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Child law

Research provides insight into child applications made by mothers and fathers

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James Harbottle
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Research provides insight into child applications made by mothers and fathers

Sarah Hindle – Senior Solicitor – Head of Child Care Law Team

We wrote here last month about research carried out by The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (‘NFJO’), which carries out research with the aim of improving the family justice system, into who is going to court to resolve children disputes in England. As we explained then the research centred in particular upon the economic status of applicants, but it also has something interesting to say about the types of applications made by mothers and fathers respectively.

The research covers essentially six different types of application, and before we go on we should explain exactly what they are.

The applications parents make

Well, most children applications are of course made by parents, and that is what the research is looking at. But other people can and do make children applications, for example grandparents seeking contact with their grandchildren.

The first three types of application can be described together. The NFJO call them ‘Time with’, ‘Live and time with’, and ‘Live with’ applications, but they are more commonly known by their older names ‘residence’ and ‘contact’. Thus a ‘Time with’ application is an application for an order that the applicant have contact with the child, a ‘Live with’ application is for an order that the child resides, or lives with, with the applicant and a ‘Live and time with’ application is for either a contact or a ‘live with’ order (the difference between contact and ‘lives with’ orders greys as the amount of contact that the ‘non-resident’ parent has with the child increases).

The next type of application is for a prohibited steps order. As the name suggests, this is an order prohibiting a parent from taking certain action in relation to a child, for example taking the child out of the country without the consent of the court.

The fifth type of application is for a specific issue order. This is where the court is asked to decide a specific issue that has arisen in relation to the child, for example where the parents cannot agree which school the child should attend.

The last type of application is to enforce an order made by the court. The most common enforcement application is in relation to contact orders, where the parent with whom the child lives is not complying with the order.

A different picture for mothers and fathersdivorce conversation with children

So to the research, which paints a very different picture of the types of applications that mothers and fathers respectively typically make. The figures go back to 2011, but we will concentrate here on the latest, for 2020.

We will start with contact applications. These comprised 40% of all applications made by fathers, but only 12% of all applications made by mothers.

On the other hand only 21% of applications made by fathers were for residence (or ‘lives with’) orders (or for residence and contact), a similar figure to the percentage of applications made by mothers (22%).

Perhaps the most surprising difference between mothers and fathers is in relation to prohibited steps applications. These comprised only 19% of applications made by fathers, compared to 40% by mothers, perhaps reflecting increased fears by mothers as to what fathers will do with their children.

Similarly, mothers raised comparatively more specific issues than fathers (21% as against 10%).

As to enforcement, the figures perhaps reflect what we said above about contact orders, the majority of which are in favour of fathers. 10% of all applications by fathers were for enforcement, as against 5% of all applications by mothers.child applications

These figures clearly indicate that mothers remain overwhelmingly the predominant carers of children, although perhaps things are changing a little. For example, since 2011 there has been a marked decrease in the percentage of applications made by fathers being for contact orders, perhaps reflecting the fact that more children now live with their fathers, possibly in shared care arrangements.

Lastly, it should be noted that in the majority of cases parents are able to agree arrangements for their children without going to court, so most separated families are not included in the figures.