New bill aims to put children’s best interests first in family law cases

New bill aims to put children's best interests first in family law cases

Ash Denham

The Scottish government has published new legislation that aims to ensure children’s best interests are at the centre of every family law case and that children’s views are heard in court.

The Children (Scotland) Bill includes regulation of child contact centres to ensure they are safe places for children to meet family members.

Child welfare reporters, who may be appointed when the court has been asked to resolve a dispute between parents, will also be regulated. This will ensure reporters are trained to understand and respond to issues such as domestic abuse and coercive control.

Other measures for domestic abuse complainers and their children include allowing special measures such as screens and a live video links to be used in child welfare hearings and prohibiting a party from conducting their own case if there is a vulnerable witness.

Community Safety Minister Ash Denham said: “We know that family breakdown can be very upsetting for children. It is our responsibility to ensure the family justice system is supportive and does not contribute to their distress. That means putting the best interests of the child first in every case and ensuring their voice is heard, including younger children.

“Children’s welfare is paramount and we have been guided by their views and experiences in developing this bill. More than half of responses to the consultation came via our child-friendly questionnaire.”

Ian Maxwell from Families Need Fathers Scotland said: “While measures regulating child welfare reporters and contact centres and on taking views of the child are welcome, the bill as it stands is a massively wasted opportunity.

“Families Need Fathers Scotland will press hard during the Scottish Parliament’s consideration of the bill for equally shared parenting to become the starting point if a court has to decide about arrangements for children after separation.

“This change has worked well in a range of other countries, and it would put Scotland ahead of other UK legislation in promoting the involvement of both parents with their children even if they live apart.”

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