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Pathfinder- A Revolutionary Change to the Way Children Law Cases Are Dealt With in Court

Pathfinder introduces a fresh approach to family dispute resolution, which the family courts in Wales started implementing on April 29th. This model centres on a collaborative approach and involves a partnership of various organizations, including CAFCASS, police, mediation services, and domestic abuse specialists, to offer families the highest level of support. In addition to prioritizing strong collaboration with families, the Pathfinder model ensures the use of less confrontational language during court proceedings, fostering a more cooperative and family-oriented method of resolving issues.

A report entitled ‘Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases’ was published by the Ministry of Justice. It was recommended a more investigative approach in domestic abuse cases was needed. Following a review of Family Courts, it was found that an adversarial approach often worsened conflicts between parents and could have a damaging effect on Domestic Abuse victims and children.

The pathfinder pilot was launched in Devon and North Wales. The pilot was developed in collaboration with a diverse group of family justice professionals, including Judges, Charities, and Academics.

The pilot enables Judges to assess collected information and request additional documentation prior to a case reaching the courtroom. This approach is hoped to prevent the debate of case details in court, which can often heighten parental conflict. The pilot also promotes a less adversarial process, prioritizing the investigation and resolution of domestic abuse.

Why have there been changes?

  1. The new process sets out to improve the information sharing between services which amongst other benefits can avoid victims of Domestic Violence having to retell traumatic experiences.
  2. To encompass a problem-solving approach to proceedings to avoid unnecessary acrimony and to encourage a collaborative effort to making final decisions in relation to children arrangements.
  3. To put the voice of the child at the centre of proceedings.

The pilot was deemed successful with good feedback from the courts themselves and court users. This process has now been rolled out in South East Wales Courts which include Cardiff, Newport, Blackwood, Pontypridd and Merthyr Tydfil.

What is the process?

  1. Once an application has been made, the aim is for it to be looked at within 24 hours to determine whether an urgent hearing is required.
  2. Within 6 weeks a Child Impact Report will be prepared. This will probably be completed by CAFCASS but if the Local Authority are involved with the family it may be completed by them. The Child Impact Report aims to capture the voice of the child and will include relevant safeguarding information. CAFCASS will identify whether the family may benefit from another form or dispute resolution to avoid Court completely. This is a much more in-depth information gathering exercise than has been used previously. It includes engagement with the parents and other agencies as appropriate.
  3. At week 7 the Court will consider how to best enable the application to proceed. Consideration will be given as to any directions needed and again non-court resolution will be considered. The case will be allocated to one of two “tracks”. Either the ‘adjudication track’ of the ‘case management track’. If as part of the information gathering stage parties are supported to reach an agreement, this can be completed without the need for any of the parties to attend court.
  4. In cases where families are unable to reach final agreements or if significant concerns are raised within the Child Impact Report the case will take one of two tracks. If the case is suitable for the adjudication track a determination hearing will be listed for decisions to be made on final orders. Many cases will be concluded with the parties only having to attend one hearing.
  5. IF the case is not eligible for the ‘adjudication track’ a hearing will be listed around week 9 or 10 where directions will be made to a fact finding hearing. These will only take place if it is deemed necessary and proportionate. If a Fact finding hearing is appropriate it will be listed between week 14 and 16. If no fact finding hearing is required a final hearing will be listed between week 12 and week 14.
  6. The final part is the review stage. This will take place between 3 and 12 months from the date of the final order. The aim is for the parties to be contacted to determine how the order is working for them and to signpost to areas of support should this be required.

The pathfinder route is designed to bring a quicker route to resolution whilst putting the voice of the child at the centre of any decisions and keeping victims of domestic violence safe.

Non-Court Dispute Resolution

The updated guidance places a greater expectation on courts, family practitioners and families to explore non court-based methods to resolve matters.

Courts will have the power to adjourn proceedings if the Judge feels a Non-Court Dispute Resolution would be appropriate.

Other changes.

The report also saw changes and reforms to the Domestic Abuse Act. which includes a ban on perpetrators cross-examining their victims and the wider use of Qualified Legal Representatives  as well as measures to prevent them from repeatedly bringing their ex-partners back to court – which can be used as a form of continuing domestic abuse.

It is hopeful that the changes will provide an earlier resolution to matters and it is therefore important to obtain legal advice at an early stage before an application is made to ensure that the Court has the complete picture before embarking on the Pathfinder Route.

We offer an initial 20-minute free consultation to set out what we can do for you. Please contact the Family Department and speak with a member of the team.

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