When speaking with a client recently in preparation for a Child Welfare Hearing, they explained to me that this was their first experience of having to attend court. For solicitors, it is a regular feature of our working week which we are able to deal with professionally and empathetically. Having said that, I don’t think we should undervalue the emotional strain that attending such a hearing can have on parents and it is therefore important that parents understand what the purpose of the hearing is and what to expect.
If you have a case in Court involving your children, it is likely that you will be required to attend a Child Welfare Hearing on more than one occasion. Below are some of the most common questions we are asked.
What is a child welfare hearing?
When someone raises a family action in court and there’s an issue concerning a child of the marriage or relationship that’s ended, the court will fix a child welfare hearing.
Why are child welfare hearings fixed?
When a person, usually a parent, raises a court action in which they are asking for a court order to be made in relation to a child. When the other parent tells the court they want to defend that action then the court will automatically fix various different dates, one of which is the date on which a child welfare hearing will take place.
Where will my hearing take place?
Since the start of the COVID -19 pandemic the vast majority of child welfare hearings have taken place over video call (and in some cases telephone conference call). However, we are now seeing a return to ‘in person’ hearings for the majority of cases.
How long will the hearing last?
It is highly likely that there will be several other Child welfare hearings calling on the same day as yours and, as you’d expect, there’s restricted time for each hearing. Your hearing might take place at a specific time or if it is one of many cases calling at the same time, some waiting might be unavoidable – the practice varies from court to court
Who will be present at the hearings?
These type of hearings are heard in private so in the Court room will be parties in the action, their respective solicitors they have instructed, the Sheriff and the Sheriff clerk.
Will I have to speak in Court?
Sheriffs normally like to hear submissions from solicitors so they get a clear idea of what needs to be discussed and decided that day. Some do like to ask the parents questions directly and the best way to deal with any questions is to be candid and simply answer what’s being asked.
What will be discussed in the Child Welfare Hearing?
The answer to this question is very case specific. However, you can generally expect that unless an agreement has been reached between you and the other party prior to the Hearing, the Pursuer’s solicitor will provide the Sheriff with a summary of the background of the case and thereafter set out their client’s argument with the defender’s solicitor then having an opportunity to respond. The Sheriff may then ask both of the solicitor’s questions and will then make a decision based on what he or she has heard.
Will a final decision be made at that hearing?
In family cases, it’s not always possible to make a decision at the first child welfare hearing and it all depends on whether there is a narrow issue to be addressed or whether it is something more complex. In the vast majority of cases, parties should not expect the issues to be resolved after one hearing. Sometimes before he or she makes decision, for more background information, the sheriff might order a child welfare report from an independent family solicitor. If this happens, the hearing will be continued for several weeks so these documents can be prepared and then lodged with the court. The court will assign another hearing and the sheriff will make their decision based on any report’s recommendations.
If a report isn’t required, the sheriff may make an interim order (a temporary order) for your child’s care arrangements and the case will be continued to another hearing to monitor arrangements. Any orders made at a child welfare hearing are interim orders. A final order can only be made following a proof or if the parties in the action reach an agreement and ask the court to record that in a final order. The court system is designed to bring parents to court to see if an agreement can be reached as the court recognises that it is far better for parents to make decision about their child than for a court do so. In most cases when an interim order is made the court will assign a further child welfare hearing to ‘monitor’ the contact order made. If it looks like changes to the arrangements are needed, the sheriff may vary them at the next hearing.
How many hearings will I have?
This varies from case to case but family cases can have as many as they need until final arrangements are in place that are in the best interests of your child.
Does my child get a say in what happens?
Any child who is capable of forming and expressing a view should be heard irrespective of their age. The courts are able to use their discretion in determining how much weight to put on the particular child’s view as expressed, taking into account the child’s age and maturity.
If the sheriff has already asked for a child welfare report or child welfare report to be prepared, the person preparing the report may be asked to include the child’s views.
Alternatively the child could be sent a form called an F9 which tells them that a court action has been raised and in child friendly language asks for their views. This can be sent to the child at home or to their school so their teachers can help them fill it in.
Gilson Gray has an expert team of solicitors who can help guide you through the process of Child Welfare Hearings during what can sometimes be an emotional and difficult time. If you would like further information regarding the topic discussed in this blog, please contact Sarah Feeney by email – firstname.lastname@example.org, or telephone 0141 530 2021
You can also visit our Family Law Team page for more information here
The information and opinions contained this blog are for information only. They are not intended to constitute advice and should not be relied upon or considered as a replacement for advice. Before acting on any information contained in this blog, please seek solicitor’s advice from Gilson Gray.