If you are involved in a Court Action concerning a child the Court will fix a special hearing called a Child Welfare Hearing. When the action is defended the hearing is fixed automatically by the Sheriff Clerk in the Sheriff Court where the court proceedings have been raised.
If you are representing yourself the Sheriff Clerk will write to you with the date and time of the hearing. If you have a solicitor representing you they will tell you the details. You must attend at court for the Child Welfare Hearing. If you are unable to attend for a prior commitment such as a holiday you must let your solicitor know as soon as possible to enable them to try and alter the date.
The Child Welfare Hearing is held in private before the Sheriff and this means that only the parties to the court action are able to go into the court room. You are able to take friends or family to court with you to support you but they will not be allowed into the court room.
The Child Welfare Hearing is where the Sheriff will meet you and will be able to find out what exactly are the points in dispute and if any matters can be agreed. If you have raised a court action asking for contact to a child this will be the first occasion that you can ask the Sheriff to grant you the right to see the child. This is called an interim order. If it has been a lengthy period since you last saw the child or if any other matters have been raised as a concern such as allegations that you have been drinking excessively; using drugs or there have been allegations of domestic violence in the family the Sheriff may decide that contact should take place initially in a Contact Centre. The Sheriff may make no orders at all at this stage or may call for an independent report or a report from the social work department. It is entirely at the discretion of the sheriff to choose which would be most appropriate in your case with submissions being made on your behalf by your solicitor.
If the court calls for an independent report this means that a solicitor who does not act for either-or or the opponent is appointed by the court to meet with parties and to prepare a report which will help the sheriff in the decision making process.
It is important to bear in mind that your former partner will be in the court room. The Sheriff will be relatively informal but the Child Welfare Hearing is still a court hearing and everyone must behave with respect towards one another. This is not the time or the place to behave aggressively or to mutter comments to the other parties involved in the hearing.
The Sheriff sits on the bench but does not wear a wig or gown. The other parties sit beside their solicitor on opposite sides of the table. Your solicitor will initially speak for you but the sheriff may want to ask you questions directly. Please remember that the same Sheriff will be allocated to deal with your case and being flippant or aggressive is never the best approach. The sheriff is there to make a decision regarding matters of contact and residence because you and your former partner or the child’s grandparents or guardians have not been able to agree. The Sheriff will have regard to the welfare principle and all decisions taken from the bench have the child at the centre.
A case normally has several Child Welfare Hearings several weeks apart so if a decision is made that you don’t particularly like the matter will be under constant review by the court. Please also remember that any decision made by the Sheriff is a formal court order and must be obeyed. If any party fails to obey a court order they can be found to be in contempt of court.
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