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    Transparency Pilot expanded to include private family law cases

    The Transparency pilot in a select number of family courts has been extended to now allow accredited journalists and legal bloggers to report on what they see and hear in private law cases, including children matters. This is another significant step in enhancing transparency within the family justice system and building trust and confidence.

    Background to the pilot
    The pilot was originally launched by the Family Division’s Transparency Implementation Group in January 2023, initially in three courts, Leeds, Cardiff and Carlisle. The media were able to report on certain public law cases, within specific regulations and under anonymity rules. In January 2024, after a ‘pioneering year of reporting’, the scheme was extended to sixteen further courts, including Liverpool, Milton Keynes and Dorset. In addition, private law cases were opened to the media in the original three courts.
    The Transparency Pilot aims to improve trust in the court system, and by encouraging journalists to witness cases, the hope was that journalists would use their rights to raise public awareness of the workings of the family courts.
    Although there have been concerns about the potential discomfort the presence of journalists could cause to families going through a court case, the pilot is being carefully monitored by the Transparency Implementation Group, with strict anonymity rules.
    The pilot has already seen significant successes and coverage, including a mini-series on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, the Press Association, BBC news, the Sunday Times, and the Guardian, to name just a few. In after the first year, President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane hailed the pilot as a ‘pioneering year of reporting’.
    Extension July 2024
    As of 15th July 2024, the pilot has been extended to now allow reporters access to private law cases, including children matters, in the latter sixteen courts. The control measures remain in place, and reporting is at the judge’s discretion, and if permitted, will be under a Transparency Order, protecting families and specifically children.
    The judiciary is committed to fostering a better understanding of the family justice system and improving confidence in it. The pilot aims to provide insight into the handling of public and private law cases, considering that one of the biggest barriers to people seeking legal help is the misinformation around court and legal processes. More

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    Changes to Family Procedure Rules

    From 29th April 2024 there will be changes to the Family Procedure Rules (FPR). The current rules have been in place since 2010 and are being updated to place greater expectation on courts, family practitioners and families going through breakdown to use non-court-based methods to resolve financial and children matters.
    What are the FPR?
    The Family Procedure rules govern the process and procedures used in the family court system in England and Wales. They are governed by a committee, the Family Procedure Rule Committee.
    The Rules provide practice directions – essentially how the family courts should run, the powers the Judge has, forms, documentation, etc. They standardise court procedures and practice across England and Wales.
    What are the changes?
    The FPR are being updated to include a new, wider definition of non-court dispute resolution (NCDR). Previously, this has focused on mediation, but will be extended to encompass methods such as collaborative divorce, arbitration, and private financial dispute resolutions.
    The main thing divorcing couples will need to be aware of is that they will now need to set out their views on NCDR in open correspondence, alongside a signed statement of truth. They will be asked to genuinely consider out-of-court methods.
    A failure to engage with NCDR without good reason (for example, the case involves domestic abuse), will likely have cost sanctions, and may affect who pays the litigation fees in financial dispute cases.
    Circumstances that qualified for mediation exemption will also be narrowed.
    Courts will also have the power to adjourn proceedings if the Judge feels that NCDR would be appropriate, allowing time for the couple to engage in a form of NCDR. This can now happen whether the couple agrees to it or not.
    These changes will mean a considerable cultural shift, helping couples explore ways of resolving their disputes without going to court.
    The aims are:

    Support amicable dispute resolution
    Support the wellbeing of children by keeping matters out of court
    To relieve pressure on the courts

    What options are there for non-court dispute resolution (NCDR)?
    Divorce is rarely straightforward, and no two cases are the same. Your solicitor will be able to explore your options of NCDR with you at your first consultation to see which, if any, will be appropriate in your unique case.
    Some examples of NCDR include:

    What does this mean for me going through a divorce?
    The key thing to be aware of is that you will no longer be able to simply tick a box to say that mediation is not appropriate for your case. Where NCDR is not possible, you will need to explain to the court why this is.
    Failure to engage in NCDR without a valid reason will likely come with cost sanctions.
    This is part of a wider drive by the Ministry of Justice to support families going through relationship breakdown by ensuring they are fully informed of the options available to them and supported throughout the process.
    Useful Links
    Court Fees Rising May 2024
    A Guide to Financial Dispute Resolution More

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    Family Court Fees to Rise

