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Family Law

The Lighthouse Project will light way for at-risk families

By September 7, 2020February 23rd, 2024No Comments

There are currently several government inquiries underway into family law and family violence, which are hoped to ultimately lead to significant improvements to the family court system. However, this does not mean that the country’s policymakers should idly await the outcome of the inquiries when it is possible to take action in the meantime to address known problems with credible solutions. So it’s good to see that there has been some political movement in the crucial area of supporting at-risk families through the family court system.

The Attorney-General, Christian Porter, together with the Minister for Women, Marise Payne, this week announced details of the Morrison Government’s new $13.5 million pilot program called The Lighthouse Project, and the introduction of the Family Law Amendment (Risk Screening Protections) Bill 2020 which supports the pilot program. The pilot will be run through the Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta family law Court registries. The objective is ultimately to secure additional funding to enable the project to be expanded nationally on an ongoing basis.

The aim of the program is to improve the way courts screen and assess families as they enter the family law system, and to better identify and triage those families in need of the most support. Families will be screened for risk factors at the time that a parenting matter is filed in court, and cases are to be triaged according to that level of risk. The risk assessment will then enable tailored support to be provided to at-risk families.

Matters identified as high-risk will be fast-tracked via newly created special “Evatt List”, which will be a specialised family violence list with appropriate security arrangements. The Evatt List is so-named in honour of the Hon Elizabeth Evatt AC, who was Australia’s first female family court Chief Justice.

Mr Porter said the approach would allow for early identification and ongoing assessment and management of matters involving families deemed at-risk. Benefits to families will included more tailored, easier to understand court processes, more support and early intervention to at-risk families, a single entry point into the court system, improved outcomes for litigants as they are provided better information from the beginning, improved case-management decisions leading to greater time efficiency, and more opportunities to divert litigants to out of court Alternative Dispute Resolution options.

How it will work

Matters filed after the start date will be eligible to be included in the pilot. Once accepted into the pilot the process is as follows.

  • Early risk screening through a secure online platform.
  • Early identification and management of safety concerns.
  • Cases triaged and assessed by highly-specialised team who provide resources and safe case management.
  • High risk cases to be referred to a dedicated court list – the Evatt List. Families on the Evatt List will benefit from early information-gathering and intervention through a highly-trained, judge-led support team.

Currently, guidelines for participants are still being developed and the courts are still finalising processes, documents and staff training but the courts are preparing to officially start the new screening process later this year.

Confidential and inadmissible

Mr Porter said that the legislation would “ensure that the information generated and obtained during the family safety risk screening process is both confidential and inadmissible”:

“This means that families will be able to freely and confidently participate in the process, enabling risks to be identified and parties to be referred to the social support services that they might need outside of the court process.”

The courts’ responses to cases (especially those involving risk) is such a critical aspect of the family law process, so initiatives such as this can only be helpful to family law consumers. The courts themselves have welcomed the proposed legislation and focus on improved risk screening, describing the Lighthouse Project as “groundbreaking and innovative”.

To learn more about the Lighthouse Project and for updates, see the Government’s dedicated page. People who wish to know more can attend information sessions that are planned to be held from August (check the webpage for updates if interested).

Other anti-violence measures the Government has invested in include funding of $340m towards the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022; a $150 million COVID-19 Domestic Violence Support Package, and around $20 million in extra legal assistance funding to support those affected by domestic violence during the pandemic, as part of a broader $63 million legal assistance package.

Do you need assistance with a family law matter, perhaps involving allegations of family violence? Our experienced team can help. Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other 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.

Source: MirageNews

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