Lighthouse overview

lighthouse

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the Courts) are committed to the protection of vulnerable parties and children in family law proceedings. 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 model plays a central role in the Court’s response to cases which may involve risk relating to family violence, mental health, drug and alcohol misuse and child abuse and neglect, by shaping the allocation of resources and urgency given to such cases. 

The Lighthouse model is an innovative approach taken by the Courts to screen for and manage risk, with a primary focus on improving outcomes for families involved in the family law system.

The Lighthouse model was initially piloted in the Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta family law registries, and has now been expanded to include all 15 family law registries for parenting and parenting and financial cases, as follows: Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Dandenong, Darwin, Hobart, Launceston, Melbourne, Newcastle, Parramatta, Rockhampton, Sydney, Townsville and Wollongong.

The Lighthouse model focuses on identification of risk factors and safety through:

  1. Risk Screening: Parties filing an eligible Initiating Application or Response, will be asked to complete the Family DOORS Triage risk screen via a confidential and secure online platform. This has been developed specifically for the Courts and can be completed safely and conveniently from any device; computer, mobile phone or tablet. Assistance to facilitate the screening process can also be provided by the Lighthouse Team.
  2.  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 made up of highly skilled Judicial Registrars, Triage Counsellors (acting in the role of Family Counsellor), 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. This may include online referrals or interviews with those most at risk.
  3. Case Management: Those matters with the highest levels of risk will be referred to be placed on the Evatt List, the specialist court list developed and designed to assist those families that 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 from the very commencement of proceedings. The team, including Judges, Senior Judicial Registrars and Judicial Registrars, has specialised training and is experienced in working with families where high risk safety issues have been identified. Lower risk cases will be considered for a range of case management pathways, including dispute resolution, in accordance with the level of risk and the Central Practice Direction – Family Law Case Management.

More information can be found in the Information for Parties and Information for Practitioners.

What is the Family DOORS Triage?

Family DOORS Triage is a risk screen. Risk screening refers to the process taken to identify the likelihood of harm or exposure to a type of harm experienced by a party or child in family law proceedings. This process involves completing the online risk screening questionnaire called the Family DOORS Triage.

The Family DOORS Triage1  risk screening process has been specifically developed for use in the Courts. The process considers a range of safety risks that frequently arise in family law proceedings including family violence, mental health issues, child abuse or neglect, and drug or alcohol misuse. A highly skilled team, including Triage Counsellors, will review the risks identified and will triage matters based on the level of risk identified.

How are matters risk screened?

You will be invited to complete the questionnaire when you file an Initiating Application or Response with the Court seeking orders relating to children, such as parenting only orders, or parenting and financial orders.

The questionnaire will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete. All of the questions seek a yes or no answer and do not require any specific detail or examples. The other party will not be able to see your answers. Your answers cannot be used as evidence in your matter or used against you by the other party.


Footnote

1 The DOORS Triage Tool, McIntosh, J.E. 2020, Revised 2022 with contributions by Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA).

What happens once I fill in the questionnaire?

A member of the Lighthouse Team will view the answers to your completed risk screen to assist in triaging your case according to risk. In some cases, a Triage Counsellor will be allocated to undertake further review and assessment of the risk identified. Other parties in your case will not be provided with your answers. The Judge, Senior Judicial Registrar, Judicial Registrar or other judicial officer presiding over your case will not be able to see your answers.

The answers to the risk screening questionnaire will assist the Court in deciding the best case management pathway for your case. How your case is triaged is based on the level of risk identified:

  • If your case is assessed as high risk, it will be referred to a Triage Counsellor for immediate action, which may also include a telephone interview, as required. The Triage Counsellor will provide a tailored, clinical follow up which includes a detailed risk assessment, safety and wellbeing plans and service referrals. This entire process is confidential. Your case may be referred to a Judicial Registrar to be placed on the Evatt List.
  • If your case is assessed as medium or lower risk, you will be offered safety planning and service referrals as part of the secure online process. These cases will be considered for a range of case management options, including Family Dispute Resolution, and directed to a suitable pathway based on the individual needs of the case.