    The Family Court fees are expected to rise soon, as a result of the Government’s proposal that court fees should increase by up to 10% in 2024. It is anticipated that these changes will happen in April 2024.
    The Ministry of Justice has stated that ‘implementing increases to court and tribunal fees is vital to our ongoing work to protect access to the courts for all those who seek justice.’
    The aim is to ensure that the courts can be properly resourced, as the increases will generate between £34 million and £42 million a year.
    Court fees have not increased since 2021, and the incoming change is to ensure that the courts can keep pace with increased costs, as well as improving service and reduce the taxpayer’s costs. The increased income will also support in subsidising the cost of the free services offered by the family courts.
    Prospective changes will include changes to the cost of getting a divorce or civil partnership dissolution, as well as price increases for child arrangements orders, financial orders that are not by consent, and applications for parental orders.
    Below we break down the changes.
    When the changes come in, the cost of a divorce/civil partnership dissolution application is set to rise from £593 to £652.
    Child arrangements orders will also see an increase in cost, rising from £232 to £255. Child arrangements orders are put in place by the court to set out responsibilities regarding children, including their living arrangements and their contact with both parents.
    Other children issues will also see the same cost increase, including orders such as Specific Issue Orders, Prohibited Steps Orders and Special Guardianship Orders, as well as applications for parental orders.
    The cost of an application for adoption, or permission to apply for adoption will rise from £183 to £201.
    A financial order application, not by consent, will see a cost rise from £275 to £303.
    In addition, financial consent orders are set to rise from £53 to £58.
    The Government website has a full breakdown of all the fee changes. More

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    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. More

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    A Guide to Prohibited Steps Orders

    The breakup of a family can be a time of heightened emotions and in some cases, it may be necessary for the family court to enforce legal structures to prevent problems in relation to child arrangements.
    One example of this is a Prohibited Steps Order (PSO), which is sometimes used in acrimonious cases where the welfare of the separated couple’s child may be at risk.
    Stowe Family Law Paralegal, Becka Headley explores what they are, how they work, and how best to navigate them.
    What is a Prohibited Steps Order?
    A Prohibited Steps Order is a legally binding order that prohibits someone from exercising some elements of their parental responsibility. Where a Prohibited Steps Order has been put in place, the person against whom the order has been made must have the court’s permission before doing something set out in the order that would usually be done by a parent.
    They are usually used in cases where parents have separated, although the order does not have to be made against a parent, just someone with parental responsibility.
    Who can apply for a PSO?
    The following people have an automatic right to apply for a Prohibited Steps Order in relation to a child:

    Any parent, guardian or special guardian of the child
    Anyone who is named in a Child Arrangements Order which is in force in respect to that child, which states that the child is to live with them
    Anyone else who holds parental responsibility for the child.

    Any other party who wishes to apply for a Prohibited Steps Order will firstly need to apply for permission from the court before doing so.
    How can I apply for a PSO?
    You can make an application to the court for a Prohibited Steps Order by completing Form C100 and submitting this to the Family Court local to where the child lives. There is a fee of £232 for submitting this application to the court. Your application will then be issued by the court and listed for a hearing to consider application.
    If you do not have automatic permission to apply for the Prohibited Steps Order, you will firstly need to make an application for permission. This can be done on Form C100 also, with a cost of £232, to the Family Court local to where the child lives. A hearing may be required for the court to determine if permission is granted. If and when the court grant you permission to apply for the order, you can then proceed to apply for the Prohibited Steps Order as above.
    It is possible to apply for an Emergency PSO. These are often made in a ‘without notice’ hearing, where the other party is not aware of the application. There does need to be evidence that an emergency order is needed and that the welfare of the child is at risk.
    What can a Prohibited Steps Order cover?
    Prohibited Steps Orders can cover a wide range of prohibited actions, which prevents someone from carrying out an action which they would usually be allowed to do as a parent. For example:

    Changing or removing the child from school
    Changing the child’s surname
    Changing the child’s GP
    Consenting to the child undergoing a medical treatment
    Relocating a child within the UK or overseas
    Prohibiting the child from seeing a specific person

    The time for which the Prohibited Steps Order lasts can vary from case to case. It will usually remain in force until further notice, although it will automatically end on the child’s 18th birthday.  The court will impose a duration which they feel is in the best interests of the child, which can range from one month to several years.
    Can a Prohibited Steps Order be overturned or lifted?
    A Prohibited Steps Order can be over-turned; however the court will not do so if removing the order may negatively effect the child. The court’s first priority is the wellbeing of the child.
    A Prohibited Steps Order can be lifted if the parties reach an agreement that it should be. In these circumstances, the person who initially made the application for the Prohibited Steps Order can request that the court lift the order. Before lifting the order, the court will consider whether this is in the child’s best interests.
    What happens if a Prohibited Steps Order is breached?
    A Prohibited Steps Order is a legally binding and enforceable court order. Therefore, if a person breaks the order, they will be in contempt of court. This offence is punishable by imprisonment, fines and/or unpaid work.
    If breach of the order is found to be justified as it was in the best interests of the child, the court may reduce the penalty for the breach, or there may be no penalty at all.
    Useful Links
    What the family court expects from parents
    Can my ex stop me moving away with the children?
    My ex and I can’t agree on our child’s school
    Supporting children through divorce: Listen on Spotify
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    Divorce rates fall by 30%

