Vulnerable parties in family law proceedings will have more support thanks to a new pilot program under the Lighthouse Project.
The program will allow the Family Court of Australia (the FCoA) and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the FCCoA) to screen matters for family safety risks, triage cases according to risk profile and create a specialist list of high risk matters.
Currently, the courts take a ‘telescope approach’ in which every case is treated the same way. The pilot program is designed to better match resources to risk.
It will be rolled out in the Adelaide, Brisbane and Paramatta Registries of the FCoA and FCCoA. At the moment, it only applies to ‘parenting only’ matters, which make up the majority of applications.
If successful, the program will be expanded nationally and to other family law applications, such as consent orders.
The pilot has three elements.
- A bespoke risk screen, known as DOORS Triage, through a secure online platform. Litigants who are filing or responding to a parenting only application will be asked to complete an online questionnaire. This will screen them for various risks including the potential for child or partner abuse, mental health issues and substance abuse.
- Triage and case management based on the identified level of risk. High risk cases will be contacted by a family counsellor to develop follow up assessments and develop safety and well being plans. Medium risk cases may also be offered safety planning and service referral, while low risk cases may be targeted for family dispute resolution.
- The ‘Evatt List’, a specialist list in the FCCoA, will be established to resolve high risk matters. Like the Magellan List in the FCoA, it will provide Judges with comprehensive information about the family, including records from state courts, child welfare authorities and police. If a case is on the Evatt List, it acts as a signal to the Judge that it is a high risk case which needs more insight into the circumstances and background of the case to help inform their decisions.
The pilot is part of a larger project named the Lighthouse Project. The aim is to provide guidance and support to families who are experiencing, or at risk of, family violence. The overall aims include:
- Better risk screening to identify at-risk clients early in the process
- Tailored court processes that offer more support to litigants who are experiencing family violence
- More information made available to the Court to improve case management decisions and outcomes for litigants
- Greater opportunities to settle early where appropriate, for example through alternative dispute resolution for low risk matters. This will free up court resources so that high risk matters can be resolved more quickly.