04 January 2024

Following a review of family courts, it was found that an adversarial approach often worsened conflict between parents and could have a damaging effect on domestic abuse victims and children. As a result, a pilot was launched in two Court areas in England & Wales, with the aim of recognising the impact of domestic abuse within the court process.

The Ministry of Justice’s expert panel produced a ‘Harm Report’, which recommended a more investigative approach in domestic abuse cases.

We are lucky enough to be within the area of one of the pilot Pathfinder courts, Dorset. Since March 2022 the family courts in Bournemouth and Weymouth have been piloting an investigative and problem-solving approach to private law proceedings, with focus on improving the court responses to domestic abuse and enhancing the voice of the child within the court proceedings. Focus is on the impact of adult behaviours on children, which is a powerful way of getting parents to stop focusing on each other and to focus on the children.

The aim of the court is to take an investigative, multi-agency and problem solving approach. This is done by sharing information between the court, local authority, police and agencies specialising in domestic abuse and mediation.

By considering the issues in the case early on, CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service) can identify whether the family might benefit from early out of court dispute resolution. They frontload engagement with the parents before stepping foot in the courtroom and if appropriate, will engage with the child directly at this early stage.

These pilot courts promote a less adversarial approach to proceedings to minimise confrontation in the courtroom and emphasise addressing the allegations of domestic abuse and other harmful behaviours at the outset. A Child Impact Report will be prepared and discussed with the parents and the child. CAFCASS will feed back to the parents on the views of the child, giving time for reflection and discussing the likely recommendation that is to be made to the court.

It is hoped that this approach whilst better addressing the issues in the case, will also mean that less cases will inevitably end up in Court, thereby potentially protecting parents (and children) from what can be a damaging process.

If the pilots in Dorset and North Wales are successful there could be more Pathfinder courts across England & Wales revolutionising the family justice system with agencies working together for successful outcomes for children.

For more information contact Lesley Powell on 01935 846089 or email