Background

The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Courts) are leading the way in helping families that have experienced family violence and other safety risks to navigate the family law system.

The Lighthouse Project has been recognised for the innovative way in which the Courts will screen for risk and for its focus on public health and improved outcomes for families in the family law system.

The Commonwealth Government announced that it will provide funding for a risk screening and triage pilot in the Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta registries of the Courts. The pilot is currently being implemented under the Lighthouse Project.

The Courts are committed to the protection of vulnerable parties and children in family law proceedings. The Lighthouse Project will play a central role in the Courts’ responses to cases which may involve family violence and determining the urgency and resources provided to such cases. It will improve the safety of litigants who may have experienced family violence and children who may have experienced associated risks such as child abuse.

Recommendations for the development of screening, risk assessment and a specialist list have been made multiple times since the Chisholm Report (2009). This pilot provides an interconnected process to achieve the recommendations. It will systematically screen new ‘parenting only matters’ for family safety risks on filing a parenting application in Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta, and provide litigants with safety planning and service referral.

About the project

The Lighthouse Project is the name given to the overarching project created to develop the pilot and its related processes.

The project will deliver numerous benefits to litigants and practitioners, including:

  • Better risk screening and early identification of at-risk clients.
  • Tailored court processes and support to those litigants experiencing family violence.
  • Easier access to justice.
  • Improved outcomes for litigants with more information available to the Court from the first stages.
  • Improved case management decisions leading to a reduction in the number of adjournments and court events required.
  • Opportunities to settle early through the use of alternative dispute resolution for suitable matters.

The pilot

Forming part of the Courts’ modernisation plan, the project has been assisted with funding from the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department and will be piloted initially in Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta. It is the Courts’ objective however, to secure additional funding to enable the project to be expanded nationally on an ongoing basis.

The Lighthouse Project Pilot involves:

  • Early risk screening through a secure online platform.
  • Early identification and management of safety concerns.
  • Cases are triaged and assessed by highly-specialised team that will direct resources and provide safe and suitable case management.
  • High risk cases to be referred to a dedicated court list – the Evatt List.

How does the Lighthouse Project Work?

Matters filed after the commencement date will be eligible for inclusion in the pilot.

  • Screening: When an Application or Response for parenting only orders is filed with the Courts, parties will be asked to complete a questionnaire via a confidential and secure platform known as Family DOORS Triage. This has been developed specifically for the Courts and can be completed from any device, PC, mobile or tablet. Responses to the questionnaire are confidential and are only used to assist for risk screening and to identify suitable case management to improve the safety and wellbeing for children and families.
  • Triage: A dedicated, specialised team will assess and direct cases into the most appropriate case management pathway based on the level of risk. The team is comprised of highly skilled registrars, family counsellors, and support staff with detailed knowledge in family violence and family safety risks. The team will triage matters and identify parties who may require additional support and safety measures.
  • Evatt List: A specialist court list developed and designed to assist families who have been identified as being at high risk of family violence and other safety concerns. The Evatt List focuses on early information gathering and intervention, through a judge-led support team. The team has specialised training and is experienced in working with families where high risk safety issues have been identified.

Information for lawyers and unrepresented litigants

The Courts, together with Women’s Legal Service, have partnered with state law societies and family law networks to deliver information and professional development sessions. The seminars are designed to ensure that the profession is well informed of the new initiatives and how they will impact on legal practice. Each session, supported by additional papers will cover:

  • The Lighthouse Project – background and policy, the pilot, triage and case management pathways
  • working with victim of family violence, and
  • working with perpetrators of family violence.

The sessions will commence from August and dates and times will be available on this page, and through local networks shortly.

Guidelines for lawyers and unrepresented litigants will be published before the commencement of the pilot.

Information for parties

Guidelines for parties will be published before the commencement of the pilot.

Next steps

The Courts are now focusing on:

  • testing Family DOORS Triage web based application, and finalising process manuals
  • finalising the process and procedural documents for Child Dispute Services, Registrars and support staff
  • training
  • Evatt List protocols and guidance, and
  • engaging with key stakeholders.

The Courts will provide further updates in the lead up to commencement of the project.

If you would like to contact the Courts about the Lighthouse Project, including to organise information sessions, please email LighthouseProject@federalcircuitcourt.gov.au.

If you would like to contact the Courts about the Lighthouse Project, including to organise information sessions, please email LighthouseProject@familycourt.gov.au.