New ‘child-friendly’ court form gives children greater say in contact and residence actions

New 'child-friendly' court form gives children greater say in contact and residence actions

Sarah Hay

Family lawyer Sarah Hay has welcomed the roll-out of a new court form giving children in Scotland as young as five years old a greater say on their own contact and residence rights.

Form F9, the controversial court form for intimation to a child, has been replaced in a bid to improve meaningful participation by children and young people in family law actions.

With the help of a graphic designer, the new and improved form is colourful and engaging, allowing children to tick off whether they’re feeling good, in between or ‘not good’ about the action being sought.

An accompanying letter has also been introduced which advises the child of their right to give a view. The language used in the letter is child-friendly, and difficult terms such as “sheriff” are clearly defined.

Ms Hay, head of family law at Watermans Legal, said: “It is definitely a positive step forward. The previous form which was used was hardly used and not child-friendly.

“There lacked a clear mechanism for children and young people to give their views in an easy manner. In effect parents and lawyers were able to duck the issue, often a beneficial tactic for one parent in a family law action.”

She continued: “The new Form F9 is more child-friendly and will allow children and young people to play a more meaningful role in the court process, as it provides an easier and effective way to give their views. The court rules which have been changed to tie in with the new form should hopefully encourage greater use of the new Form F9.

“This change indicates a progressive approach to put children and young people at the centre of family law cases. This is a development in what can still be a rather archaic court system in Scotland.”

Ms Hay added: “It will take some time to see what effect this has in practice. There is still no obligation on a court to acknowledge the views of children or young people in family law cases.”

Scott Whyte, managing director at Watermans Solicitors and Watermans Legal, said: “The best interests of the child should always be paramount in any cases relating to child contact so this move is a positive step in seeking to achieve this aim.

“It does however require the courts to give it the emphasis it deserves and for this to happen consistently across all courts in Scotland and I hope this will be the case.

“Anything that empowers children and provides a greater outcome for all parties in these cases has to be embraced and welcomed in our legal system.”

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