Parties filing Initiating Applications or Responses seeking parenting only or parenting and financial orders in the Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Dandenong, Darwin, Hobart, Launceston, Melbourne, Newcastle, Parramatta, Rockhampton, Sydney, Townsville and Wollongong family law registries after the date of commencement of the Lighthouse model,  will be asked to complete a risk screen questionnaire, called the Family DOORS Triage.

Encouraging your client to complete the questionnaire at the earliest opportunity will assist the Court in placing the matter onto the most appropriate case management pathway and provide the litigant with the opportunity to receive safety planning and service referral to address any risk issues.

Filling out the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire

Parties filing or responding to a family law parenting only or parenting and financial application will be asked to complete the Family DOORS Triage risk screening questionnaire upon filing their Court documents. A link to the questionnaire together with a unique access code will be emailed to the parties. The platform for completing the questionnaire is secure and can be accessed safely and conveniently using a computer, mobile phone or tablet.

Legislative framework

Part IIA of the Family Law Act 1975 prevents the disclosure and admission into evidence, of information that is in connection with a family safety risk screening process carried out by the Court in relation to a party to proceedings under the Act. This part provides that:

  • a party cannot be asked to disclose whether or not they undertook risk screening
  • the risk screen responses, classification and referrals as a result of the screening process cannot be used as evidence in a proceeding, and
  • information shared or provided by a party to a Triage Counsellor (acting in the role of a family counsellor) in the course of conducting risk screening cannot be disclosed, or used as evidence.

The confidentiality and admissibility provisions (ss 10U and 10V Family Law Act 1975) are intended to ensure that a ‘family safety risk screening person’, including an officer of the court or Triage Counsellor (acting in the role of family counsellor), cannot be compelled to disclose risk screening information, including to state or territory agencies, or in the context of proceedings in state or territory courts or tribunals. These provisions ensure that parties are able to freely and confidently participate in the family safety risk screening process, without fear that the information they provide may be used against them in other contexts.

Exceptions to disclosure are contained in s 10U(6) Family Law Act 1975.

Contacting parties for risk screening

Parties and their lawyers are requested to ensure that the party’s personal email address is provided to the Court in the following ways:

  • Both represented and unrepresented parties can provide their email address when prompted in the course of uploading their Initiating Application or Response on the Commonwealth Courts Portal;
  • Where parties are represented and have not previously provided their email address, lawyers will be contacted by the Lighthouse Team to request their client’s personal details for the purpose of risk screening via an online form

Please note, the email address will only be used for the purposes of risk screening to ensure litigants are emailed a direct link to the questionnaire together with a unique access code after their Court documents are accepted for filing. The Court will otherwise continue to contact the lawyer on record.

The Evatt List

Where at least one party has completed the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire, returned a high risk assessment, and  a clinical review by a Triage Counsellor has been completed, the matter will be referred to an Evatt Judicial Registrar who will consider whether to place the matter on the Evatt List in accordance with Family Law Practice Direction – Evatt List. The Evatt List is a specialised list developed to ensure that families who are the most vulnerable are provided with appropriate resources and support to ensure their safety and wellbeing.

Matters which are not eligible for the Evatt List include:

  • cases involving only financial and/or property orders
  • child support only cases
  • child maintenance only cases, or
  • contravention applications.

When communicating with the registry about an Evatt List case, lawyers should make any requests in writing by:

  • eFiling the request as ‘correspondence’ on the Commonwealth Courts Portal, and
  • emailing the Court, copying in all other parties to the proceeding, confirming that the request has been eFiled.

