Specific Issue Order
A Specific Issue Order deals with a specific question that has arisen in relation to a child at the request of a parent or guardian of that child. Applications for Specific Issue Orders are commonly made in relation to: where the child should attend school, a change of name, religious practices or a particular medical treatment etc.
In The Matter of C (Child: Involvement in Jehovah’s Witness Religion) , the father applied to the court for a Child Arrangement Order to spend time with the child and a Specific Issue Order allowing the child to be part of the father’s religious beliefs. The father wished the child to follow the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witness Church. However, the mother raised concerns in relation to the father’s religious beliefs and believed it would cause the child harm.
The background to this case is as follows; the parties met in 2000 and married in September 2003. They did not practice any religion during their 15 year relationship, but the parties celebrated birthdays, Christmas, Easter and occasionally when the paternal grandmother visited the father would take the child to Kingdom Hall meetings. In March 2015 the father suffered a mental breakdown and spent time in hospital, he was subsequently prescribed medication. In May 2015 the father began studying to become a Jehovah’s Witness and the mother said the father became ‘unrecognisable’ and ‘completely focused on his religion’. The father stated his new faith was essential to his new life whilst the mother was concerned he was obsessed with his new faith and this would be harmful towards the child. The father subsequently left the family home in July 2016. Whilst the parties agreed the child would live with the mother, they could not agree how the father should spend time with the child. The parties attempted mediation but this broke down leading to the father making his applications to court.
The parties accepted that the child showed signs of disturbance following their relationship breakdown and the father’s mental health problems. The child received therapy, but developed behavioural problems. In this case, the Judge had to decide whether the signs of disturbance where caused by the parents separation, the fathers faith or a combination of them both.
To determine whether the father’s religion caused the child harm, the Judge followed the principles set out in the High Court cases of Re N (A Child – Religion – Jehovah’s Witness  and Re N (A Child: s37; ICO)  by HHJ Bellamy:
- It is not for the state or the courts to determine the validity of religious beliefs
- Parental responsibility is joint and equal. Neither parent has a predominant right to choose a child’s religious upbringing
- Where parents follow different religions and those religions are socially acceptable a child should have the opportunity to learn about and experience both religions
- A parent’s right to enable his or her child to learn about and experience his or her religion is not an unconfined right. Where the practice of that religion involves a lifestyle which conflicts with the lifestyle of the other parent and the court is satisfied that the conflict had had or may have in the future an impact on the child’s welfare the court is entitled to restrict the child’s involvement in those practices. The state can interfere where the practice of religious beliefs impacts on a child’s welfare. For example an insightful parent of a particular religious persuasion recognises the potential for harm to his or her child by immersing that child in those beliefs and practices in a way that jeopardises that child’s enduring relationship with the other parent. Adherence to any faith cannot be more important than fostering a good relationship between the child and the other parent
- Restrictions imposed for welfare reasons do not necessarily amount to a breach of that parent’s right to follow the beliefs and practices of his or her religion provided that any restriction imposed is justified by the findings made by the court and are proportionate.
- In determining such an issue as in the determination of any other question relating to the upbringing of the child, the child’s welfare is the paramount consideration.
In his determination, the Judge decided both parents should spend quality time with the child. In relation to the religious aspect of the case, the father wished to bring the child to weekly Kingdom Hall Services, an annual large-scale weekend convention in a stadium and two weekend “assemblies” in London. The mother did not agree with this arguing the child was “impressionable”, “easily confused” and has “problems regulating his emotions” making the intensity of the father’s religion difficult to deal with.
The Judge believed the child should have the “opportunity to learn and experience the father’s religion”. The Judge ordered the father could take the child to Kingdom Hall Service for up to two hours stating that he did “not consider it unreasonable for one parent to take his child to a religious service in preference to another activity.” However in the Judge concluded it was “necessary and proportionate to prohibit the father from taking C to Jehovah’s Witness Assemblies, Annual Conventions and Memorials. In this regard, the Judge concluded that the Order made would last until the child reached the age of 16 subject to the mother and father agreeing otherwise or an application being made to the Court to vary the Order.
In respect of the medical treatment, the father agreed that he was content for the mother to override his consent if the child requires medical treatment in a life threatening situation. In non-life threatening situations, the father agreed to provide the mother contacts details.
If you and your ex-partner are having difficulty deciding on an express issue(s) regarding your children, do not hesitate to contact PMC Family Law solicitors in Liverpool. We have an expert team including head of practice, Pauline McNamara, on hand to help you. Get in contact with us today on 0151 375 9968 or send you queries by email to .