Lifelines: Mark Stalker on going to court over children

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NIGHTMARE, 
WRIT LARGE

My husband and I separated 18 months ago and the relationship has deteriorated to the point that we don’t speak at all. We have been married for 15 years and have three lovely children, twin boys aged eight and a daughter aged six, who all live with me.

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I got a letter from his lawyer the other day to say a writ was about to be served on me as my husband wants custody of the children. I can’t believe this is happening. Does this mean he is taking me to court?

Talk of court actions is never easy to hear but, yes, that is what your husband’s lawyer is talking about. A writ is the court document that one parent serves on the other when a court action is raised. It sets out what that parent is asking the court to grant – for example, whether that parent is seeking a residence order (for a child to live with them) or a contact order (to allow them to see their child at particular times). It also sets out why that parent says the court should grant them the orders.

The writ is usually served by recorded delivery post but if that cannot be done then it may be served on you personally by someone known as a sheriff officer. When you get the writ it will have a number of forms with it – you need to read these carefully as they will tell you what is happening and what you need to do.

The main thing you need to know is that you have three weeks from the date the writ is served on you to lodge with the court what is called a ‘notice of intention to defend’. This document will be attached to the paperwork you have received.

Once you have read all the paperwork, you should get in contact with your solicitor (if you have one) as soon as possible (if not, you can contact the Law Society of Scotland on 0131-226 7411 or use the ‘find a solicitor’ tool at www.lawscot.org.uk). Your solicitor will take you through any queries you have and lodge the paperwork for you.

HEARING PROBLEMS

My partner and I separated two years ago after 20 years together. Since then, we have been fighting about our daughters – aged 14 and nine – who live with me most of the week and stay with their mother at weekends. Now she has raised a court action against me and I’ve been told that I must go to a Child Welfare Hearing. What does this actually mean?

The Child Welfare Hearing is generally the first opportunity for parents (and children, in some instances) to be heard in court after one parent has raised a court action against the other. It is usually in private with the parents, their solicitors, the sheriff and the sheriff clerk all present. In most courts the hearing is held informally, with neither the sheriff nor the solicitors wearing gowns, and is designed to allow the parents to give more information about what orders are being asked for.

The sheriff can also consider any relevant paperwork before making a decision, and can make an interim contact or residence order or continue the case to a future hearing and call for a report before making any order. There are many options open to the sheriff, and you would be wise to speak to your lawyer beforehand.

• Mark Stalker is service manager of family mediation at Relationships Scotland, South Lanarkshire (www.relationships-scotland.org.uk)