When must you consult the Family Advocate?

You may consult the Family Advocate if you have a dispute relating to either the best interests of a child and/or parental responsibilities and rights. Other circumstances under which the family advocate may be consulted include:

    1. When parties require assistance in drafting parental responsibilities and rights agreements and to register such with the Family Advocate or to amend, and/or terminate the said agreements registered with him or her.
    2. When parties require assistance in drafting parenting plans and to amend or terminate such parenting plans registered with him or her.
    3. An application to define contact.
    4. A custody, access or guardianship dispute arising from the dissolution of a customary or religious marriage.
    5. Domestic Violence and Maintenance cases referred to the Family Advocate in terms of the Judicial Matters Second Amendment Act (Act 55 of 2003).
    6. Fathers of children born out of wedlock may request mediation of their parental rights and responsibilities (in terms of the Children’s Act).
    7. Parental child abduction to and from South Africa.

If there is a dispute regarding the contact, guardianship or care (parental responsibilities and rights) of a minor child, the Office of the Family Advocate would be requested to investigate the welfare and best interest of the minor child involved. Often, they provide a report which is handed to the relevant Court for consideration. The Office of the Family Advocate is not employed by the parties involved. They work for the State ensuring that they are objective in their investigation and only have the child’s best interests at heart.

Steps involved

    1. Contact your nearest Family Advocate to request an enquiry or, mediation of your legal dispute.
    2. Upon receipt of the request, the Family Advocate institutes an inquiry during which he or she interviews you and the parties involved to determine your personal circumstances and the background of the matter. Where mediation is requested the Family Advocate will be the mediator.
    3. The Family Counsellor then interviews the children separately, so as to enable such children to exercise their statutory right to be heard and to enable the Family Advocate to convey their views to the Court.
    4. The Family Advocate will communicate whatever decision taken, which significantly affects the welfare of the child, to such child.
    5. Upon completion of the enquiry or mediation process the Family Advocate will file a report for the Court and furnish copies to the parties or their lawyers.

In a typical custody dispute, a Family Advocate and social worker would be appointed to a case and investigate it. The social worker and the Family Advocate would consult with the parents (or parties involved in the dispute), visit their homes if necessary and obtain information from relevant parties etc. The Family Advocate and social worker would also speak to the child and may want to observe the child’s interaction with the parents. If there are other professionals, for example, a social worker or a psychologist who assessed the situation and provided a report, the Office of the Family Advocate would consider those documents as well and even consult with those experts before handing in their report.

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This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)