Contact with Children

There are two different types of cases involving children, child private law and child public law. Public law cases are those brought about by local authorities whereas private law cases are those brought about by private individuals usually as part of a divorce or separation.  At MKB Law, our Family Law team will assist with all child contact matters.

Private Law (Child Residency)

Issues relating to children require sensitive handling. If agreement cannot be reached as to where a child will live and what contact the other parent will have, we ensure that all avenues are pursued to reach an amicable, negotiated agreement. This will avoid potentially protracted and expensive Court Proceedings.

If an agreement cannot be reached an Application may be made to the Family Proceedings Court for one or more of the following:-

A Residence Order seeking to familarise who the child will live with.
Contact Order defining the duration and frequency of contact for the non-residential parent.
A Specific Issue Order when and where the child can be taken on holiday or what surname the child should be known as are two examples.

These Applications involve a number of Hearings before the District Judge and a Lay Panel.

We at MKB Law understand when it is necessary in these Proceedings to involve another Professional trained in Child Care for example Social Workers or Court Childrens Officers. We will advise on all aspects of these Applications including the factors the Court must be taken into account in deciding duration and frequency of contact with the absent parent. We also advise as to whether or not a shared care arrangement will work and if it is in the best interests of the children to consider this option.

Public Law

Care Proceeding Cases, where a local Authority is seeking an Order from the Family Court to promote the welfare of a child under the Children Order (Northern Ireland) 1995, are usually complex and challenging, concerning families with multiple problems.

At MKB Law we can represent you if the local authority either threatens Proceedings for a Care Order or a Supervision Order or have already removed the children on foot of an Emergency Protection Order.

We will secure access to all Trust Notes and documentation so that you are properly advised as to the full extent of the Application being made against you and how that Application can be contested. We understand that poverty and violent or acrimonious relationships between the parents lead to mental health problems, substance or alcohol abuse and/or involvement with crime. We can ensure that the Trust exercises its statutory remit to ensure that you receive the help you deserve and need in order to secure the return of the children to your care or to ensure that the children are not removed in the first place.

We provide meaningful advice at the pre Proceedings stage, which is the crucial stage in cases where skills of an experienced Child Care Solicitor are required. We will advise you through each stage of the Case Management when Proceedings are issued and assist you to prepare a Statement of Evidence which may in many cases allow your Case to be put forward without the need for you to give evidence.

How we can help

Whether you are facing legal proceedings involving your children or need legal advice when dealing with social services, MKB Law’s Family Law team can help you. In cases involving children, Court proceedings should be the last resort and the welfare of the child should always remain the primary consideration. Should Court proceedings be necessary, our solicitors can assist you to apply to the Court for orders such as Residence Order, Contact Order, Specific Issues Order, Prohibited Steps Order and Parental Responsibility Order.

Anne Marie Kelly and Áine Toner are members of the specialist Children Order Panel accredited by the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

In Private Law Proceedings, the following orders are available to the Court: Residence Order, Contact Order, Prohibited Steps Order, Specific Issue Order, and Parental Responsibility Order.

In Public Law Proceedings, the following orders are available to the Court: Care Order, Supervision Order, Emergency Protection Order, and an Education Supervision Order.

Please contact our Family Law Team to discuss applying for any of the private law orders.

Parental Responsibility means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which a parent of a child has in relation to the child. This is important for a parent to be involved in decision making in the best interests of the child.

A child’s mother will automatically have parental responsibility. If you are married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth, you automatically get Parental Responsibility.

However, if you and the child’s mother are not married at the time of the child’s birth, you will not automatically have PR, but it can be obtained in the following ways:

  • You are named on the child’s birth certificate;
  • By obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order or a Residence Order in respect of said child;
  • A written Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother.

A Residence Order is an Order settling the arrangements as to whom the child lives with. This should be obtained in the instance where one parent resides in a different jurisdiction and can be shown to authorities should the other parent refuse to return the child.

Where a child resides equally between households, a Joint Residence Order can be sought.

A Residence Order should also be obtained if the other parent is refusing to return the child for significant periods of time. The Court however will not make an Order in respect of a child if they do not consider it to be of any benefit to the child. This is known as the ‘No Order’ principle.

Furthermore, a Residence Order held by the other parent will not affect your parental rights. The Residence Order simply decides where and with whom the child should live. The Court can also decide how much contact you can have with your child in the form of a Contact Order.

If a parent is unreasonably withholding contact, you should seek advice in respect of negotiating a formal contact arrangement.

If the other parent refuses to engage with such negotiations, you can apply to the Court for a Contact Order.

A Contact Order is an Order which required the person with whom the child resides, to allow the child to visit or stay with the person named in the Order.

If contact cannot be agreed between the parties, a Grandparent may seek permission from the Court to bring an application for a Contact Order.

It is practically impossible to provide timescales in respect of Court proceedings as each case will vary. It is therefore essential to seek expert legal advice sooner rather than later.

We will keep you fully updated in relation to the progress of your case and any likely factors which may cause delay.

We aim to be as transparent as possible in respect of the fees throughout your case. There will be both professional fees and outlays which will need to be paid, however we will update you in advance of same.

If you intend to relocate with your child, you will require the permission of anyone who shares Parental Responsibility for that child. This is usually the other parent.

If the other parent does not consent to the relocation, you will be required to make an application to Court for permission to relocate with your child. These are known as ‘relocation proceedings’.

The Court will consider various factors throughout the course of these proceedings, but the welfare of the child will always remain its paramount consideration.

If you are considering moving abroad with your child, you should seek expert legal advice.

If a child is removed from the jurisdiction for a period longer than 30 days without your consent, this is treated as child abduction. Urgent proceedings will be required in order to ensure the return of the child to Northern Ireland immediately. You should contact us urgently for legal advice in relation to this.

The Trust will issue a ‘Letter before Proceedings’ to arrange a Pre-Proceedings meeting with you in the event they become seriously concerned about your care of your child/children. If you have received this letter, it is essential that you seek expert legal advice immediately.

If you have been contacted by Social Services regarding the care of your child, it is imperative that you seek expert legal advice straight away. The Trust have a duty to intervene and start Care Proceedings if there are concerns that a child is at risk. Even if you are working with Social Services amicably, it is important that you seek legal advice straight away.

The local Trust obtain can obtain a number of orders: Care Order, Supervision Order, Emergency Protection Order, and an Education Supervision Order. These Orders can be obtained on an interim basis or as a final order.

Anne Marie Kelly
028 9099 3120

Aine Toner
Associate Director
028 9099 3110


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