In recognition to the stress and distress of complex parenting matters, the Court has developed a new stream-lined model to:
- Risk screen all cases through a secure online platform
- Identify early, and manage, family law cases where there are security risks
- Assess and triage prioritise cases by a specialised team who can provide support and refer parties to appropriate services
- Case manage and referral of high risk cases to a dedicated court list, known as the Evatt List, or family dispute resolution or other types of case management.
Since 2020, the program has been piloted at the Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta registries of the Court. Now, the program will be extended to fifteen further Registries.
It is hoped that the surveys will identify and protect those at risk who may be proceeding in, or about to commence one.
The program also works closely with support services and ensures that those at risk have access to appropriate services to help them through what is often stressful litigation.
Will I be asked to complete a survey?
Upon application to the Court regarding a matter seeking parenting orders (on their own or with financial matters), each party will receive an email with a personalised link to complete a ‘Detection of Overall Risk Screen’ (“DOORS”) which is a screening survey to assess family safety.
The DOORs scheme is already used by a number of organisations at federal and state level to determine real risk in family safety situations.
The survey can be completed safely via any PC, mobile or tablet.
If a party has security concerns that their data may be compromised, the party can attend the Court registry to complete the survey.
Based on the responses of all parties, a risk assessment is then performed and appropriate services and legal pathways are identified.
What is a party at ‘risk’ in a family safety situation?
‘Risk’ can be a mixture of long or short term factors that include risk to
- the immediate physical safety,
- psychological wellbeing or
- developmental wellbeing of children or adults involved in a family law dispute.
- It also includes imminent risks to the safety of others associated with the family.
The DOORs definition of family violence is behaviour –
‘which occurs between immediate family or extended family (including new partners) where there is a risk of physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglectful or threatening behaviours.’
There will be a separate processing and procedures relating to parties considered at high, medium or low risk such as referral to the specialist Evatt Court List with highly trained staff who will case manage such proceedings, or, parties may be referred to support services, or the parties may be referred to alternative dispute resolution with safety mechanisms in place.
Confidentiality of process
Part IIA of the Family Law Act prevents disclosure and admission into evidence of any family safety risk screening process carried out by the Court into Court proceedings.
Confidentiality is intended to extend to: whether a party took part in the survey, their responses, referrals made and information shared with the triage counsellor during the survey.
Sections 10U and 10V of the Family Law Act prevent a Court officer or triage counsellor from disclosing the contents of any DOORs interview/screening process except if ‘that person reasonably believes that the disclosure is necessary to comply with a law of the Commonwealth, State or Territory’ such as:
- protecting a child from the risk of harm (whether physical or psychological); or
- preventing or lessening a serious and imminent threat to the life or health of a person; or
- reporting an offence or the likely commission of an offence involving violence or threat of violence to a person
- preventing or lessening a serious and imminent threat to the property of a person
- offences involving the intentional, or likely intentional, damage to property
- to an Independent Children’s Lawyer to assist the lawyer to represent the child’s interests ‘properly.’
- to a Court if the family screening information indicates that a child under 18 has been, or is at risk of, being abused.
Anything said in ‘medical or other professional services’ may be revealed unless it concerns a child under age 18 has been abused or is at risk of abuse unless the evidence of the admission or event can be made available to the Court from other sources.
Information obtained from the surveys can be disclosed to another party or person if the person who made the statement consents to this disclosure.
It will remain to be seen how parties to a Court may have their disclosures treated noting the number of exclusions to confidentiality under sections 10U and 10V in the Family Law Act. One argument may bet that the number of exclusions may perpetuate the silence regarding the prevalence of family abuse. Alternatively, it may preclude admissions by those who are at risk of disclosing same for fear of repercussions and thus avoid getting the necessary helps or supports for them.
It may also be very difficult to run such cases in a Court – should the matters proceed to that stage – in not inadvertently referring to ‘the elephant in the room’ when such disclosures have been made, reported to and acted upon by another Government entity who has taken action of that disclosure if there is insufficient evidence to verify the concern from another source.
Nevertheless, the process is an important step in the right direction for the Court in dealing with very emotionally charged situations and parties in a family law context and should be recognised and supported as such.
Want more information?
Please see the fact sheets provided by the Court: https://www.fcfcoa.gov.au/fl/fv/lighthouse
If you believe that your matter or case should, or does, fall within the Lighthouse Project, please contact our office to advise and protect your rights during this process on 03 9069 1033. You will deal with our friendly team who can guide you in cases concerning actual or alleged family abuse with empathy and support.