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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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    What do you say to a friend whose marriage is ending?

    Sometimes, when people admit that their marriage is unsustainable, for whatever reason, the reaction of family, friends, even strangers on the internet can be judgmental or pitying. However, what someone in this situation needs are words and actions of support and comfort, as well as professional and legal guidance.
    We are joined on the blog by Divorce Coach Rebecca Spittles, who explores her own experience of the initial stages of separation, and what to say to a friend whose marriage is ending.
    ‘“It’s a shame you couldn’t have just tried a bit harder…”
    Nothing hits harder when you have made the decision to leave. When will people understand that getting divorced is an absolute last resort?
    Contrary to popular belief, and in my experience both personally and professionally, no one actually wants to get divorced. Reaching the point of separation, especially when there are children in the mix, is the most gut wrenching, stomach turning, vomit-inducing feeling you could ever imagine if you’ve not been there.
    I don’t wish divorce on anyone. When I took my vows I took them for life, like my parents, my grandparents and all that surrounded me. I wanted that security and comfort that everyone seeks from marriage. Even simple things I was excited about, for example to have the same surname as my husband and then of my child. It was so, so important.
    Just imagine how it felt when I knew that no matter how hard I tried, the union I was in was not meant to be?
    My parents were amazing. On several occasions I came close to uttering the words separation and every time they would come up with some kind words and injected a bit more strength into me to keep going. Marriage isn’t easy.
    My sister was the best. Constantly encouraging me, being a sounding board but never once suggesting being apart was an option.
    The toughest part of my situation was that, in order for our relationship to be harmonious, one or both of us had to completely stifle their key personality traits. Not sustainable.
    Our opinions on every single little thing were different and it ended with one or both of us feeling sad or resentful or angry as there wasn’t space for compromise.
    Compromise. The word bandied around all the time when it comes to being in a relationship. What if compromise actually meant giving in? Taking on the view of the other person so that life could just about be normal? What if compromise was only one sided and the only way for the other person to ever be happy was to always do what they wanted?
    I made several huge changes. Gave up my brilliant job so I could be at home. Gave up financial independence and poured every penny into the joint account. I started asking to do things and to buy things and slowly I disappeared. But still there was no happiness.
    After 2 long years following the birth of our daughter I asked for a separation. The answer was ‘No’. Clearly, I ‘didn’t care about my marriage’. I did. I wanted it more than I have ever wanted anything in my life to work but I was empty. Nothing left.
    In the end, two days after New Years Eve, I left after a huge row (something I learned is never the best way to leave).
    I picked up our daughter and stepped out of the front door and I will always remember the feeling of this being ‘it’. We were completely over. I drove to my parents with a sleeping toddler, arrived and cried. I cried and cried.
    Eventually he moved out to his Mum’s temporarily so that I could come home with our daughter and work, and she could have contact with her Dad.
    I am writing this so that next time someone utters the words ‘I want to leave my husband/wife’ just listen. Ask why, not so you can tell her why they should stay but so that you can understand quite how far they have come to be able to say this out loud.
    If you’ve been through it, please, please offer comfort, what they don’t need is the gore of your breakup or divorce. There is plenty of time for that later!
    Share your emotion and empathise because you more than many truly know where they are at.
    Finally, for all of us sat with the friend who says their relationship is over, just help. They will be a wreck for a while to come, from being so strong to being a crying mess on the floor. An angry confused teenager-esque stage will rear its ugly head at some point along with bitterness and probably a fair bit of drunkenness.
    Just be there for them. They will come out the other side. They will never be the same again, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.’
    Rebecca Spittles is a Divorce Coach providing personalised emotional and practical support and coaching to help individuals navigate their divorce or separation.
     You can find out more about Rebecca on her website or via her LinkedIn. 
    Useful links
    My partner’s a good person but I’m not happy
    When ‘I do’ becomes ‘I don’t’: Navigating the path to divorce and what to do next
    What to do if you think your marriage is over

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    What happens to the children if me and my ex want to live in two different countries?

