The Lighthouse Model – Risk Screening For High-Risk Parenting Matters
The long-awaited merge of The Federal Circuit and Family Courts in September 2021 has brought about the successful trial and later national implementation of an initiative aimed at protecting and supporting our most at risk families. Ramsden Lawyers Family Law Special Counsel Ailsa Day discusses the consistent rise of family violence in Australia requires action and The Lighthouse Model is a step in the right direction.
BACKGROUND – THE LIGHTHOUSE MODEL
On 23 February 2021, the Federal Parliament passed two Acts that merged the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court together. This new Court is known as the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) and commenced on 1 September 2021.
The merger of the two Courts intended to rectify the backlog of family law matters awaiting a judicial decision and decrease waiting times for new matters. These goals were to be achieved by implementing one single entry point and one set of rules for all family law matters. The merger and new rules aim was to achieve a greater emphasis on dispute resolution between parties to family law proceedings, with an increased focus on assessing risk, and the efficient and timely determination of matters before the Court. The Lighthouse Project identifies, manages, and aims to minimise the risk of violence within families subject to family law matters.
The initiative was initially trialled in only three registries. But due to its proven success, its implementation has expanded to fifteen registries across Australia: Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Dandenong, Darwin, Hobart, Launceston, Melbourne, Newcastle, Parramatta, Rockhampton, Sydney, Townsville, and Wollongong. Multiple factors are considered high risk in family law matters, such as physical violence, drug and alcohol misuse, and child abuse or neglect – all of which are screened for when utilising The Lighthouse Model.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Step one of The Lighthouse Model is the risk screening component. The parties must complete the Family DOORS Triage risk screen in the initial stage of the process. As this screen is done through a confidential and secure online platform, it can be completed on any device the parties have access to, such as their smartphone, computer, or tablet. If the parties do not have access to a device, they can obtain assistance from the Lighthouse team. All answers are confidential and will not be used as evidence.
Step two is the triage stage. At this stage, the Lighthouse Team assesses and directs cases based on the level of risk relevant to the matter. Judicial Registrars make the decisions of the Lighthouse Team, Family Counsellors and support staff with a high level of training in family violence and family safety risks. Once the team have triaged the cases by their risk level, the matters involving a higher level of risk will be provided with additional support and resources. Resources and support can include online referrals or interviews.
Step three is where the matter turns to case management. Once a case is determined to be a high risk, it is referred to the Evatt List, a specialist list specifically designed for the families most at risk of violence or other safety concerns. The Evatt List is aimed at taking the appropriate actions to assist with the management of the risk right from the beginning of the family law proceedings.
WHAT HAPPENS IF MY FAMILY IS HIGH-RISK?
Once the DOORS Triage determines that you or your family members are at high risk of violence or other safety concerns, you will be placed on the Evatt List. The Evatt List ensures that the matters in this category have urgent Court hearings. Depending on the circumstances, interim Orders may be made to protect the Applicant and their children.
The Evatt List follows a procedural timeline summarised as follows:
- 5-10 business days after referral, the matter will be reviewed by an Evatt Judicial Registrar. Then the matter will have its first Court event within the following 6-8 weeks (unless the matter is more urgent, where, in our experience, the first Court hearing will often be expedited).
- The interim hearing for the matter will be set down within 10 -12 weeks, and any urgent issues will be addressed (again, if the matter requires an urgent interim hearing, it will be at the Court’s discretion to expedite the timeframe for this Court event).
- At the 6 – 8 months mark, the Evatt Judicial Registrar will follow up on any interim orders and the progression of any dispute resolution (if it was deemed safe) to push the matter forward to a settlement before trial. Settlement before trial is only considered if safe to do so.
- After 10 months, a compliance and readiness hearing will take place, and at this stage, a Judge will give directions about the trial and set dates.
- The final hearing will take place within 12 months.
FAMILY LAW PRACTITIONERS ASSOCIATE OF QUEENSLAND RETREAT
Our family law team attended the FLPA Retreat in Noosa late last year. One benefit of our attendance at the retreat was that our practitioners got to hear directly from members of the Court about the success of The Lighthouse Model. One of the positive statistics passed on by the members of the Court was that approximately 88% of Evatt List matters were resolved before a final hearing.
RAMSDEN LAWYERS – HOW CAN I FIND OUT IF THE LIGHTHOUSE MODEL IS APPLICABLE TO MY SITUATION?
Here at Ramsden Lawyers, we have several cases that have seen the immediate success of the Lighthouse Project. We have the experience to navigate the Evatt list’s Court processes and assist you with urgently commencing Court proceedings if you are in a high-risk situation.
If you are seeking legal advice, Ramsden Lawyers can assist you. We are happy to arrange an obligation-free initial consultation to assist you in navigating the procedures set out under the relevant legislation for your circumstances. Our Family Law team of lawyers has expertise in a variety of Family Law matters.
Please follow this link for further information concerning Family Law resolution at Ramsden Lawyers.
The content of this article is intended to provide general guidance to the subject matter and must not be relied on as legal advice. Specific advice should be sought about your circumstances.