Prohibited steps and specific issue orders

Prohibited Steps Orders (PSOs) and Specific Issue Orders (SIOs) are orders available under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 to regulate and resolve disputes between parents, or others with Parental Responsibility (PR). in relation to a child’s upbringing. No order will be made in respect of a child in local authority care.

All parties who have PR have legal rights, duties and legal responsibilities in respect of any children for whom they have PR. This includes in relation to all matters regarding the upbringing of such children. Important decisions regarding the child are always best reached by agreement between those with PR. For instance, the parents of a child will usually agree what school a child will go to, what religion to raise the child in, and so on.

However, where there is a marriage or relationship breakdown, a dispute may arise in relation to an issue concerning the child. If the issue cannot be resolved, one of the parties can make an application to the court for a PSO or SIO as appropriate.

The effect of the orders

These orders are used by the court to regulate the exercise of parental rights and duties where a dispute arises.

A PSO effectively prohibits a parent or a third party with PR from taking any step specified in the body of the order without the prior consent of the court. On the other hand, a SIO allows the court to intervene in private relationships and resolve disputes by ordering a particular course of action. In other words, SIOs allow for something to be done, while PSOs prohibit a specific course of action.

However, neither order will be made in respect of a child who has reached 16 years, and an order should not be stated to have an effect beyond a child’s 16th birthday, unless it is an exceptional case.

The use of PSOs and SIOs in practice

These orders are typically used where there is a dispute over the child’s religion, schooling, extracurricular activities, surname, medical treatment, and so on. The majority of PSOs are concerned with change of name – particularly change of the child’s surname. The law provides that where a child arrangement order is in place, the child’s surname cannot be changed without the written consent of every person having PR, or the leave of the court. If there is a disagreement between the parties, the court may be asked to approve the change of name by way of a SIO, or prohibiting a party from changing the child’s name by way of a PSO.

Other areas of disputes commonly regulated by PSOs include prohibiting contact with a named person, or prohibiting certain medical procedures in relation to the child.

How do I obtain a PSO or SIO?

An application can be made with or without notice to the party/ies with PR. Applications can also be made as part of other applications to the court in family proceedings. However, note that you must first attend a family mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) which will give you information about mediation which may enable you to resolve the dispute without making a formal application to court.

When considering an application, the court is required to look at the need for the order and the purpose it will serve. The child’s welfare must be the court’s paramount consideration of the court, and the court will not make an order if it decides no order is better.

In addition, the court will not make a PSO or SIO if it would effectively place the child to be accommodated by or on behalf of the local authority, or if it would confer power on a local authority to determine any issue on parental responsibility which has arisen or may arise.

The content and duration of the order

An order granted by the court may contain directions about how it is to be carried out. It may impose conditions on the parents or others with PR. It may also specify when it is to come into effect and how long it is to last for.

In addition, the court has wide-ranging powers to include such provisions as the court thinks fit, depending on the facts of the case.

A PSO or SIO will automatically end when the child reaches the age of 16, unless the court is satisfied that the circumstances of the case are exceptional and require the order to remain in effect up until the child is 18.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.