From 29th April 2024, the way that the Courts deal with Children Act Proceedings in South East Wales (Cardiff, Newport, Merthyr, Pontypridd and Blackwood) is changing. The purpose is to attempt to improve the focus of the Family Court, to avoid there being too much “Court time” and to reduce conflict between parents. There is also the aim of listening to the voice of the child at every stage of the Court process.

Before you attend Court

Before you even attend the Court building, the Court will list at least 2 hearings, without you having to be in attendance.

Gatekeeping hearing 1:

Following your application being filed at Court, the Court will list an initial gatekeeping hearing within 24 hours of your application being received by the Court. The Court will direct a Child Impact Report which is a report that will be prepared by Cafcass Cymru (a group of independent social workers that advise the Court in relation to the arrangements for children) and consider whether or not an urgent hearing needs to be listed. At this stage and depending on the Court’s consideration of your application, the Court could also direct a Section 7 welfare report, again, likely to be prepared by Cafcass Cymru.

If your matter is considered as urgent, the Court may list an urgent hearing such as when there is a risk of harm to a child or if there is a risk that the child will be removed from the jurisdiction.

If the Court does not take the view that an urgent hearing needs to be listed and the Court orders a Child Impact Report, the Child Impact Report will take approximately 6 weeks to be completed. As part of that report, the Cafcass Officer (or the Social Worker if there is Local Authority involvement and the Court directs that the report needs to be undertaken by the Local Authority) will consider safeguarding information from the Local Authority and the Police and will speak to you in relation to what you feel should be the arrangements for your child/children. If there are allegations of domestic abuse raised, there will be a DASH assessment undertaken by an Independent Domestic Abuse Adviser and the Child Impact Report will outline any arears of agreement/disagreement with a focus on what the arrangements should be for your child/children in the future.

Gatekeeping hearing 2:

Following receipt of the Child Impact Report, the Court will list a second gatekeeping hearing. This hearing will take place approximately 7 weeks after your initial application has been filed at Court. At this hearing, the Court will allocate the matter to either the Adjudication Track or the Case Management Track (more below). The Court at this stage will consider whether a Guardian needs to be appointed (likely to be a Cafcass Officer/Social Worker to represent your child/children’s best interest(s), whether there needs to be Fact-Finding Hearing (essentially a “mini-trial” where the Court will be asked to make a decision in relation to whether alleged incidents happened or not on the balance of probabilities), whether Statements need to be prepared and whether the author of the Child Impact Report needs to be in attendance at any listed hearing.

At this stage, even before you attend Court, if an agreement has been reached during the course of the Child Impact Report being prepared or if the Court takes the view that a Final Order should be made without you attending Court, the Court can make a Final Order just by looking at the papers.

Attending Court

If a Final Order cannot be made and you have to attend Court, the Court will make a decision at the second gatekeeping hearing in relation to whether the case should proceed via the Adjudication Track or the Case Management Track.

Adjudication Track:

If a decision is made to allocate to the Adjudication track, there will likely be a Determination Hearing where Court attendance is necessary. The Court dealing with your matter could make a Final Order on that day.

Case Management Track:

If a decision is made to allocate to the Case Management Track, there will likely be a filter hearing listed to deal with any allegations raised and a decision made in relation to whether a Fact-Finding Hearing is necessary. If a Fact-Finding Hearing is not necessary, a Final Hearing will be listed.

If a Fact-Finding Hearing is necessary and proportionate (the test that the Court has to consider), this will be listed 14 – 16 weeks after the initial application has been filed at Court. Once the Fact-Finding Hearing has taken place, the Final Hearing will be listed thereafter.

If a decision is made and the Fact-Finding Hearing is not necessary, the Final Hearing will be listed 12 – 14 weeks after the initial application has been filed at Court. The Court will then make a Final Order.

As such, the aim is to ensure that Children Act Proceedings are dealt with by the Court within 3 – 4 months of the initial application being filed at Court. Without the pathfinder process, Children Act Proceedings can take between 9 – 12 months if not a few years to conclude.

This is a new way of dealing with Children Act Proceedings and there is more emphasis on ensuring that your case is well prepared before your application is filed at Court. If you need guidance in relation to this new way of working, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist lawyers who are all up to speed with the new process and are able to advise and guide you through it.

T: 029 2034 2233

Author: Fay Jones

Published: 26.04.24