The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia have embarked on a new pathway to assist families who have experienced family violence and other safety risks to navigate the family law system.

The Lighthouse Project is now live in selected registries of these Courts. We are fortunate that Brisbane is one of those Registries that will be piloting the new program, together with Paramatta and Adelaide. The Lighthouse Project is a three-part process that starts at the very beginning of matters coming before the Court with a screening process. Once an Initiating Application is made for parenting orders parties will be sent a confidential link by the Court to a questionnaire that can be completed by the parties from any device.

Upon completion of the confidential questionnaire, a specialist team will assess each case and direct it to the most appropriate case management pathway based on the level of risk that is assessed. The specialist team comprises family counsellors and skilled Registrars and support staff who have particularly detailed knowledge of family violence and safety risks. It will be their role to triage the matters coming before the Court and identify any parties that may need additional support or safety measures.

Case Management options include Alternate Dispute Resolution and designation to the new Evatt List. The case management is designed to narrow issues in dispute, the focus of alternate dispute resolution, and assist parties to resolve their matters as soon as possible and avoid being caught up in the Court system, which at times can only strengthen the power imbalance that is inherent in some family law matters and at times used to exert further control.

The Evatt List will be a specialised Court List designed for families who have been assessed during the triage process as high risk of family violence and other safety concerns. This Evatt List has been developed by the Court to bring together highly qualified Judges, Registrars, Family Consultants and support staff to manage high risk cases through a more intensive case management system.

What is important for parties is to know that:

  • a party cannot be asked to disclose whether or not they understood the risk screening questionnaire;
  • the responses given to the questionnaire (and any referrals as a result of the process) can’t be used as evidence;
  • any information provided to a family counselor in the course of conducting the screening cannot be disclosed or used as evidence.

What is important for practitioners working in the field of family law is to ensure they properly advise their clients about the new program. Links to the questionnaires will be sent by the Court directly to the parties and practitioners should encourage their clients to complete the screening process as soon as possible.

The primary focus of the Lighthouse Project is on improving outcomes for families involved in the family law system. It will only be effective if parties are encouraged to complete the screening process.

For more about the Lighthouse Project, click here: Lighthouse Project – Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

Practitioners can find a guide here: Guide for practitioners in the Federal Circuit Court Evatt List – Federal Circuit Court of Australia