In May this year the Scottish Government issued a consultation paper on the reform of Scottish Child Law.

The consultation paper covers many aspects of Scottish Child Law and contains many proposals that people will have strong views on. The last date for submitting responses to the consultation paper is 7 August so there is still plenty of time for people to make their views known if they wish.

In a short blog it is difficult to do justice to the breadth of reform that is being considered in the Scottish Child Law consultation paper, but to give a flavour of the matters considered:

  • Grandparents' rights. Should the law include a presumption that children should have contact with their grandparents?
  • Siblings' rights. Many families have complex structures with full, half and step siblings. Should the rights of siblings to have contact with each other be strengthened?
  • Complying with contact orders. Recalcitrant parents denying contact are thankfully an infrequent occurrence. When they do occur however, they often pose many difficulties. Should the court no longer have the option of imprisonment as the ultimate sanction for parents in contempt of court? Should the defaulting parent instead be required to undertake unpaid work or attend parenting classes? Alternately is the proper remedy for contempt of court the imprisonment of the defaulting parent and should contempt become a criminal offence?
  • Step-parents' rights. Should it be possible for step-parents to obtain formal parental rights and responsibilities in respect of children by entering into a formal Agreement, signed by either one or both of a child's biological parents?
  • Contact and residence. The terms contact and residence replaced the old terms of custody and access. However there is a perception that the terms contact and residence still suggest that one parent has a better position in relation to a child than the other parent. Should these terms be abolished and replaced with something, such as a "child's order"?
  • The views of a child. Should the presumption that a child aged 12 years is of sufficient age or maturity to form a view be removed, thus allowing the voices of younger children to be heard more easily? Should a new class of professionals, known as Child Support Workers, be created to help take children's views in litigation?
  • Parental rights and responsibilities for all fathers? Currently only married fathers and fathers who are registered as such on the child's birth certificate have full parental rights and responsibilities. Should that be extended to all fathers, regardless of whether they are named on the child's birth certificate? Should the person registering the birth of a child be obliged to name both parents?
  • Shared care. Should there be a presumption of shared care in child cases? Alternately, should the starting point be the presumption that a child will not benefit from a shared care arrangement
  • Parental alienation. What can be done about this? The term parental alienation is used loosely and covers a broad spectrum of conduct. The consultation paper considers various options. In addition to the options in the consultation paper, perhaps the courts should encourage the active involvement of clinical psychologists in the complex and challenging alienation cases? After all, is alienation really a legal problem?
  • Domestic abuse. Sadly domestic abuse often impacts on children as well. Should domestic abusers be prevented from cross-examining the other parent in court? What protections should a court offer domestic abuse victims who have to be in the same court as a perpetrator? Repeatedly raising cases regarding contact and residence is often an extension of domestic abuse. Should that be banned? Should the courts do more to promote domestic abuse risk assessments once a contact and residence case is in court?
  • Checklist of factors to be considered before making an order for contact and/or residence. Just now, each case turns on its own individual merits. Should the law specify a list of factors that the courts must consider before making an order for contact and/or residence?
  • Alternatives to litigation. Amongst the many options being considered are Family Group Therapy and Compulsory Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings.

The above are just a flavour of some of the important and radical issues being considered by this consultation paper. This is our chance to shape the future of child law for the next 20 odd years. I would once more encourage anyone with an interest in child law to read the consultation paper and let the Scottish Government have your views.