Preventing a confirmation
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
If a minor wishes to be confirmed, and the mother agrees, but the
father threatens legal action to prevent the confirmation, what does the law
say, and what is the best way of dealing with the situation?
As a solicitor specialising in family law, and married to a priest, I hope
that I can help.
Confirmation is a decision of the child (or should be). This decision will
have been "tested" in preparation. I am sure no candidate would be put forward
unless it was clear that he or she understood the implications and was
undertaking confirmation willingly and freely.
If the candidate is under 18 and, therefore, legally a "minor", this does
not automatically mean that he or she is completely incapable of making
important decisions. Many cases have been decided in the courts recently, some
of high profile, about what a parent has to be told and should be told by
doctors about treatment and advice given to minors, especially on birth
control. Minors are increasingly allowed autonomy, if it is apparent that they
are capable of exercising it.
But either or, indeed, both parents can ask a court to intervene. Section 1
(1) of the Children Act 1989 enshrines the guiding principle to be used
whenever a court decides any question relating to a child, namely that the
child 's best interests are its paramount consideration. How the court works
out what is in a child's best interests is set out in criteria, the "Welfare
Checklist", in Section 1 (2). One of these is the wishes and feelings of the
child, in so far as they can be ascertained.
For a confirmation candidate in his or her early teens, it would be
difficult to see how a court would consider it in his or her best interests to
go against what we must assume to be a reasoned and considered decision on the
part of a candidate.
A parent can apply to the court for a "Specific Issue Order". In theory,
this would enable the court to make an order forbidding confirmation. In the
light of the important place given to a child's wishes and feelings, however, I
find it difficult to believe that a court would make such an order if a child
were able to demonstrate his or her genuine desire to be confirmed, and
understanding of the consequences.
CAFCASS (the court welfare service) would be asked to appoint an officer to
speak to the child to ascertain true wishes and feelings and report to the
court accordingly. If asked, I would advise any parent as strongly as I
could against asking a court to forbid confirmation in this way. It would be a
shortcut to humiliation, and would do nothing to foster the parents'
The legal answer, therefore, would be to carry on regardless unless and
until somebody shows you a court order to forbid the confirmation. I would
stick my neck out and say that any such order is unlikely to materialise. If
anyone claims to have such an order, be sceptical, and ask to see and keep a
copy of it. It will have to be in writing. If in doubt that an order is
genuine, take legal advice from a properly qualified family lawyer (on the Law
Society Family Panel or a member of Resolution); or phone the court that issued
it to check its validity. (The court's phone number will be on the order.)
Of course, if such an order is made, it must be strictly
obeyed by all who are affected, not just parents and parties to the
This is in no way a pastoral answer. Any cleric worth his or her salt would,
I am sure, try to resolve the situation by agreement between the parents, and
by reassuring the parent who does not agree.
At a C of E service I attended recently, there was sung a hymn
containing these lines: " . . . on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God
was satisfied." Is this really current Anglican theology? C. A.
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