When emailing the Court in an Evatt List case, it is expected that a party will:

  • address the email to the Evatt Judicial Registrar’s case manager email and not to the Judicial Registrar directly
  • clearly state the Court's file number, names of relevant parties and any Court dates in the subject heading
  • provide a clear description of any attached documents in the body of the email, and
  • copy the message to all other parties (if applicable).

For more information see the Evatt List, the Guide for Practitioners in the Evatt List and Communicating with chambers.

Filling out the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire

You will receive a link from the Court asking you to fill out an online questionnaire which is designed to identify multiple risk factors. The questionnaire will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Any answer you provide in the questionnaire is confidential and cannot be used in Court as evidence. Your answers will not be seen by other parties to the proceedings or by the Court.

Ensure you are in a safe space before clicking the link to the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire on your tablet, computer or mobile phone. If you are interrupted or do not have time to complete the screen in one sitting, you can save your answers and return to the screen at a later stage. As the questionnaire is designed to be completed from an individual party’s perspective, it is important that only you answer and complete the questionnaire. The questionnaire is not to be completed by a legal representative.

The link to the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire will expire after ten (10) days. If you have any issues accessing the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire, or if your access code has expired, please contact the Lighthouse Team via email at Lighthouse@fcfcoa.gov.au.

For information in your language see: Information sheet for parties - risk screening - Translated versions

Legislative framework

Part IIA of the Family Law Act 1975 prevents the disclosure and admission into evidence of information that is in connection with a family safety risk screening process carried out by the Court in relation to a party to proceedings under the Act.

This part provides that:

  • a party cannot be asked to disclose whether or not they undertook risk screening
  • the risk screen responses, classification and referrals as a result of the screening process cannot be used as evidence in a proceeding, and
  • information shared or provided by a party to a Triage Counsellor (acting in the role of a family counsellor)  in the course of conducting risk screening cannot be disclosed, or used as evidence.

The confidentiality and admissibility provisions (ss 10U and 10V Family Law Act 1975) are intended to ensure that a ‘family safety risk screening person’, including an officer of the Court or Triage Counsellor (acting in the role family counsellor), cannot be compelled to disclose risk screening information, including to state or territory agencies, or in the context of proceedings in state or territory courts or tribunals. These provisions ensure that parties are able to freely and confidently participate in the family safety risk screening process, without fear that the information they provide may be used against them in other contexts.

Exceptions to disclosure are contained in s 10U(6) Family Law Act.

Filling out the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire

You will receive a link from the Courts asking you to fill out an online questionnaire which will identify multiple risk factors in a short amount of time. The questionnaire will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Any answer you provide in the questionnaire is confidential and cannot be used in Court as evidence. Your answers will not be seen by other parties in the proceeding or by the Court.

Ensure you are in a safe space before clicking the link to the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire on your tablet, computer or mobile phone. If you are interrupted or do not have time to complete the screen in one sitting, you can save your answers and return to the screen at a later stage.

The link provided to you for the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire will expire after ten days. If you have any issues accessing the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire, or if you would like another link sent to you, please contact the National Enquiry Centre on 1300 352 000.

For information in your language see: Information sheet for parties - risk screening - Translated versions

The Evatt List

Where at least one party has completed the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire, returned a high risk assessment, and  a clinical review by a Triage Counsellor has been completed, the matter will be referred to an Evatt Judicial Registrar who will consider whether to place the matter on the Evatt List in accordance with Family Law Practice Direction – Evatt List. The Evatt List is a specialised list developed to ensure that families who are the most vulnerable are provided with appropriate resources and support to ensure their safety and wellbeing.

For more information see the Evatt List, the Guide for Parties in the Evatt List  and Communicating with chambers.

Legislative framework

Part IIA of the Family Law Act 1975 prevents the disclosure and admission into evidence of information that is in connection with a family safety risk screening process carried out by the Court in relation to a party to proceedings under the Act.

