Over the years, there’s been plentiful – and mostly justified – criticism of Australia’s family court system. It’s been the subject of much debate over how to reform it so it properly meets its purpose. One of the particular concerns regarding the family law system has been whether it truly keeps children and families safe, given the ongoing problem of family and domestic violence in this country.
But certain paradigm shifts have occurred in recent times which are welcomed. There’s the reframing of the courts as being less adversarial, with the impetus of steering couples and families in conflict towards dispute resolution wherever possible. And there’s the sharp refocus on safety considerations when it comes to those families who do end up going through family law litigation.
Court processes have been reshaped to squarely address family violence and other risks, with new processes and models designed to identify and address risk issues. For example, parenting applications these days require litigants to file a Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence or Risk, and cases are triaged as early as possible. Judges, registrars and court child experts receive extensive family violence and trauma-informed training, while the “digital transformation” of the courts (thanks, COVID) has enabled vulnerable and regional litigants to access justice from their own home or a safe environment.
With the clear, major focus on the safety and wellbeing of families who enter the family law system, two further improvements have been made to the system. Both the Lighthouse model project and the Evatt List have fundamentally changed how the courts handle risk and manage matters which involve family violence and the safety of children.
The Lighthouse model
The Lighthouse model has been piloted in three family law registries since December 2020.
The Lighthouse model project created a new way to assist courts to identify risk and triage matters, as well as changing how such cases are managed. How it works is that the model enables the system to identify risk at the point of filing applications in the FCFCOA. It can assist any party filing parenting-only as well as parenting + financial orders.
The Evatt List
And the Evatt List is a specialist list with a focus on family violence and safety risks. Specifically, it provides fast-tracked, intensive assistance and support for families identified as high-risk.
During the Lighthouse model’s pilot period, it operated only in the Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta family court registries. But Attorney-General Will Alstergren has now announced that from the end of November, the Lighthouse model, which incorporates the Evatt List, will be expanded nationally, across 15 family law registries. The Lighthouse model will now operate in: Adelaide, Brisbane Cairns, Canberra, Dandenong, Darwin, Hobart, Launceston, Melbourne, Newcastle, Parramatta, Rockhampton, Sydney, Townsville and Wollongong.
How it works
When you file an eligible Initiating Application or Response with the FCFCOA, you’ll be encouraged to complete a risk screen questionnaire on a secure online platform. This is called the Family DOORS Triage system. (Your screen responses, triage interviews and referrals are confidential and inadmissible in court under the Family Law Act 1975.)
Cases are then assessed by a specialist, highly-skilled team well-versed in family risk issues, and then triaged into the most suitable case management pathway. Case management will ensure the appropriate support and service referrals are given to litigants, with those that are high-risk guided to the Evatt List.
You can read more about the Lighthouse expansion and the Evatt List here.
Do you require assistance with a family law matter? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.