Where the local authority are not involved, most applications to the family court for orders concerning children are obviously made by one of the parents of the child or children concerned.
But new research shows that a tenth of applications are made by people who aren’t parents.
The research explored the types of orders being applied for, and the characteristics of the people involved. It was published by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, which undertakes research aimed at improving the family justice system, and carried out by the Family Justice Data Partnership, a collaboration between Lancaster University and Swansea University.
The research highlighted that this minority of cases is actually a very sizeable group, with around 5,500 such applications made each year in England, and 300 in Wales.
Most of those applications were made by grandparents, who accounted for 58% of all non-parents involved in England, and 63% in Wales. Other people involved included step-parents, foster carers, special guardians and intended parents (in surrogacy cases).
As to the types of orders being applied for, these were mostly for child arrangements orders, i.e. orders that the child live with, or have contact with, the applicant(s). These accounted for 56% of applications in England and 59% of applications in Wales.
A special guardianship order was applied for in 7.9% of applications in England and 6.0% in Wales.
5.7% of applications in England and 2.3% in Wales were for a parental order (surrogacy), and 5.2% of applications in England and 2.2% in Wales were for a parental responsibility order.
16% of applications in Wales were for adoption, primarily made by step-parents.
The research clearly demonstrates not just the number of non-parents making these applications, but also the importance they place upon obtaining these orders.
And it should be borne in mind that non-parents may have other hurdles to overcome, compared to parents. For example, whilst parents can apply for child arrangements orders at any time, grandparents and others must first obtain permission to apply from the court.
In the circumstances, it is strongly advised that anyone wishing to make one of these applications should first seek expert legal advice. We can find an expert who can assist you via our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.
Commenting upon the research, the lead author Dr Linda Cusworth of Lancaster University said: “While non-parent cases represent just 10 per cent of private law cases, they involve thousands of people and potentially high levels of need and complexity. Yet, to date, the private law reform agenda has focused on separating parents, overlooking the needs of this wider group of families.
“This is the first population-based study to explore these types of private law applications in England and Wales. We have examined the diversity of applications and the individuals involved, enabling a better understanding of their circumstances to increase the evidence base. We hope this report will promote useful discussions, and help practitioners and policymakers to focus on how best to meet the needs of families.”
You can find the full report of the research here.
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