What is the Family Court’s Lighthouse Project?
It has become common knowledge in recent years that the Australian family law system is expensive, complex, emotional and beset by long delays. One change recently made to the family law system is the implementation of the Lighthouse Project.
The Lighthouse Project began as a pilot program for parenting matters in the Brisbane, Adelaide and Parramatta Registries of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. The Project will continue to operate after the merge of those two courts into the Federal and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA) in September 2021. When an Application or Response for parenting only orders is filed with the courts, parties will now be asked to complete a questionnaire via a confidential and secure platform known as “Family DOORS Triage”. Responses to the questionnaire are confidential and are only used to assist for risk screening and to identify suitable case management. The online questionnaire screens for a variety of risks, including family violence, child abuse, self-harm and substance abuse. The questions may be answered offline and can also direct families to health and other support services, such as police and child welfare authorities, co-located in the court’s Registry.
When submitted, the questionnaires are then triaged by a specialised team of Registrars, family counsellors, and support staff with detailed knowledge in family violence and family safety risks. The team will triage matters and identify parties who may require additional support and safety measures. As family law practitioners, we see many matters before the court that entail various kinds of risk, but the court does not always respond to the issues as quickly or specifically as would be expected. The Lighthouse Project’s screening of the complexity and severity of risk is, therefore, a positive step in case management and also an opportunity to properly analyse and deal with the risk concerns in parenting matters, and allow solutions to be made available to parties more efficiently than has previously been done by the court.
If a case is identified as high risk under the Lighthouse Project, it will be referred to a dedicated court list called the Evatt List. The Evatt List is a specialist court list developed and designed to assist families who have been identified as being at high risk of family violence and other safety concerns. The Evatt List focuses on early information gathering and intervention, through a judge-led support team.
Alternatively, the screening process also benefits matters where there are not necessarily significant risk issues, as it identifies matters appropriate for Alternative Dispute Resolution. Currently, a matter may have one or two court events without much progress towards a resolution of the outstanding issues in the matter. By looking at the option of alternative dispute resolution early, parties may be able to bring the matter to a resolution earlier and with fewer legal fees. The caveat on this however is that both parties must properly invest in the alternative dispute resolution and not take the attitude of “I’ll just wait for the judge to decide” (which can take over three years and cost tens of thousands of dollars).
If you would like advice about how your family law matter may be dealt with by the family law Courts, and options to progress your matter, contact our family law team at Armstrong Legal.