This part provides that:

  • a party cannot be asked to disclose whether or not they undertook risk screening
  • the risk screen responses, classification and referrals as a result of the screening process cannot be used as evidence in a proceeding, and
  • information shared or provided by a party to a Triage Counsellor (acting in the role of a family counsellor) in the course of conducting risk screening cannot be disclosed, or used as evidence.

The confidentiality and admissibility provisions (ss 10U and 10V Family Law Act 1975) are intended to ensure that a 'family safety risk screening person', including an officer of the Court or Triage Counsellor (acting in the role family counsellor), cannot be compelled to disclose risk screening information, including to state or territory agencies, or in the context of proceedings in state or territory courts or tribunals. These provisions ensure that parties are able to freely and confidently participate in the family safety risk screening process, without fear that the information they provide may be used against them in other contexts.

Exceptions to disclosure are contained in s 10U(6) Family Law Act.

Filing documents on the Commonwealth Courts Portal

Filed documents can be viewed by parties or those authorised by a party on the Commonwealth Courts Portal (CCP). The CCP provides web-based services for Court users to access information about cases before the Court. Parties may register for the CCP to gain access to documents which have been eFiled, as well as orders of the Court, judgments and listing events (past or future).

Attending Court

The Court understands that it can be very stressful and overwhelming to attend Court, especially when you may not understand the procedures and expectations. If you have difficulty with English and need to attend a Court event, you can contact the National Enquiry Centre or contact the Legal Case Manager or Associate to ask for an interpreter to be booked.

Court orders must be complied with. If you have received a court order and do not understand what it means, please seek legal advice. You can get legal advice from a legal aid office, community legal centre or private law firm.

If you have any concerns for your safety when attending Court, it is important you tell the Court at least five days before your Court event. A safety plan can be set up which might include arrangements for you to attend the Court event by telephone or video.

You can contact the Court by phone, Live chat or email for assistance.

For more information, see Going to court – Tips for your court hearing.

Filling out the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire

You will receive a link from the Courts asking you to fill out an online questionnaire which is designed to identify multiple risk factors in a short amount of time. The questionnaire will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Any answer you provide in the questionnaire is confidential and cannot be used in Court as evidence. Your answers will not be seen by other parties to the proceedings or by the Court.

Ensure you are in a safe space before clicking the link to the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire on your tablet, computer or mobile phone. If you are interrupted or do not have time to complete the screen in one sitting, you can save your answers and return to the screen at a later stage. Only parties to the proceedings, not their legal representatives, will be asked to fill out the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire.

The link to the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire will expire in ten (10) days. If there are any issues with accessing the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire, or if the link has expired, please contact the Lighthouse Team via email at  Lighthouse@fcfcoa.gov.au.

For information in your language see: Information sheet for parties - risk screening - Translated versions

The Evatt List

Where at least one party has completed the Family DOORS Triage questionnaire, returned a high risk assessment, and  a clinical review by a Triage Counsellor has been completed, the matter will be referred to an Evatt Judicial Registrar who will consider whether to place the matter on the Evatt List in accordance with Family Law Practice Direction – Evatt List. The Evatt List is a specialised list developed to ensure that families who are the most vulnerable are provided with appropriate resources and support to ensure their safety and wellbeing.

For more information see the Evatt List, the Guide for Parties in the Evatt List  and Communicating with chambers.

Attending Court

The Court understands that it can be very stressful and overwhelming to attend Court, especially when you may not understand the procedures and expectations. If you have difficulty with English and need to attend a Court event, you can contact the National Enquiry Centre  or contact the Legal Case Manager or Associate to ask for an interpreter to be booked.

Court orders must be complied with. If you have received a court order and do not understand what it means, please seek advice from your legal representative.

If have any concerns for your safety when attending Court, it is important to tell the Court at least five days before your Court event. A safety plan can be set up which might include arrangements for you to attend the Court event by telephone or video.

You can contact the Court by phone, Live chat or email for assistance.

For more information, see the brochure Going to court – tips for your court hearing.