Call us: Mon - Fri 8:30am - 7pm, Sat - Sun 9am - 5pm
Call local rate 0330 056 3171
Mon - Fri 8:30am - 7pm | Sat - Sun 9am - 5pm
Call local rate 0330 056 3171
Mon - Fri 8:30am - 7pm | Sat - Sun 9am - 5pm

Pathfinder Pilot Scheme Expanded

Background and Purpose

In March 2022, a pioneering pilot scheme, known as the Pathfinder pilot, was launched in some family courts in Dorset and North Wales to help improve information sharing between services such as the police and local authorities and the courts. It followed on from a review into the family justice system which concluded that the adversarial processes often worsened conflict between parents, retraumatising abuse victims and children.

A crucial element of the Pathfinder pilot scheme is to enable local domestic abuse authorities to share important information with the courts, sparing abuse victims the painful process of retelling their experiences multiple times.

In addition, the pilot aimed to ensure that children are listened to at every stage of the family justice process when going through their parents’ separation. Children were to be given more opportunity to explain their feelings, what they want and, should a court order be made, to feedback on whether it was working for them.

How the Pathfinder Pilot works

The Pathfinder pilot was launched in Bournemouth and Weymouth in Dorset, as well as Caernarfon, Mold, Prestatyn and Wrexham in North Wales initially.

The piloted model involves more detailed initial investigations being carried out by the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), an independent body advising family courts on what is safe for children in family law processes. In most cases, this has involved speaking to the children involved in cases before the first hearing even takes place.

Furthermore, the pilot has introduced a better integration system between agencies, such as domestic abuse organisations, and organisations specialising in mediation, and the courts, in order to best serve the families.

The process involves:

  • An early ‘gatekeeping’ hearing to look at the information
  • Cafcass investigate any welfare issues and identify whether the family might benefit from another form of dispute resolution and can avoid court
  • Cafcass will speak directly with the family and identify any families which have a domestic abuse risk
  • Where appropriate, Cafcass will also speak with children early on in this process to understand their feelings and wishes

The aim is for Cafcass to help families avoid court entirely, or, where this is not possible, to find a solution at the first hearing. The judge then reviews all the information and can request further documentation before the case reaches court.

The idea has been to encourage a less adversarial process, keeping conflict out of the courtroom, and emphasising the investigation of issues, including allegations of domestic abuse.

The Future of the Pilot

The initial phase of the pilot reached its conclusion in February 2024. It has been announced that it will be expanded to two further locations, Birmingham and South-East Wales, before a national roll out.

Phase 2 is due to launch in May 2024.

Stowe Family Law Partner Rachel Fisher said this of the news that the pilot has been extended:

“It is a really exciting development to see the expansion of the Pathfinder Pilot following the end of Phase 1 with the scheme now been expanded to South East Wales and Birmingham before hopefully a national rollout and the feedback reported has been extremely positive.

This new Cafcass process is welcomed by professionals and families as a streamlined process with less delays for children who are at the centre of these disputes. The aim of the Pathfinder Pilot is to ensure that the voice of the children involved in each case is heard and to ensure that trauma to children and victims of domestic abuse is reduced as far as possible, which can only be in the children’s best interests.

It is positive that the Pilot is being extended so that more families can benefit from the process which sees the court actively working with other local organisations and agencies to ensure matters are progressed promptly and with all the information being available to the court at an early stage through the in depth information gathering exercise at the outset by Cafcass to support a problem-solving approach to resolving arrangements for children.”

In addition, the Government recently announced a pilot, due to launch in summer 2024, trialling a scheme publicly funded early legal advice for parents/carers. This advice will allow parents to make better informed decisions regarding their children when it comes to separation.

The pilot aims to help separating parents resolve disputes without court intervention. The Pathfinder pilot will be important for those cases which do get to court.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

Contact us

As the UK's largest family law firm we understand that every case is personal.

Leave a comment

Help & advice categories


Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for advice on divorce and relationships from our lawyers, divorce coaches and relationship experts.

What type of information are you looking for?

Privacy Policy