    By now, most of us will have seen the stories circulating about Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner’s divorce. Whilst some parts are reportedly fairly straightforward, like their watertight prenup, it seems there may be some contentious issues regarding their two daughters and child custody battles.
    Seemingly, the young girls have had their official residence in England, the home of Turner, their mother. However, they are currently living in the United States with Jonas and the couple, after some back-and-forth, including a claim of ‘wrongful detention’ and child abduction, have decided to temporarily keep the children in New York. Child custody battles over the country of habitual residence can be extremely stressful for both parents and children.
    Although this may seem like a dispute only the super-wealthy and celebrities have, divorce cases involving children and two different jurisdictions do happen and child abduction in the context of divorce is more common than we may realise.
    Removing a child or children from the jurisdiction (i.e. from England or Wales) without the permission of the Court or the other parent, if there is a Child Arrangements Order or Residence Order in place, is known as international abduction. Sadly, international abduction is becoming increasingly common.
    Parental Child Abduction is where a parent or guardian of a child takes them out of their country of habitual residence – where they normally live – without the permission of others with parental responsibility or the courts.
    If you plan to move away, particularly abroad, after separating from your partner, it is best that this is agreed with your ex before any changes take place to prevent difficulties arising and potentially contentious and costly court proceedings. Mediation can assist in resolving these disputes and keeping the parents relationship amicable, which is in the children’s best interests.
    You can reach an agreement without using a divorce lawyer, but this agreement will not be legally binding should disputes arise down the line. However, for a legally binding document, you will need to obtain a child arrangements order and you should seek legal advice.
    Adding an international element to the situation throws a further spanner in the works as you as parents, or the Court should proceedings go down this route, will need to decide which country is going to be the habitual residence of the children and therefore where the children will live.
    Child custody battles in divorce can be exceptionally complicated, especially when habitual residence comes into play. However, there are laws in place that protect the children, and the child/ren’s wellbeing, along with the arrangements that will be in the children’s best interests, will be the ultimate focus of the family court.
    Whilst the drama of a celebrity divorce such as Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas’ can seem intense and sometimes overly acrimonious, what is going on behind the scenes is legally difficult as well as being a highly emotionally charged subject.
    Where the children should live if the parents are wanting to split to different countries is usually decided by the court (if the parents cannot agree), but further obstacles can arise with which country’s legal system should make the decision which may be the case for Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas’ girls given that they are currently staying in New York.
    It is essential if you find yourself in a multi-jurisdictional dispute, i.e. child custody battles across two different countries, that you seek professional advice from a lawyer in all jurisdictions concerned to ensure the enforceability of any order made. Our lawyers at Stowe are experts in tricky child cases and will be able to support you, and your children, through your unique situation.
    Useful Links
    Changing a Child Arrangements Order
    Bristol Break Up Club: Will divorce damage my children?
    Co-parenting calmly
    Supporting children through divorce More

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    Separating after the summer holidays

    The long six weeks summer holiday are finally coming to an end. The uniform has been bought, school shoes polished, new bags lined up in the hallway.
    September is a time for new beginnings, as the school year starts and children go into new classes, or even new schools.
    The start of the school year can be a turning point in relationships, as many who have put up with their spouse throughout the long holidays reach the end of their tether and start to investigate divorce proceedings.
    As divorce lawyers, we often see a rise in people enquiring about divorcing their partner as soon as the kids return to school.
    Looking at these in relation to the summer months, there is a lull as couples and families go on holiday and try to enjoy the (hopefully) nicer weather. August tends to be a quieter month for family lawyers.
    After the summer holidays, money troubles can raise their heads – and this is especially poignant in the difficult economic climate. Not only this, but spending extended periods of time together can expose the cracks in the relationship. Just think back to the surge in divorces after the pandemic lockdowns!
    So, if you are thinking about separating after the summer holidays, what are the next steps?
    Getting a divorce
    Although much of the initial divorce process can be completed online, it is important to seek specialist legal advice, particularly when it comes to your finances.
    The first stage of the divorce process is to complete a divorce application by filling in a Form D8 online or by post. Following this, you will have a 20-week cooling off period before you can apply for the conditional order.
    After another 6 weeks, you can apply to have the final order granted, legally dissolving your marriage. However, this does not automatically break the financial ties you and your ex-spouse had within your marriage.
    Financial settlements
    Money and assets must be dealt with in their own right during the divorce process, otherwise you can remain financially tied to your ex-spouse as financial obligations are not automatically ended when you get divorced. A consent order must be in place to ensure the settlement is final and enforceable.
    Financial settlements can get complicated, which is why we have a network of Financial Advisers, pension, property and budget experts and accountants on hand to support you.
    What about the children?
    The divorce process can be a huge upheaval for children. School and other regular activities provide routine and a sense of security, so keeping this as central is vital for mitigating feelings of displacement and anxiety.
    A poorly managed divorce can have long-term impacts on children, potentially causing separation anxiety in younger children, or resentment and distancing for older children.
    There is professional and legal support available for parents dealing with children, whether infants or teens, and for the children themselves. Information on how to manage children during a divorce can be found here.
    Divorce coaches are very helpful when it comes to dealing with emotional and practical decisions, and expert legal advice should be sought when thinking about child arrangement orders.
    Divorce can be scary, so we have specialist lawyers and professionals to help you every step of the way. Please seek help to support you through this journey.
    Useful links
    Watch Stowe talks – Beginners guide to divorce
    Financial Settlement FAQs
    Avoiding Financial Mistakes
    Helping your children understand your divorce
    Impact of conflict during divorce on children More