Australia’s Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) is acknowledged as one of the nation’s busiest judicial bodies. For this reason, the careful management of workflow and cases is a crucial part of the Court’s responsiveness to the thousands of family law matters it deals with each year.
One of the programs introduced by the FCFCOA to improve its operation is known as the Lighthouse Model, a method by which it identifies family safety risks at the earliest point possible in a family law proceeding in order to make an informed decision about appropriate case management.
Family violence, drug and alcohol use, mental health issues and child abuse are all risks the model seeks to identify and manage in terms of how the particular case is handled and prioritised by the court. The Lighthouse Model was first trialled in the FCFCOA at its Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta registries but subsequently, in November 2022, the program was rolled out nationally to 15 locations.
How does the Lighthouse Model work in practice?
The model operates via a three-stage process – risk screening, triage and case management.
Risk screening: Parties to a family law proceeding, seeking parenting or parenting and property orders are asked to complete an online risk screening questionnaire when filing Initiating Applications or Responses with the court. This process is known as Family DOORS Triage. The questionnaire is filled out on a secure online platform and can be completed on a computer, mobile phone or tablet. Responses assist the Court to identify risks, develop an appropriate case management pathway and also provide safety planning and service referrals, if necessary. Deciding whether further risk assessment by triage counsellors is required is also facilitated by the responses.
Screening answers and referrals are confidential and inadmissible in court. The other party to the proceeding, legal representatives and judicial officers do not see or have access to the answers or referrals.
Triage: Based on responses to the risk screening, a team of Court staff with specialist knowledge and experience of family violence and safety risks will direct cases into the most appropriate case management pathway. High risk cases may be referred to a triage counsellor for a more tailored response involving further risk assessment, safety and wellbeing plans and service referrals (child welfare, police).
Case management: Each FCFCOA matter is assessed on the level of risk involved. High risk cases may be referred to a Judicial Registrar for a decision on the most appropriate case management pathway, including whether the matter should be placed on to the ‘Evatt List’. This specialist court list for high risk cases relies on early information gathering and intervention and a highly qualified and experienced team working with families where there are serious and significant safety risks present.
Medium and lower risk cases enter into a variety of case management pathways, most commonly mediation and other dispute resolution procedures.
The purpose behind the Lighthouse Project
Family violence is an ever increasing problem in our society, with partners and children at risk of serious injury or death by a former partner when the relationship breaks down a sad reality for many people.
The Lighthouse Project is the FCFCOA response to many years of research and reporting on the role of family violence in the Court’s role to decide parenting and property orders in family law disputes. It aims to better manage and respond to cases where family violence and harm is present.
If any of the content in this article raises question or concerns for you, speak with our understanding family law specialists at Delaney & Delaney. We have the expertise and experience to guide you through how the Lighthouse Project can assist your case where there are issues of family violence and a lack of safety