Kids as young as five to have their say in family law disputes
Children in Scotland as young as five years old are now eligible to have their say on their own custody rights with an amended court form.
Form F9, the controversial court form for intimation to a child, has been replaced to ensure 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.
What’s new about Form F9?
Newly amended court rules make important provisions about the point at which the form F9 should be sent to the child.
The form will only be sent once it is known whether the action will be defended.
This will prevent the child being sent two forms seeking their views, which can be disheartening for some children.
The new rules also seek to encourage greater use of the form F9. While the current rules do not preclude children under a certain age being sent the form F9, research shows that in many cases parties ask the court to dispense with intimation on the child simply because the child is under 12 years of age.
Family Law Committee of the Scottish Civil Justice Council (SCJC) has acknowledged that many children younger than 12 are capable of expressing a view, and has therefore introduced a new rule which provides that a party may seek to dispense with intimation where that party “considers that it would be inappropriate to send Form F9 to the child (for example, where the child is under 5 years of age)”.
The Sheriff can appoint a Child Welfare Reporter to speak to the child or alternatively, the Sheriff can take the views of the child him or herself by meeting with the child and speaking to them directly.
Scott Whyte, Managing Director at Watermans Solicitors & 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.”
Included in the form is also helpful contact numbers for The Scottish Child Law Centre and kids’ charity Childline.
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Posted by Lisa Boyle