For many of our clients, the Child Welfare Hearing will be the first and only experience they ever have with a court. It is therefore important for clients to understand what it is and what to expect.

Why are child welfare hearings fixed?

When a person, usually a parent but sometimes a grandparent, raises a court action in which they are asking for a court order to be made in relation to a child(ren).  When the other parent tells the court they want to defend that action then the court will automatically fix a date on which a child welfare hearing will take place.

The process is usually:

1. A court action is raised;

2. A court action is defended (notice of intention to defend);

3. A child welfare hearing is fixed.

When are they fixed?

The first child welfare hearing will not usually take place until 21 days have passed following the date that the person defending the action has lodged a notice of intention to defend. However, if there is a particularly urgent point that requires to be dealt with the court can fix an earlier date.

Usually more than one child welfare hearing will take place. At the end of the first child welfare hearing, depending on the outcome, the Sheriff may fix another hearing to take place within the following four to eight weeks. This may allow the parties and court to monitor how things have gone and decide what should happen next. If a Child Welfare Reporter has been appointed this will also allow time for the Reporter to carry out their work.

What happens at a child welfare hearing?

Since March 2020 the vast majority of child welfare hearings have taken place over video call. However, a new practice note issued by the Sheriff Principal which came into effect on 13 July 2022 means that from now on the majority of child welfare hearing should return to their pre-COVID 19 status of taking place in-person in the court building.

- Parties to the action should attend court in advance of the scheduled hearing time. 

- Their solicitors will meet them at court and the Sheriff Clerk will then call the case. 

- Both parties will sit in the court room beside their respective solicitors. 

- The Sheriff will usually only address the solicitors during the hearing but sometimes will ask one or both parents some questions. 

- The solicitors will tell the Sheriff what the position is and what the dispute relates to, putting forward arguments in support of their client's position. 

-The Sheriff will then make an interim order as to what should happen in relation to the child's care. 

-The Sheriff may make other orders such as instructing a Child Welfare Report, a Social Work Report or a Psychologist's Report and, as previously mentioned, fix a date for a future child welfare hearing.

The paramount consideration of the Sheriff when making decisions about children is what is in the child's best interests. Taking on board all that has been said during the hearing and the information before them, the Sheriff will make a decision and that decision must be followed by the parties.

After the hearing there is usually an opportunity for parties to discuss the outcome with their respective solicitors and, if necessary, seek further clarity as to what happens next.

For more information about the processes and terminology involving children have a look at our Child Contact Route Map.


Sarah Lilley