Receiving a court citation can often come as a shock to individuals experiencing difficult family or child law issues. When a court action is raised, an individual will receive a series of court documents either through recorded delivery post or by hand delivery from a Sheriff Officer. This can be an extremely stressful and confusing scenario and may leave the person receiving the documents (the 'Defender') feeling overwhelmed and puzzled as to what to do next.

I've received court papers: What do I do first?

Receiving notice that a court action has been raised against you (sometimes known as being 'cited') can be stressful, however, you must not delay or ignore the citation. You must act and act quickly. A court action goes on a very specific journey with a timetable of dates dictated by the court and court procedure.

1. Read through all the documents thoroughly, making note of key points and dates which have been highlighted. Important dates to look out for include any hearings which must be attended, time limits by which you must lodge an opposition, or notice of intention to defend. It is critical that you do not miss any key dates, as the court can make orders in absence of any opposition.

    2. If you can, identify which firm of lawyers has prepared the documents, so you, or your lawyer, know who is instructed by the Pursuer (the person who has raised the action). You will likely receive a document titled 'Initial Writ' which is the document which initiates the court action and is the Pursuer's 'submission' or version of events telling the court what they wish to achieve by raising the action and, consequently, why the action is necessary.

    3. Don't panic. If a court action has been raised against you, it still means that matters can be resolved out with the court room. In fact, the courts encourage extra-judicial negotiations where possible. Even in the most high-conflict cases, your lawyer will be by your side to explain the process and guide you through, step-by-step.

    Who to contact after being served court papers?

    If you receive service of a court action in a family or child-law matter, it is very important that you contact a family lawyer as soon as possible.

    Upon making enquiries with a family lawyer, you should advise that you have been cited in a court action and send your lawyer copies of all the documents which have been received ahead of your initial appointment.

    Alternatively, you may wish to bring the documents with you when you meet your lawyer if the appointment is in-person. It is important to let your lawyer know that a court action has been raised and what the date is by which you need to lodge your notice of intention to defend it.

    Where to go after being cited in a family law court action?

    Brodies LLP has the largest team of accredited specialist family lawyers in Scotland. Spanning the length and breadth of Scotland, from the Highlands and Islands to the central belt, our team of experts are on hand to assist with a range of family and child law matters and can often see clients the same day. If you require urgent assistance in relation to a family law matter which is in court, get in touch with a member of our team here.


    Eildh McRitchie-Conacher

    Senior Solicitor