in this jurisdiction, usually with the father. The father argues that the mother has in fact travelled abroad abandoning the child with the father. In such cases urgent action is needed to ensure that the mother seeks legal advice at the earliest opportunity and does everything that she can in order to re-enter the jurisdiction. Usually Wardship proceedings can be commenced whilst the mother is outside the jurisdiction and orders obtained in the High Court to assist the mother to regain entry into the jurisdiction. Most importantly there is often an overlap with immigration law in such matters.
Grandparents' applications
Legal rights for grandparents are currently limited, but they do exist. Relationships between family members are often at their most strained following divorce. However it is important that events do not interfere with the relationship between children and their relatives, particularly so between children and their grandparents, who often share a deep bond. Very often grandparents are overlooked and our team is able to provide constructive advice to ensure that grandparents maintain their dep bond with their grandchildren.
Step-parents' rights

A step-parent is a person who is either married to or is the civil partner of a child’s parent. The step-parent may be required to exercise authority and judgement and to assist bringing up children with whom they live, whilst at the same time having no legal status.

Families often consider ways in which to give a step-parent legal status. This may be helpful in circumstances where the children’s parents are divorced and the resident parent wants to give his/her new partner some status, or one of the children’s natural parents has died and the surviving natural parent also dies leaving the step-parent looking after the children.

Adoption is often the solution which families initially think of. However, this can be complicated and is a rather drastic step in that it severs all legal ties with at least one side of the children’s natural family. There are other alternatives, such as child arrangements orders, which can give the step-parent parental responsibility. This will give a step-parent the status which they need to parent children, without severing the legal links with the children’s natural family.

Special guardianship

A Special Guardianship Order is an Order where one or more individuals are appointed to be a child’s “Special Guardian”. It gives the Special Guardian parental responsibility for the child.

Every local authority must within its area provide counselling, advice and information in relation to special guardianship.

International child abduction and custody disputes

Modern society has become progressively more mobile, with people from different countries and cultures intermarrying. Children may be moved between jurisdictions by agreement between their parents as a result of legal proceedings, or because they have been abducted.

It is crucial that anyone wishing to move children or seeking the return of children from one country to another, obtains advice from a specialist in child abduction law. Our team specialise in this area of law. Our Ms Lalli is a member of the advanced family panel and accredited to undertake work in this area of law. It is crucial that advice is obtained from an expert if children are at risk of being abducted from the Jurisdiction or brought in to the United Kingdom from another jurisdiction.

We are able to make an emergency application for non-means tested Legal Aid for plaintiffs in cases where children are brought to England. Please contact Ms Lalli for further advice.