Everything parents do regarding their children is intended to be in their child’s bests interests. It’s almost impossible, thankfully, to find a parent who will say that what the child needs is less important than what the parent wants. Every decision parents take is based on common sense, an understanding of their children and what they need. Parents don’t hit children because they know to teach them that violence is an unacceptable method of showing anger; parents don’t lock children away because they teach them that this is cruelty and emotional deprivation; parents feed and nurture children to help them grow strong and live well; parents educate children because they know that through education their horizons during childhood and through to adult life will broaden. Parents steer children into and out of social groups which they think are good or not so good for children.

Both parents know that having Parental Responsibility (P.R) makes them equal in the eyes of the law regarding their children. They share exactly the same rights, the same duties and the same obligations in respect of their children as anyone else with P.R. This begs the question that it must be right that they can do pretty much anything they like regarding their children? The simple answer is, NO, they cannot. It is all about agreement and working together with the other parent. On separation or divorce just as during a relationship, parents fashion a style of life co-parenting children, albeit separated. They determine how the children will be cared for, who will assume what responsibility and how information will be shared between them. They may communicate weekly, monthly, daily even and in that way stay abreast of any developments or changes when their children are with their other parent.

But what happens when a parent has concerns about what is happening in the other parent’s home. What should they do? What if the other parent just isn’t being reasonable, isn’t listening and will not do what is best for the child nor will make any attempt to meet half-way? Do they take matters into their own hands as they know best after all? Not if they want to stay on the right side of the law, no.

The courts have said for a very long time that a child’s routine is important, that the routine of life is inextricably linked to the child’s emotional welfare, to his or her future emotional stability, to attachments and coping strategies. It is for this reason that the court will only permit an abrupt and unilaterally imposed change of living arrangements in “exceptional circumstances” and in which “events happening…suggest that the children would be at risk of significant harm if returned to the resident parent “. If a parent believes their child’s safety can only be protected by removing the child from the routine the child knows, they should not take matters into their own hands. Instead, they must do things by the book and they must do 3 things:

  1.  Issue a court application immediately – not the next day or next week but the same day, if possible- the court is open 365 days a year for all emergencies.
  2. Make plain to the court in both the application and the covering letter or email what the risk of harm is and why an urgent hearing is needed and
  3. Insist (where ever one can), that a judge hears the application within hours – not days and certainly not weeks and without informing the other parent.

Anything less will not do.

If there is a real risk to the child the parent must push the court to hear the matter urgently. If they do nothing or if they take matters in to their own hands and cannot meet the test of a significant risk of immediate harm, their own actions will be criticised and the court will restore the previous care arrangements pending a full investigation and a further hearing.

Advice from an experienced Family Lawyer is always the best option. You can be advised as to whether the concerns you have are such that your application will be most likely to succeed or if not, what other orders the court could make to at least hold the position and put in safety measures until the full hearing. The full hearing could be several months away so it is important to get it right, first time.

Blog by Karen Fox