Lighthouse and the associated bespoke case management for high risk matters focuses on the safety of children and their families by identifying and addressing issues of family violence and other risks.
As the one year anniversary of the expansion of Lighthouse approaches and, as the last edition of the Lighthouse Update for 2023, the Courts acknowledge the positive response received from the profession and from many parties in support of Lighthouse and the Evatt List. Lighthouse is one of many court initiatives that aim to shine a light on the scourge of family violence, to improve the outcome of matters involving family violence and other risks, and to keep children and vulnerable parties safe. To quote Chief Justice Alstergren at the national launch of Lighthouse on 5 December 2022:
Lighthouse was born of a vision in our Courts that screening litigants for family violence as soon as they enter the court system will help to ensure the safety of families and children. This will in turn, ensure better outcomes as families move forward with their lives. Lighthouse is not just about legal outcomes, but aims to ensure better health outcomes, such as supporting mental wellbeing, and also social support such as financial counselling, rehabilitation programs or parenting programs, so that their children can thrive.
Lighthouse and the Evatt List have been instrumental in providing the Courts with valuable insight into the nature of risk and experiences of parties at the point of filing. In conjunction with the Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk, these insights assist the Courts to identify and provide referrals and support service information to parties, and safeguard them against identified risks that can often be dynamic and everchanging.
Continued support and engagement
Since 28 November 2022:
- parties in almost 6000 matters have completed the Family DOORS Triage risk screen
- over 5600 case file reviews have been conducted by Triage Counsellors, and
- over 1400 matters have been placed on the Evatt List.
The following case study outlines how risk screen and triage support and the Evatt List assists parties and families experiencing coercive and controlling violence.
An Initiating Application was filed by the Applicant seeking urgent parenting orders in relation to the subject child of the proceedings, aged seven, and for orders in respect of property held by the parties. An urgent hearing was sought due to concerns for the child’s welfare in the Respondent’s care and due to the unilateral decrease and subsequent suspension of time between the Applicant and the subject child. The Applicant was invited to complete the Family DOORS Triage risk screen and completed the risk screen within three days of filing. The Respondent filed Response material shortly after being served and completed the risk screen within eight days of filing. The Applicant’s risk screen indicated high risk factors including coercive and controlling family violence and risks to the subject child. The risk screen of the Respondent likewise indicated family violence and risks to the subject child.
While the parties completed the risk screen, the matter was considered for urgency and a procedural hearing date was allocated. At this court event, Orders were made for the filing of amended material by the parties, for property valuations and disclosure to occur with respect to the property proceedings. The matter was set down for an interim hearing to determine the parenting issues in dispute. Following the conclusion of risk screening process, the matter was placed on the Evatt List by the Evatt Judicial Registrar and the previous interim hearing date was vacated and an earlier interim hearing date was allocated to the parties.
The following additional case management actions were also taken by the Evatt Judicial Registrar:
- appointing an Independent Children’s Lawyer on an expedited basis
- allocation of a child impact report, and
- orders pursuant to s69ZW of the Family Law Act 1975 to obtain information from State Police.
As a result of the early completion of the risk screen both parties were provided with information in relation to family violence, educational tools and resources to support the family.
The initial procedural hearing, allocation to the Evatt List and active case management so soon after filing, enabled the parties to file all relevant documents, so that the matter could be meaningfully case managed from the outset. In addition, the acquisition of information by the Court through the State Police authority, provided the Court and the Judicial Officer with an opportunity to consider relevant information and evidence in line with the parties' asserted needs and circumstances. The information revealed cross allegations of family violence and evidence of extensive coercive and controlling violence between the parties. That material was made available to the parties in a timely way. At the interim hearing, and as a result of this early information gathering and procedural orders, the Judicial Officer was in a position to make interim consent orders to safeguard against the immediate risks to the subject child. The financial proceedings were able to progress in light of this new stability in the parenting arrangements.
Getting the most out of risk screening and the Evatt List for your clients
Support through the Triage Interview
Following the completion of the Family DOORS Triage risk screen, all parties will be triaged in accordance with their identified level of risk. The triage process assists the Courts to:
- identify parties who need immediate assistance;
- focus more specialist attention on clients at high risk; and
- support lower risk clients progress to earlier resolution.
A key part of the triage process is the Triage Interview. The Triage Interview can help to reduce the party’s stress and anxieties about being involved in family law proceedings, and to help them feel more reassured about articulating and managing their concerns. The interview process helps parties identify and distinguish between the legally relevant and non-relevant issues in a matter, and it assists parties to gain insight and awareness into their own behaviours and potential triggers.
The process offers parties a variety of benefits, which may include:
- an opportunity to reflect on what is going well, what areas are challenging, and where they might need or want support
- reassurance about the support a party can obtain to feel positive about the possible future parenting arrangements for their children
- targeted triaging, to identify the most beneficial case management pathway within the Court and provide a direct and appropriate response to the legal issues
- providing links with community agencies and services offering ongoing support for the party and children
- providing a tailored safety plan for parties who are concerned about their safety when attending court premises.
Further, the Triage Interview can provide general therapeutic advice, support and information that may shed light on the party’s issues and reduce concerns about the Court process in general.
The Evatt First Return hearing – maximising the benefits of the List
The Evatt List is focussed on the safety of children, their parents and families. The Evatt First Return Hearing is a key event in the pathway, which assists to ensure that this remains in focus. The Evatt First Return hearing is, generally, the first appearance event listed following a matter being placed on the Evatt List.
The Evatt First Return hearing is a dedicated 30 minute hearing where the specific matter is the only matter listed. This is an opportunity to inform the Evatt Judicial Registrar of the issues in dispute, safety concerns, orders sought and procedural matters. The best outcome is achieved where:
- legal representatives have engaged in discussion in advance of the hearing (parties are not expected to engage in direct discussions in advance of the First Return Hearing unless it is safe to do so)
- parties have issued, or sought leave in relation to, relevant subpoena
- all parties are in attendance
- there has been compliance with all previous orders.
The Evatt First Return hearing is a crucial event to ensure the matter progresses in accordance with the Evatt List Practice Direction. The Evatt Judicial Registrar will use the First Return Event to determine future listings, including the timing of any Interim Hearing to identify safety concerns and/or risks that the material rises and make orders for expert reports. Pro-active case management by Judicial Registrars is particularly important where s69ZW or subpoenaed material indicates risk that may not have been addressed in the affidavit material.
The Courts published a series of updates to the profession in advance of the Lighthouse expansion and have also produced a recorded Lighthouse Webinar. Practitioners are encouraged to review these updates as they contain important information about the expansion of Lighthouse and the operation of the Evatt List.
Further information can be found on the Courts’ website:
If your agency or organisation would like a representative of the court to conduct information sessions on Lighthouse and/or the Evatt List please reach out to Lighthouse@fcfcoa.gov.au.