The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the Court) provides a new court structure that is innovative, focuses on the safety of children and vulnerable litigants, and changes the culture and conversation around family law – learning from the many inquiries, reviews and calls for change that have occurred in the past. It is also aimed at dealing with the increasing rate of family violence in our community by ensuring risks to vulnerable parties and children are identified at the very earliest stage in the litigation and treated appropriately.
The commencement of the new Court provides, for the first time in over 20 years, a single point of entry for all family law matters, delivering a more streamlined and simplified process for separated or separating couples. Importantly, the new family law case management pathway prioritises the early triage and assessment of risk at the start of each family law matter filed in the Court. This process builds on the important work undertaken as part of the Lighthouse Project, which has been the Court’s most recent and most comprehensive response to addressing family safety risks and providing risk screening at the point of entry into the family law system.
The Lighthouse Project
The Lighthouse Project is a world-leading pilot program that is focused on early risk screening and providing better public health outcomes for families involved in the family law system. The Project started in late 2020 and is currently being piloted in the Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta registries of the Court.
The Project is designed to address concerns that have been voiced in regard to improving risk screening and providing a system that is much more holistic in its consideration of the health, safety and welfare of the families involved in family law proceedings. It is a ground-breaking step for a court to focus not only on identifying risk and an appropriate legal pathway for individual matters, but also for its focus on the safety, health and welfare of those families.
The family safety risk screening process employed as part of the Lighthouse Project responds to key recommendations to improve the family law system and its response to risk and safety issues that have been contained in various reports including the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2019 report Family Law for the Future – An Inquiry into the Family Law System, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs’ 2017 report A better family law system to support and protect those affected by family violence, and the Women’s Legal Services Australia’s Safety First in Family Law Plan.
The Lighthouse Project has already demonstrated how proactive risk screening can detect both victimisation and perpetration leading to better management of matters to address safety issues and concerns of systems abuse or use of court orders to further perpetuate family violence.
We are ensuring that family violence considerations are imbedded in all of our practice and procedure and in relation to responsiveness – we are applying resources and managing caseload so that family law matters can be resolved appropriately and as efficiently as possible.
What is risk and how does that relate to family violence?
Risk is the potential for an adverse event to lead to a negative outcome as well as consideration of the likelihood that an adverse event will occur and the nature and seriousness of its impact. Those who work with separating couples would be aware that the time of separation can significantly increase the risk of harm from violence and abuse, and early risk assessment is critical. Cases involved in the Lighthouse Project receive targeted levels of support and case management that focuses on risk identification and safety.
The Court’s risk screening process is known as Family DOORS Triage. This process provides a convenient and secure platform for litigants to complete a risk screening questionnaire. It has been specifically designed for the Court to assist a skilled and highly training case coordinator review and understand the issues and factors that might pose risk to a person’s physical and emotional safety and psychological well-being, and to plan the most appropriate support and case management pathway for that person.
The Evatt List is a specialist list developed by the Court where a highly qualified team of judges, Judicial registrars, court child experts and court staff are allocated to manage a parenting only case filed in Adelaide, Brisbane or Parramatta that are identified through the Lighthouse Project screening process to be high risk, through more intensive case management and resources.
The Evatt List ensures that families are provided with appropriate resources and support to safeguard against family violence and other associated risks. It also ensures cases are managed through the Court process as efficiently and effectively as possible. More information on the Evatt List can be found in the Innovations Lighthouse Project section of the website.
 KPMG, The cost of violence against women and their children – Final Report, May 2016.