Katarzyna Zatorski, Truth Legal’s Head of Family Law, describes how she was able to help a father completely reverse a Court order which, if left to stand, could have had dire consequences for the welfare of his young daughter.
By making an urgent application for a Prohibited Steps Order, Katarzyna was able to prevent this potential disaster, ensuring that father and daughter could live together without this ‘black cloud’ hanging over them.
Here’s how the story unfolded…
A client, let’s call him Stephen,* was referred to me by a barrister. Stephen, who is a foreign national, did not speak very much English at all and, at the time, he had proceedings ongoing under the Children Act 1989. These proceedings involved the living arrangements of his daughter, Maria,* who was about 4 years old, as well as the contact Stephen could have with her.
However, Stephen had not heard from the Court or any of the professionals involved in his case for over 6 months, and he was worried about it. He had been to a Court hearing but not heard any more since then.
Concluded without his knowledge
It was December when Stephen instructed me to help him with his case. I immediately contacted the Court to find out the current situation and was provided with a copy of the final Court order – which had been made in June! It seemed that Stephen had not even realised that the proceedings had been concluded.
According to the Court order, he was given supervised contact with Maria on a fortnightly basis. This was to slowly increase over time. Maria was to live with her mother, Claire,* and her two half-brothers, Callum* and Oscar.*
Appalling living conditions
However, the situation had changed just over a month after the Court order had been made. Social services had been involved – and not for the first time – when Callum and Oscar were spotted in a local corner shop buying some food because they were hungry. The children were very young, between 6 and 8. The police were called and a welfare check was carried out.
When the police arrived at the Claire’s address it turned out that she was drunk and the house was in a disgusting condition, with faeces and dirty dishes lying around, empty wine bottles and beer cans all over the place, and no food in the fridge. Stephen and the father of the two boys were both asked to exercise their parental responsibility and to collect their respective children.
So Maria was living with Stephen, despite the Court order saying that he could only have supervised contact.
This might sound like things had worked out for the best for Stephen and Maria. But I explained to Stephen why this was deceptive. The issue was that Claire still had a Court order arranging for Maria to live with her. She could potentially turn up at Maria’s school or even at Stephen’s home address and lawfully remove her daughter.
An urgent Court hearing
To protect Stephen and Maria from this possibility, I made an urgent application to the Court for a Prohibited Steps Order. In this application, I asked the Court to issue an order which would prevent Claire from removing Maria from her school, from Stephen’s care, and from the jurisdiction (essentially meaning Claire couldn’t take Maria out of the country).
An urgent Court hearing was arranged to take place a few days later. Claire was asked to attend, and we ensured that she was provided with all the documents by hiring a ‘process server’ to deliver everything.
When the hearing came, however, Claire did not attend.
A social worker had been invited to attend the hearing, and they explained to the Court that Maria would be at risk of significant harm if she was returned to her mother. The Court therefore granted the Prohibited Steps Order and also a Child Arrangements Order allowing Maria to live with Stephen. This order cancelled the previous one (which had arranged for Maria to live with Claire), but it was an ‘interim’ order, meaning it was to stand only until matters could be fully investigated.
A new investigation
CAFCASS were ordered to prepare a Safeguarding Letter. This is a document which briefly sets out any risks they have identified to a child’s welfare.
In this case, CAFCASS recommended that a Section 7 report (a more detailed assessment of a child’s welfare, circumstances and best interests) should be prepared by Social Services. CAFCASS also recommended that there should not be any contact between Claire and Maria whilst investigations were ongoing.
I raised an issue that, in the previous set of proceedings, the Section 7 report had been prepared remotely, without any home visits taking place. I explained that this was probably why the condition of Claire’s house and her alcohol problem had never been detected. Therefore, I insisted that interviews for a new report should be conducted in person rather than remotely. The Court agreed.
When the Section 7 report came back, it recommended that Maria should live with Stephen, as she was thriving there. She had her own room, and Stephen was able to provide care that Claire could not. It was also suggested that Claire be allowed supervised contact only. The Court accepted these recommendations and made their final order to that effect.
And that’s how the case ended. It had turned the previous Court order from June completely upside-down, and this made a world of difference to Stephen and Maria.
Do you need help with a child legal matter?
Truth Legal’s specialist family solicitors can guide you through these pivotal, but often confusing, processes. If you would like to discuss your situation with us, please get in touch.
*All names have been changed to maintain the confidentiality of our client