The role of the Family Advocate in family related matters

The Family Advocates are a integrate part of the divorce proceedings when there are minor children involved.

A “Family Advocate” is often something parents come across when facing separation or a divorce, married or unmarried, when they have a dispute over the care, contact and access of the minor child or children. However, very few parents understand the role, function, and benefits of a Family Advocate in family related matters. This article will serve the purpose of providing clarity on the term “Family Advocate”.

What is a Family Advocate?

A Family Advocate is a neutral person who belongs to the Office of the Family Advocate and provides mediation during a divorce. A Family Advocate is employed by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and acts as a legal representative a minor child or children.

What is the Role of the Family Advocate?

The Role of the Family Advocate is to take the best interests of the child or children into consideration and to promote these interests in order to decide regarding their care, contact, access, and guardianship by the respective parents. The legislative directive of Family Advocates is governed by section 28(2) of the Constitution.

The Function of the Family Advocate?

The Family Advocate is expected to make their services available to the public free of charge. Some of the services/functions of the Family Advocate include:

  • To institute an inquiry so as to be able to provide the Court with a full report and recommendation regarding the welfare of a child or children;

  • To provide mediation to parents who cannot agree on their rights and responsibilities relating to the child or children;

  • To place or register a Parenting Plan already agreed upon by the parents, at no cost;

  • Provide legal information to parents who wish to know more about their rights and responsibilities relating to their children;

  • To provide assistance in order to ensure that a Parenting Plan being agreed upon, will be in the best interests of the child or children;

  • To conduct forensic investigations relating to the best interests of a children or children, where necessary.

The benefits of engaging the assistance of a Family advocate include:

  • A Family Advocate can terminate or amend parental rights and responsibilities The rights and responsibilities of parents as described in section 18 of the Children’s Act, 2005. Parental Responsibilities and Rights include contact, care, maintenance, guardianship relating to the children. This means that parents do not need to go to Court if they want to amend the agreement they have relating to their child or children. This will enable parents to save time as well as legal costs;

  • Family Advocates, and the reports and recommendations they provide relating to children, will enable to Court and increase the chances of a decree of divorce being granted;

  • A Family Advocate will provide the children or children a chance to be heard regarding his/her position in the parties’ divorce or separation;

  • The Family Advocate is a less rigid platform for children to voice their opinions, compared to that of a courtroom;

  • A Family Advocate uses dispute resolution techniques, which avoids there being tension between the parties during mediation.

The Family Advocate cannot however advise on the issue of maintenance. Maintenance for minor children is dealt with by the maintenance court. Should a parent feel like they are not sure of their responsibilities or rights in respect of their minor child/children, the Family Advocate can be approached in order to arrange a meeting between the parties to mediate the responsibilities and rights between them.

The Family Advocate cannot become involved in any matter that has already been finalised by the court. They cannot be subpoenaed to court as a witness to give evidence on behalf of any party even if his/her recommendation is in favour of that party.

The recommendation of the Family Advocate is intended to assist the court in providing recommendations as to what is in the best interests of a minor child/children. The recommendation is not enforceable unless it is made an Order of court. The Office of the Family Advocate is a neutral institution, and they therefore cannot act as a legal representative for either party in a matter. If either party needs legal representation that is when they can approach a family law attorney like Rudolf Buys and Associates Attorneys to assist with any further issues that the Family Advocate cannot deal with.

The Family Advocate is a highly beneficial organisation for all parents who have their children’s best interests at heart and whose aim is to provide a stable environment for them should their parent’s separate / divorce.

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