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Understanding Specific Issue Orders

October 26, 2020

Changing your child’s name can be a straightforward process, as long as both parents agree to it. But what if the other person with parental responsibility objects to the proposed name change? The family court will in certain circumstances make a Specific Issue Order to legally change a child’s name without everyone’s consent. 

From submitting the application to attending the court hearing, here is everything you need to know about Specific Issue Orders to change your child’s name. 

What Is a Specific Issue Order?

A Specific Issue Order is established by the family court to determine any aspect of parental responsibility for a child. The order can be related to relocation within the country or overseas, a decision regarding education and religion, medical treatment or, in this case, changing a child's name. A Specific Issue Order for a name change allows you to change your child’s first name or surname without having the permission of the other parent or person with parental responsibility. 

A Specific Issue Order is made under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989. The order can be issued either on its own or in combination with a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) that regulates with whom a child is to live or have contact with. 

Obtaining a Specific Issue Order from the family court is the only way to ensure that your child’s name change will be accepted by all official record holders such as the Identity and Passport Service, for example.

Who Can Apply for a Specific Issue Order?

Parents, step-parents with parental responsibility, guardians, or anyone with whom the child has lived for three of the last five years, including the three months before submitting the application, can automatically apply for a Specific Issue Order.

If you don’t fall into one of the above categories, you can still apply for a Specific Issue Order, however, you must ask special permission from the court to do so.

How to Apply for a Specific Issue Order

The application for a Specific Issue Order in England and Wales consists of the following steps: 

  • Attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM)
  • Completing a Specific Issue Order application form
  • Attending a phone interview with a Cafcass social worker
  • Attending the court hearing in front of a judge/magistrate and a social worker. 

The application process will be somewhat different if you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Things to keep in mind before applying for a Specific Issue Order

  • A court order should always be your last resort. The court has the capacity to make an order of its own volition, so you may end up with a decision you are not happy with if a judge or magistrate considers it is in the child’s best interest. 
  • The court acts according to the “no order principle.” This means that it will not make a Specific Issue Order unless doing so would be better for your child than issuing no order at all.
  • The court requires a clear reason to justify a name change that focuses on your child’s welfare. Therefore, if your application for a name change is motivated by convenience for school records or to match your name, it is very likely to be refused. 
  • Depending on the age, the child’s own view is taken into account by the court.
  • If the father is absent from your child’s life and you are unable to get in touch with him, you should not have any difficulties obtaining a Specific Issue Order and permission to change your child’s name without his consent.
  • Consider a double-barreled surname as a compromise. The court will be more willing to accept a name change if you propose a double-barreled name that preserves the connection with both parents.
  • Make sure to accompany your application with as much evidence as possible to increase your chances of a successful outcome.

Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM)

Before submitting the application, you will need to provide evidence that you have tried to resolve your dispute without the help of the court. You are required to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) with a family mediator unless you qualify for an exemption, for example, in an emergency or in the case of domestic violence. 

Completing the Specific Issue Order application form

To apply for a Specific Issue Order, you need to fill Form C100. You can either complete an electronic form online or send the original paper form along with three copies to the nearest court that deals with child cases. HM Courts & Tribunal Services leaflet CB1 provides detailed instructions about how to fill in the application form. 

Attending a phone interview with a Cafcass social worker

The court will send a copy of your Specific Issue Order application to Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services (Cafcass) in England or Cafcass Cymru in Wales. You can expect a Cafcass social worker to contact you, usually for a phone interview, before your first hearing. An independent recommendation from Cafcass is mandatory to ensure that the name change poses no risks to the child's welfare.

Attending the court hearing

The court hearing will normally take place within 5-6 weeks following the application. It is held in front of a judge or magistrate and a Cafcass representative.

In the event that an agreement is not reached at the initial hearing, the court will ask both parties to file witness statements outlining their position. In addition, a Cafcass officer will interview the parties and submit a welfare report. The court will then list the case for a final Specific Issue Order hearing. 

The children’s welfare checklist

The court’s primary concern is that the name change is in the best interest of the child. Because a child’s name is considered an integral part of their identity, the courts ​​‌‌‌​are generally ​​‌​​‌very​​‌​​​ reluctant to allow any change to a child’s name. 

When making the final decision, the judge or magistrate will consider the following factors based on children’s welfare guidelines from the Children Act 1989:

  • How long the child has been known under the current name
  • The reasons for the name change
  • The child's needs and wishes regarding the name change
  • Effect on the child if the name is changed
  • Effect on the child should the change not be permitted
  • The child’s age, background, and other elements the court may consider relevant
  • The quality of the relationship between the child and each parent
  • Any harm that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
  • The capability of the parents in fulfilling the child’s needs.

After obtaining the Specific Issue Order

If your application is successful and you have obtained a Specific Issue Order, you can proceed to change the child’s name via Deed Poll. Presenting a Deed Poll along with a copy of the Specific Issue Order will allow you to legally change your child’s name on all official records. 

Validity of a Specific Issue Order

Specific Issue Order is not a permanent order. It automatically ends when the child turns 16 and is considered capable of making his or her own decisions. In exceptional circumstances, however, the court may decide to extend the order until the child is 18 years old.

Specific Issue Order restrictions

  • A Specific Issue Order can not be made after a child has reached the age of 16.
  • If a Specific Issue Order is extended, it must end once the child is aged 18 years.
  • The court cannot make a Specific Issue Order while the child is in the care of a local authority. Likewise, a local authority is not allowed to make an application for a Specific Issue Order.

What Forms Do You Need to Fill in? 

To apply for a Specific Issue Order, you need to fill in form C100

If you are applying for a Child Arrangement Order together with the name change, you can use the same form for both applications. When there is an existing Child Arrangements Order (CAO) in force regulating whom the child should live with, you must submit your application under section 13 Children Act 1989.   

If you believe your child has suffered or is at risk of suffering harm by someone who has been caring for them or has been in contact with them, you will also have to fill in the Allegations of Harm and Domestic Violence form C1A

Finally, if you are not a parent or guardian and you are asking for the court’s permission to apply for a Specific Issue Order, you need to fill out form C2 and submit it together with your C100 application form.

How Much Does a Specific Issue Order Cost? 

The cost of a Specific Issue Order is £215. 

If you are on benefits or a low income, you may be able to get help with court fees. The HM Courts & Tribunal Services Guide provides detailed information on how to apply. 

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