At our inaugural Brodies Family Law Conference in September 2023, chartered clinical psychologists Dr Anne Woodhouse and Dr Katherine Edward delivered a session which gave valuable insight into how solicitors might better focus upon keeping the children at the centre of the legal proceedings which affect them.

Such proceedings are, by their nature, highly emotive for the parties involved. Litigation can also be cumbersome, complex and lengthy. It can, in the midst of such a situation, be easy to lose sight of the needs and wishes of the child. In some circumstances, it is appropriate for a psychologist to become involved. Dr Woodhouse and Dr Edward provided very helpful guidance as to when and what type of psychological input may be appropriate.

Is a psychologist required?

Consideration needs to be given as to whether or not a psychologist needs to be instructed at all. Not every case involving children requires a psychological assessment of children and, in fact, the vast majority of cases in Scotland proceed with no psychological input. If it is decided that input from a psychologist would be helpful then, if possible, their remit should be jointly agreed (between the solicitors acting for both parents) and it should either be instructed on that joint basis or ordered by the court.

Type of psychologist?

It is very important to consider what type of report is to be obtained. Psychologists who work in the area of child law usually specialise in either 'forensic'; 'educational'; 'clinical'; or 'counselling' psychology. A clinical psychologist will base their work primarily on the assessment of the child and/or family's individual circumstances using direct assessment. In contrast, a forensic psychologist will primarily use methodology based on statistical evidence.

Information and remit

It is important to consider the scope of the psychologist's remit and what information is to be given to the psychologist before they begin their work. The framing of the remit is of the utmost importance and input from the psychologist themself may be helpful in that process to ensure that the needs of the child are the focus of the enquiry rather than for example simply the parenting capacity of a parent in isolation from all other factors. The psychologist ought to have the fullest information including court papers , any productions lodged and any previous reports carried out such as child welfare reports.


In many situations, the recommendations of the psychologist may be inconsistent with the objectives of one parent. If the type of psychologist and their remit has been agreed between parents in advance then it is important to be aware, from the outset, that one, or both of them, may not be happy with the content of the resulting report. Of course, the point is not for the psychologist to produce a report which will satisfy one or both parents in terms of the outcome. The psychologist will assess the information (be that from statistical evidence and/or direct assessment of the child and family) and then make a recommendation to the parties or to the court based on that professional evaluation. It will be based on what is in the best interests of the child from a psychological perspective.

Psychologists can and do assist all of those working in the field of child and family law to keep children at the centre of the processes which can so profoundly affect their lives.


Sarah Lilley


Florence Fisher

Senior Solicitor