Few legal issues raise a greater emotional response for people than problems over their children. The emotional intensity can often make the legal issues harder to grasp and harder to settle when parents fear the relationship and the life they want to have with them has hit rocky ground.
There are two main areas of law and practice that family lawyers and courts get involved with and it’s good to know the difference early on:

Private Children law

This relates to the private rights duties and responsibilities that someone has relating to a child . It often involves a disagreement between two parents ( private individuals ) who have the same level of legal rights and responsibilities as each other . There are systems, principles and if necessary court procedures to help them reach agreement or to determine the best interests of the child going forward.

Disputes are often about

  • Residence (who the child lives with)
  • Contact (who the child sees ,for how long ,and when).
  • Specific issues (such as health, welfare, education, a surname or living or travel abroad)
  • Prohibited steps (an issue which one parent feels needs to be prevented from happening as they feel it’s a source of risk to the child)
  • Parental responsibility ( which include issues of paternity and grandparents who act in place of a parent )

Public children law

This relates to where concerns have been raised about a child’s welfare and a public authority has become involved . This is usually a local authority like a county council represented by a social services department. They can become involved for all sorts of reasons and be referred to cases by doctors, schools, health visitors or the police. There may have been unexplained injuries or concerns over the child or there may have been violent or sexual offences (including domestic violence) reported to the police relating to the household or individuals close to it. The idea that social workers might take the children into care is terrifying for most parents but there are strict procedures tests and alternatives that can be considered by a senior judge before that is allowed. There are many experts available to examine the evidence and help improve any areas of concern that arise.

Legal aid is still available in these cases and whilst John Copland and Son have dealt with these cases over many years from June 2022 we will no longer be able to offer publicly funded representation.

Did you know…

…that the terms custody and access have not existed in English law since the Children Act 1989 came into force about 30 years ago! The terms are still used all the time in the press and in tv dramas but are completely out of date.