Family law issues on the cobbles: a Coronation Street case study
Coronation Street is awash with family law issues in the wake of the revelation that Steve McDonald is the father of Leanne’s baby, Oliver. Below we discuss the potential issues to be faced by the key players in this drama.
Steve has apparently already taken some family law advice and has been told he will need to apply for a parental responsibility order and a child arrangements order.
This assumes that Leanne will not contest that he is the father. If she did then he may need to apply for a declaration of parentage and DNA testing as a first step.
In terms of parental responsibility this gives a father a more enhanced legal status than simply being a father. It also enables them to make certain decisions in relation to the child, for example in relation to medical treatment.
It is not automatically conferred on a father unless they are married to the mother or are named on the birth certificate. It can be agreed between parents formally in a parental responsibility agreement or you can apply to the court for an order. More information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/parental-rights-responsibilities/apply-for-parental-responsibility
A child arrangements order would deal with what time Oliver should spend with Steve. The child arrangements order replaced the old system of residence and contact orders and resolves issues in relation to what is often know colloquially as “custody”.
When considering the child arrangements order the court must have regard to the criteria in the welfare checklist which are as follows:
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of Oliver
- Oliver’s physical, emotional and educational needs
- The likely effect on Oliver if circumstances changed as a result of the court’s decision
- Oliver’s age, sex, background and any other characteristics which will be relevant to the court’s decision
- Any harm Oliver has suffered or may be at risk of suffering
- Capability of the Oliver’s parents (or any other person the courts find relevant) at meeting his needs
- The powers available to the court in the given proceedings
We suspect that Steve’s case would largely revolve around his ability to meet Oliver’s needs and the potential emotional harm which may be caused to Oliver in spending time with Steve in this scenario.
There is now a presumption of parental involvement set out in English law and we take the view that the Court would be minded to allow Steve to be involved in Oliver’s life.
The initial reaction of Steve when Michelle said she was going to divorce him was that he would contest it. This is something which family practitioners generally advise against and the advice is usually that if one person wants a divorce then there is little point contesting it and it will only increase costs. The ongoing case of the Owens couple does slightly cast shade on this advice where the divorce is based on unreasonable behaviour and we have previously blogged about this here.
In any event if Michelle based her petition on adultery then it would be difficult to see how Steve could contest this when simultaneously making court applications in relation to baby Oliver as his father.
Michelle has not only threatened Steve with divorce but also insisted that she wants half of everything including the pub.
The starting point for the division of assets on divorce is equality but the court must have regard to the circumstances of the case and the following factors:
The most usual reasons for departure are need or that one party has brought assets into the marriage or acquired them post separation or as part of an inheritance or gift that has not been merged with family assets.
In terms of the Rovers there may be arguments about contributions, the fact that the same provides accommodation and also an income stream and also in respect of the actual value of Steve’s share and liquidity.
Without knowing what other (fictional) assets Steve and Michelle have it is difficult to know what a court’s final financial order might be. The first step when resolving financial issues should be for there to be full disclosure of both parties’ asset and income positions.
Leanne is somewhat caught in the middle between Steve and Nick at the moment but legally she is likely to have to accept Steve’s involvement in Oliver’s life if he pursues this.
Whilst she will want to avoid upsetting Nick no doubt she would also want to avoid potentially costly and lengthy legal proceedings.
If Leanne was able to agree things with Steve on a voluntary basis, either themselves, through solicitors or through mediation then there would be no need for the parties to go to court at all. The issue of parental responsibility could be resolved by way of a parental responsibility agreement and the time Steve spends with Oliver would simply be agreed between them without the need for any formality. There is a “no order” principle with regard to children and the court will not involve itself and/ or make court orders unless it absolutely needs to.
Practically there should be a recognition that what is right for Oliver now at a few weeks old will not necessarily be right for him in a few months or a few years. Insofar as is possible it is best for parents to find a way to communicate to avoid repeated legal proceedings which can only serve to make things more acrimonious.
Nick is understandably feeling threatened and legally he is in a vulnerable position. In real terms whilst he is with Leanne his position is somewhat protected but if he were to separate from her the position becomes difficult.
As it stands Nick would not even be entitled to apply to the court for a child arrangements order (see above) without the court’s permission. This means an extra step in the process.
If Nick and Leanne separated in time then he may be in a different position as living with Oliver for 3 years, having parental responsibility or marrying Leanne and treating Oliver as a “child of the family” would avoid this extra step. It would not necessarily guarantee him ongoing involvement though.
Whether the court would consider that Nick should continue to be involved in Oliver’s life would depend on the exact circumstances but we suspect it may well turn on how long Nick, Leanne and Oliver remain living as a family unit. The court would again need to look at the welfare checklist as set out above.
Whilst they do live as a family unit it would be sensible for Nick to seek to obtain parental responsibility. If he marries Leanne this could be done using a step parent parental responsibility agreement form but if Steve has parental responsibility then he would need to agree and sign that form. More than two people can have parental responsibility at the same time.
At the moment it is difficult to see how all of these complicated issues can be resolved and how the parties can move forwards.
In summary, if issues regarding Oliver cannot be agreed then these will need to be determined by the court who will be led by what is best for Oliver rather than the impact on any of the adults.
With Steve and Michelle it seems inevitable (for the moment at least) that there will be a divorce. Separately it will be for them to resolve financial issues between themselves or for one of them to make an application to the court to do so.
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