Commencing on Monday, 28 November 2022, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) has made a number of amendments to the management of family violence and other family safety risk cases. At the forefront of these changes was the expansion of the Lighthouse Model which aims to strengthen the provisions contained under the current Lighthouse Project, which came into effect in December 2020. These changes will improve outcomes for families who are involved in the family law system through identifying and addressing family violence risk factors.
The changes made under the expanded model include:
- Family violence and trauma training for Judges, Registrars and Court Child Experts
- Mandatory filing of a Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk in every parenting proceeding
- A digital transformation that enables vulnerable and regional litigants to access justice from their homes and/or other safe environments
- A clear and consistent case management pathway targeted towards early resolution
- Cases to be triaged at the earliest stage
Through the expansion, the FCFCOA have amended the risk screening process. This change involves the courts requesting parties who have filed Initiating applications seeking parenting only or parenting/financial orders on or after 28 November 2022 to complete a risk screening questionnaire, called the Family DOORS Triage. This questionnaire will allow the courts to gauge a party’s exposure to harm by considering a range of factors including mental health issues, drug use and alcohol misuse. The FCFCOA will then use these confidential responses to develop a case-specific action-plan, aimed at prioritising the safety of families engaged in the Court process.
It is worth noting that while children are not able to participate directly in the screening process, the questionnaire includes questions regarding the safety and/or risks exposed to children involved.
The Evatt List
The Evatt List is the name given to the Court’s specialist list for matters considered to be of the highest risk, particularly cases involving family violence. The list ensures that high priority matters are processed through the court as efficiently and effectively as possible. Matters will be eligible to be placed on the Evatt List where the application is for ‘parenting’ orders or ‘parenting and financial’ orders only.
For a matter to be placed on the Evatt List, one party must have:
- Completed the online risk screening questionnaire; and
- Been classed as high risk during the triage and screening process, including a review by a Triage Counsellor
The expansion of the model will mean the Evatt list is available in 15 family law registries, an increase from the three introduced during the pilot period.
Research conducted before the implementation of the Lighthouse Model showed that 60% of parties who completed the screening process were classified as high risk. An additional, 76% of parties reported having experienced family violence.
Therefore, a key objective of these reforms is to identify high risk parties and provide them tailored support and resources to safeguard against violence and other risks.
The Lighthouse Model Expansion ultimately provides an opportunity for the courts to provide greater support and protection to parties being processed through the family court system and who have been exposed to family violence. The amendments are also targeted towards delivering services in a timely and appropriate manner.