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Newport Office - 01633 251801

Pontypool Office - 01495 763333

The ‘Pathfinder’ Court

Once you have made the decision to separate from your partner, often the next (and most important) decision you will have to make will be the arrangements for your children. A new pathfinder pilot has now been extended to South East Wales with the aim of improving the way family matters are dealt with by the courts.

The ‘Pathfinder’ Court – a new way of working in private family law cases

From 29th April 2024, the existing child arrangement programme has been replaced by the ‘Pathfinder’ scheme in South East Wales. Following a successful pilot scheme in North Wales and Dorset, the Pathfinder scheme is now ‘here to stay’ with participating Pathfinder Courts in South Wales being Blackwood, Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport and Pontypridd.

PURPOSE OF PATHFINDER

The Pathfinder programme aims to improve the experience of parties within the Family Court particularly the outcomes for survivors of domestic abuse, including children and litigants in person. more investigative approach taken with early information gathering including from agencies such as social services to enable early decision making and early engagement with parents or those who share care of the children.

The new process will also aim for the court to hear the voice of the child more clearly so that children are given an opportunity to provide their own views before a decision is made about their future. A more holistic, multi-agency approach is being planned to help parents and guardians to develop positive working relationships with local services such as mediators and social services. A review stage during the process will aim to ensure that court orders meet the welfare needs of the child and reduce the number of cases which “come back to court.”

COURT IS LAST RESORT

Within the Pathfinder model, the focus is on Alternative Dispute Resolution and reaching agreement without the need for court proceedings to be issued.

It is important to remember that Court proceedings can be stressful and unpleasant and should always be the last resort. Other methods of resolving the arrangements for children should be considered first, and at any stage of court proceedings, such as mediation. The court still requires parents or those who share care of the children to provide evidence that attempts to resolve matters by agreement and attend mediation before any application to court is issued. A MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) form will be required. There are certain exemptions to attending Mediation, such as where there has been domestic violence or where the case is urgent.

HOW WILL THE NEW PATHFINDER SCHEME WORK?

Applications will be allocated to an appropriate level of judge within 24 hours where they will consider whether an urgent hearing or without notice hearing is required.

The Pathfinder route has 3 stages:

Stage 1 – Information Gathering and Assessment

CAFCASS (or the Local Authority) will be required to complete a Child Impact Report within 6 weeks of issue. The Child Impact Report will include safeguarding checks and will identify key issues earlier, such as cases involving domestic abuse and completing a DASH risk assessment (in cases where there is domestic abuse) as well as involving domestic abuse support services. This Report will also involve the child’s voice being heard so the court is aware of the child’s wishes and feelings at an early stage.

Stage 2 – Interventions and/or Decision hearing

The Child Impact Report will be available approximately 7 weeks after the application has been issued.
At this stage, if there is agreement between the parents, the Court could make final orders, without any person attending court. If no agreement can be reached, the Court may list the matter for a determination hearing under the accelerated track of Pathfinder.

If no agreement can be reached, and the matter is more complex, the Court will decide whether your case will be dealt with under the case management track. This could mean, eg a Fact Find hearing may be necessary, or an expert is required before a final hearing can take place. Further directions of the court may be given at this stage.

Stage 3 – Review

In some cases, a review may take place 3 to 12 months following the date of the final order. The parents may be contacted (and possibly the children) to ascertain whether the order is working in practice and will consider any post-order support required.

A HOPEFUL END

It is hoped that the new Pathfinder approach will provide an earlier resolution to the issues in the case, potentially without the need to attend Court. It is important to obtain legal advice at an early stage to resolve the arrangements for your children before an application is made to the court to ensure that the Court has full details.

To arrange a consultation with a lawyer within our family team, please contact our Family Department on 01495 763333 (Pontypool) or 01633 251801 (Newport) or email family@etlp.co.uk. We also offer a free 15-minute consultation on a Tuesday and Thursday between 2pm and 4pm in relation to the arrangements for a child and domestic abuse.

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