The Lighthouse Project- What is it and why do we need it?
Anyone that has ever had personal experience with Australia’s family law system will tell you that it is a costly, convoluted, drawn-out and emotionally exhausting process. For this reason, the Federal Circuit Courts and Family Courts have been working tirelessly to develop new initiatives to address these issues and ensure that already disadvantaged litigants aren’t further harmed by the Court process.
The most recent of these initiatives is a pilot program called ‘the Lighthouse Project’ which is currently being trialled in the Adelaide, Brisbane and Paramatta registries of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
The Lighthouse Project is a program with a focus on targeted screening of all parenting matters to enable timely identification of risk factors and triage matters through appropriate pathways.
How does it work?
When an Application or Response for parenting only orders is filed with the courts, parties will be asked to complete a questionnaire through a confidential and secure platform known as “Family DOORS Triage”. The responses to that questionnaire are then screened to identify a variety of risks, including:
- family violence;
- child abuse;
- self-harm; and
- substance abuse.
The questionnaires are then screened by a specialist team comprised of Registrars, family counsellors and support staff with knowledge and experience in family law matters involving family violence and other safety risks.
Based on the questionnaire responses, the team will triage matters and identify parties who may require additional support and safety measures.
If a case is identified as high risk, early action will be taken with a face-to-face or telephone appointment with a counsellor with a safety plan being implemented before the matter is then referred to a dedicated court list called the Evatt List. Focusing on early intervention and information gathering, the Evatt List is a specialist list designed to resolve high risk matters and operates in a similar manner to the Family Courts Magellan List.
Why we need it
It is almost more common than not for family law practitioners to see matters that involve various kinds of risk, however, these issues are not always identified or addressed by the courts as timely as we would expect. The early intervention of the Lighthouse Project’s screening system enables the timely identification of risk factors so that they can be triaged through the most appropriate pathways.
The effectiveness of this program, however, is not only limited to matters of high risk. The screening process can also identify matters that may benefit from appropriate forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution enabling parties to reach a resolution earlier and with fewer legal fees, provided however that the parties make a genuine effort to engage in the process.
Whilst we continue to await further development of the governments proposed reform of Australia’s family law system following the Australian Law Reform Commissions final report released on 10 April 2019, the implementation of programs such as the Lighthouse Project are certainly a step in the right direction.