The new ‘Pathfinder’ court process for Children Act proceedings in Southeast Wales

From 29 April 2024, separated parents will experience a new court process, namely ‘The Pathfinder Court’ which has been implemented in courts in the Southeast Wales region in relation to Children Act proceedings. The courts in the Southeast Wales region include Cardiff, Newport, Merthyr Tydfil, Pontypridd and Blackwood. If your ‘local’ court is therefore one of the above-mentioned areas, the new procedure will apply to you. The new process has already been carried out in North Wales and Dorset with success.

The aim of the new procedure is to try and expedite the court process for those involved in Children Act proceedings. Under the new procedure, your application will be considered within 24 hours of being received by the court. This is known as ‘Gatekeeping Stage 1’. Once the court has reviewed your application within those 24 hours, the court will consider whether they feel your application warrants an urgent hearing. If the court does not consider your application to be ‘urgent’, then the court shall instead make directions for CAFCASS Cymru to prepare a Child Impact Report within 6 weeks of considering your application. Once CAFCASS Cymru have undertaken their necessary checks and prepared their report, they will send a copy of their report to the court. This report will also be shared with you and your ex-partner, unless CAFCASS Cymru believe they have a good reason as to why they feel it would not yet be appropriate for you both to have sight of the report.

Once CAFCASS Cymru have filed their report, the court will consider the report and decide which ‘track’ your case should progress down. Under the new court process, there are two tracks: 1) the adjudication track and 2) the case management track. The court has stated that the adjudication track will most likely be appropriate where no allegations have been raised between you and your ex-partner and no safeguarding concerns have been identified. If you progress down this track, the court are likely to list a first and final hearing, which is now known as a ‘determination hearing’. Following this hearing, a final child arrangements order would be made, and this would conclude your proceedings. Compared to the current procedure, this track would therefore mean that your case is concluded very swiftly, and you would only need to attend one hearing.

However, if CAFCASS Cymru’s report does raise safeguarding concerns and / or if there are allegations of harm made by you and/or your ex-partner, your case is likely to proceed via the case management track. This process is slightly longer, and the court will likely list a filter hearing first to deal with any allegations raised by you or your ex-partner. Following this hearing, the court will then decide as to whether a fact-finding hearing is deemed necessary before listing your matter for a final hearing.

As will be noted from the new procedure, the aim is to streamline the process and ultimately to improve the experience for all involved in Children Act proceedings. As the court will now be making decisions based on the initial application received, it is extremely important that your case is fully and comprehensively prepared in advance of filing any application with the court, as any application made will largely influence the report prepared by CAFCASS Cymru and, ultimately, the ‘track’ that your case will progress down. If you are experiencing issues with your ex-partner in trying to agree the arrangements for your children and you are considering issuing court proceedings, please do get in touch with one of our experienced family solicitors so that we can provide you with further advice.