    Divorce rates have fallen by 30% according to the Official for National Statistics (ONS).
    ONS statistics released this morning have revealed that the number of divorces granted in 2022 fell by 29.5% to 80,057, in comparison to the previous year’s 113,505 divorces. This is the lowest number since 1971.
    Family lawyers have widely been anticipating an increase in divorce rates and enquiries. Whilst the statistics have come as a surprise, it is not so surprising when examining the impact of various factors which have caused such a significant decrease in divorce rates.
    The introduction of no-fault divorce in April 2022 is likely to have had a significant impact on the overall divorces granted. Although some couples were waiting for no-fault to be introduced, which removed the need to attribute blame, to proceed with their divorce and there was a surge in enquiries at this point, no fault divorce introduced mandatory waiting periods. It is likely that these extended periods meant that fewer divorces were actually granted in 2022.
    In addition, the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that 2021 saw a 9.6% increase in the number of divorces on 2020’s figures. The pandemic caused significant disruption to the family courts, meaning fewer divorces were processed that year. However, whilst the pandemic and lockdowns continued through 2021, the family justice system introduced remote hearings and more divorces were granted. Thus, in comparison to 2022, it is possible that this was artificial inflation caused by a surge in 2021.
    However, the drop in rates in 2022 is so dramatic in comparison to both 2021 and 2020 figures that this cannot be explanation on its own.
    The impact of the cost-of-living crisis is being cited as a key reason for the downward turn as many couples who were wanting to separate postpone their divorce for cost reasons. As gas and electricity prices soared, food, bills and housing all increased and money did not, and has continued to not, stretch as far. Worries over future finances and going from a dual income household to a single income household was at the forefront of many couples’ minds.
    Here at Stowe Family Law, we conducted a survey on the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on relationships. 30% of respondents said that they were staying in their current relationship because of fears they could not afford to live alone.
    In addition to these factors, ONS reported last month that marriage rates in England and Wales had fallen below 50% for the first time since comparable records began. Only 49.4% of adults over 16 were reported to be married or in a civil partnership in 2022. This has direct links to the number of divorces as without marriage there can be no divorce.
    Family lawyers will be interested to see over the coming years whether the decrease in divorce rates is an ongoing trend, or whether they are a direct result of the economic and social factors of the last few years.
    Useful Links
    Can I afford to divorce my partner?
    The rise in birdnesting after divorce
    What happens to the family home?
    Client Guide: Divorcing during the cost of living crisis

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    Stowe Talks How To: Part 2

    Stowe Talks How To
    Our next instalment of our Stowe Talks How To videos are now freely available to watch.
    To recap, these videos are guides for some of the key aspects of the divorce process, so you can be taken through step-by-step accompanied by our expert lawyers.
    We know that divorce can be overwhelming and stressful at times, which is why we have produced these practical videos and accompanying guides for you to download for free.
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    The supporting guides can be found here.
    A full playlist of all the Stowe Talks How To videos can be found here.
    Other Useful Links
    Introducing Stowe Talks How To
    Stowe Support – a huge range of free resources (blogs, guides, podcasts etc) covering all matters family law including divorce, child arrangements, unmarried couples, finances, and much more besides. More

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    January Stowe Support roundup

    Stowe Support is a dedicated home for Stowe’s free resources designed to help inform and support anyone with family law concerns.
    With new blogs, guides, podcasts, videos and events shared each month, here’s a handy Stowe Support roundup from the past month in case you missed anything.
    Latest blogs from Stowe
    What is in store for family law in 2024?
    The Importance of Pensions in Divorce
    Thinking about divorce this ‘Divorce Day’?
    Navigating the path to divorce and what to do next
    Expansion of Family Court Transparency Pilot to 16 more courts
    Dissolution and Divorce – What’s the Difference?
    Navigate the Complexities of Separation and Divorce with Family Mediation
    Marriage Rates Fall Below 50% in England and Wales
    A Guide to Financial Dispute Resolution
    Platonic Co-Parenting – Can I really have a baby with my friend?
    Watch our recent webinars
    The Break-up Club: Building a new life after divorce
    Stowe talks: Making your money go further after divorce
    Listen to the latest Stowe talks podcasts on Spotify
    Stowe talks 26: The unique challenges of a relationship break down in the LGBTQIA+ community
    Stowe talks 27: Creating financial wellbeing following a divorce or separation
    Stowe talks 28: How to prepare for your financial settlement in divorce
    Watch ‘Stowe talks: How to’ guides
    Stowe talks: How to get divorced online
    Stowe talks: How to pull together information for a financial settlement
    Stowe talks: How to obtain a financial consent order
    Stowe talks: How to represent yourself in court
    Stowe Support
    To explore our full range of resources dedicated to helping people with family law matters, visit Stowe Support.
    Here you’ll find a wealth of helpful guides, videos and blogs on divorce and separation, finances, children, domestic abuse, cohabitation, alternative parenting, mediation, as well as support with relationships and wellness More