Reality TV And Real Life: Mums, Dads And Prohibited Steps
Published on 25 September, 2023 | Michael Swanick
REALITY TV AND REAL LIFE: MUMS, DADS AND PROHIBITED STEPS
None other than Oscar Wilde once remarked that life imitates art more than the other way around.
If true, I wonder how a new and popular reality television show might be reflected in viewers’ households.
The programme is entitled ‘My Mum, Your Dad’ and features single, middle-aged parents trying to find new partners after break-up and bereavement (https://www.heart.co.uk/showbiz/my-mum-your-dad-line-up-single-parents-children/).
Their circumstances are far from unusual.
According to figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in May, some 35 per cent of the couples who married in 2020 included at least one person who had previously been divorced or widowed (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/marriagecohabitationandcivilpartnerships/bulletins/marriagesinenglandandwalesprovisional/2020#:~:text=There%20were%2085%2C770%20marriages%20in,marriages%20on%20record%20since%201838).
Few of those relationships, I bet, were forged under the scrutiny of TV cameras.
Yet the idea of parents finding new partners after divorce or the end of a cohabitation can throw up complications which are common to couples however they meet.
One is the potential for dispute about how their children are brought up.
Such conflict can occur when a separated or divorced parent decides, for instance, to move in order to be with a new partner, start a new job or even be closer to family members who might help raise a child.
If their ex learns of the intention in advance and objects, they might choose to apply for what is known as a Prohibited Steps Order.
It is one of a series of measures permitted under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 and prevents parents taking a particular action “without the consent of the court” (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/section/8).
Data produced by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) shows that they have become relatively frequent (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/family-court-statistics-quarterly-january-to-march-2023/family-court-statistics-quarterly-january-to-march-2023#children-act—private-law).
Between 2017 and last year, in fact, attempts to secure a Prohibited Steps Order increased by 26 per cent.
The statistics also reveal that 96 per cent of applications made during 2022 were successful.
That demonstrates how very keen family courts are to exercise their powers when they believe that there to be a risk to the welfare of children.
It is an absolute priority and completely in keeping with the legislation – the Children Act 1989 – which governs discussions about childcare arrangements.
In the opening paragraph, no less, the Act states that “the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration” (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/section/1).
The importance of acting to stop something happening which might run counter to that is, I feel, one reason for the high success rate of applications for Prohibited Steps Orders.
Quite often, such applications are made on an urgent basis when parents discover that something may occur imminently.
Courts may make an order because there appears to be good reason for doing so but request that all parties convene in court for a more detailed examination of the issues and the merits or demerits of any and all intended actions.
At that stage, a Prohibited Steps Order may be reinforced, diluted or revoked altogether depending on the facts.
Myself and my colleagues regularly receive enquiries about using these orders in a variety of situations.
As well as taking a child out of school or the country, changing its name or religion or embarking on a particular course of medical treatment, some of those who have asked for our assistance have done so because of concerns about their ex’s new partner.
Where possible, we always advise that they try and resolve their differences away from the courtroom, using one of the various forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) favoured by the Government, the judiciary and offered by Hall Brown.
One reason for that is because, as the MoJ has made clear, proceedings are taking longer to conclude.
Cases which were resolved between January to March this year had taken 47 weeks on average to conclude – four weeks longer than during the same period in 2022.
We firmly believe that although it can be difficult to accept when a former partner or spouse has found someone else, it’s important to set personal discomfort to one side, especially when there are children involved.
Whenever there are legitimate reasons for concern, mothers and fathers who intervene will always have the support of the courts.
However, when the root of the problem is more to do with an ex having moved on with their life, it is best to consider what effect court proceedings will have on child’s development.
Various studies in recent years have highlighted such disputes can have lasting impact (https://www.nuffieldfjo.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Childrens-experience-of-private-law-proceedings.pdf).
Regardless of whether a former partner finds romance at work, on Tinder or on TV, the law is quite correct in stressing that children should be put first and that should be the position of parents too.