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10 Jul 2024

Child Care

Family & Matrimonial

Pathfinder – Changes to Children Act Proceedings

Over the past year, family courts in select areas have been testing a new approach to proceedings, known as the Pathfinder Model. With the trial complete and the approach now rolled out, Solicitor Rebecca Ferris from our Family & Matrimonial team explains the approach.

From the 29th of April 2024, the Pathfinder approach has been rolled out across England and Wales, and therefore the way in which the court deals with applications made under the Children Act has changed. It has long been considered that proceedings brought under the Children Act is detrimental to children and causes additional conflict between parents. The court states that this new approach will reduce ‘court time’ and try to focus more on what is in the best interests of the children.

The aim is to improve the courts’ response to those who have been affected by domestic abuse, and to ensure that children have a voice within proceedings.

The Pathfinder Approach

The Pathfinder approach differs significantly from the standard process, and a key focus is on making sure that the court has as much information as possible early on in proceedings in order to ensure that they can make informed decisions.

Before you even attend court, therefore, there will be two Gatekeep hearings, for which neither party will be in attendance.

Gatekeeping Hearing 1

Following your application to the court, the court will list an initial gatekeeping hearing, within the first 24 hours, where Cafcass or Social Services, depending on what level of involvement the children have already had with authorities, will be ordered to undertake a Child Impact Assessment.

This is an in-depth information gathering exercise and will involve the allocated social worker speaking with families, engaging with parents and other agencies such as the school, police or domestic abuse helplines, and speaking directly to the children involved.

If your case is considered urgent, for example in cases where there is a serious risk of harm, the court will list an urgent hearing in order to deal with these matters.

If either party raises allegations of domestic abuse, then a DASH risk assessment will be carried out by a Domestic Abuse Adviser, and the social worker / Cafcass Officer will consider this within the Child Impact Report, with a focus on what the arrangements should be for the children, and how contact should be arranged so as to ensure all vulnerable parties are protected.

This information is gathered within an initial 6-week period, following which, a second gatekeeping hearing will be listed.

Gatekeeping Hearing 2

Where appropriate, and at every stage, parties will be encouraged to engage in out of court dispute resolution, such as mediation. There are costs consequences imposed by the court on parties who do not engage in out of court dispute resolution when it has been deemed appropriate.

This could avoid the need for parties to attend court at all. If the Child Impact Report suggests that parents are able to come to an agreement via out of court dispute resolution, then this will be reflected in an order made by the court at the second gatekeeping hearing, without the need for anyone having to attend court.

At this stage, the court has the power to make a Final Order from just looking at papers, without ever having to see the parties in a court room.

Where it is identified that families will be unable to reach an agreement without the assistance of the court, the matter will be allocated at the second gatekeeping hearing to either the adjudication track or the case management track.

Adjudication Track

Under this track, the matter will be listed for a Determination Hearing, where court attendance will be necessary. It is advised that you have representation at this hearing, as the court will have the power to make a Final Order at this stage.

Case-Management Track

Under this track there will likely be what is known as a filter hearing, the objective of which is to deal with any allegations which have been raised, and to make a decision as to whether a Fact-Finding Hearing is necessary to determine any allegations. If it is decided that a Fact-Finding Hearing is not necessary, then the matter will be listed for a Final Hearing.

If a Fact-Finding Hearing is required, it is envisaged that this would be listed 14 – 16 weeks after the first Gatekeeping Hearing. Once the Fact-Finding Hearing has taken place, the Final Hearing would be listed thereafter.


The focus of the court is to ensure that all matters are dealt with within 4 months of the initial application being made. Prior to the introduction of the Pathfinder Model, parties could find themselves engaged in proceedings for upwards of 12months.

The courts’ aim is to work with families, to support a problem-solving approach, and to take out adversarial language. A primary feature is to ensure that children are involved from the very beginning of proceedings and are given the opportunity to participate should they wish to.

The court have experienced significant backlog in cases, sometimes resulting in a number of months lapsing before parties are able to attend court, which, for the non-resident parent, has often caused substantial delay in them being able to have contact with their children. The court hopes that this new approach will free up judicial resources and allow them to spend time working through their existing case backlog.

How can we help?

We have a number of solicitors across both our private Family & Matrimonial and Children Law teams, who are specialists when it comes to matters involving children. If you are experiencing difficulties in agreeing arrangements for your children, and are considering issuing proceedings, please contact us today and we can provide you with further advice and guidance.

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