Tag Archives: Children

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.

References:

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)

Safeguarding children’s rights during divorce

A3_bDivorce and the resulting challenges regarding CCCcc and the responsibilities of parents can be an ugly and difficult process. This is especially true of the children whose emotional and physical wellbeing would have to be taken into account during the entire process. However, the office of the Family Advocate offers an efficient and free service with the wellbeing of the child in mind.

The Family Advocate (FA) manages disputes regarding the responsibilities and custody of children during and after a divorce. The point of the FA is to protect the rights of children and ensure that their best interests are taken into account when it comes to their custody and the parent’s responsibilities. The office of the FA is not just one person but consists of lawyers and social workers who all assist in getting the best outcome for the child/children.

What can the Family Advocate do?

Section 28(2) of the Constitution says, “A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child”. This forms the basis of the FA’s role in disputes.

The Family Advocate has the ability to:

  • Institute an enquiry so as to be able to furnish the court with a report and recommendation on any matter concerning the welfare of the minor child;
  • Appear at the trial or hearing of any relevant application;
  • Adduce any available evidence; and
  • Cross-examine witnesses giving evidence at such trial or hearing of an application.

According to Mediation in Certain Divorce Matters Act (Act 24 of 1987)

The Children’s Act 2005 (Act 38 of 2005) has also made mediation by the FA compulsory for all parties involved in parental rights and responsibility disputes over children born out of wedlock.

What’s the point of the Family Advocate?

The FA has many advantages when there is a dispute over children. The FA can change the parental rights and responsibilities agreements of the parents without the need to go to court. A court will also take into consideration a report by the FA before making any decision on the child, they are even required by law to do this. Furthermore, a registered parental rights and responsibilities agreement would be considered the same as a court order. The office of the FA also allows for the children involved to express their point of view and desires. In order to ensure the best for the child/children, the FA will work together with social workers, psychologists and other professionals when dealing with disputes.

Reasons to see the Family Advocate

  • The parties disagree about how to contact or care for a child.
  • They want to draft, register or change their parental rights and responsibilities agreement.
  • Disputes about whether an unmarried father of a child born out of wedlock fulfils the requirements making him eligible for the full parental rights and responsibilities of the child.

A court may also order the FA to provide a report on what is best for the children involved in a dispute. Altogether, the FA’s goal is to ensure the child gets the best out of a divorce process and that their rights are protected. They can not only help in disputes, but also provide a comfortable environment and process for what can be a stressful time for the children involved.

Reference:

“The Office of the Family Advocate”. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. Accessed from: http://www.justice.gov.za/FMAdv/ on 13/05/2016.

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)

Rights and responsibilities of unmarried fathers

A3_bThe rights and responsibilities of biological fathers who were not married to the child’s mother at the time of conception or birth can be uncertain. In this article we will discuss when a biological father obtains rights and responsibilities towards their child(ren).

Alissa has a 7-year-old son called Jessie. Alissa had been living with her boyfriend, Mike, for 2 years when Jessie was born. Alissa and Mike were never married and Mike left their common home when Jessie was only 1 year old. Mike makes contact with Jessie and contributes some small amounts towards his maintenance every few months. Alissa would like to know what rights and responsibilities Mike has towards Jessie.

Section 20 of the Children’s Act (“the Act”) confers parental responsibilities and rights on married fathers if they are married to the child’s mother or if they were married at either the time of the child’s conception, birth or any time between conception and birth.

The biological father of a child who does not have parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child in terms of Section 20 of the Act can acquire these responsibilities and rights if one of the following conditions are fulfilled:

  • at the time of the child’s birth he is living with the mother in a permanent life partnership; or
  • if he consents to be identified; or
  • he successfully applies in terms of Section 26 of the Act to be identified as the father; or
  • he pays damages in terms of customary law; or
  • if he contributes or has attempted in good faith to contribute to the child’s upbringing for a reasonable period; or
  • if he has contributed or attempted in good faith to contribute towards expenses in connection with the maintenance of the child for a reasonable period.[1]

It may be difficult to determine whether two persons are in a permanent life partnership or not. This term lacks a precise definition and has been described as “a stable monogamous relationship where a couple who do not wish to (or are not permitted to) marry, live together and share an intimate relationship” that is akin to marriage. The Constitutional Court has given limited recognition to the relationships labelled as “life partnerships” or “permanent life partnerships”, but no specific meaning has been attached to these terms.[2]

It is important to note that this section applies regardless of whether the child was born before or after the commencement of this Act, and that it does not affect the duty of a father to contribute towards the maintenance of the child.[3]

If there is a dispute between the biological father and the biological mother of a child with regard to the fulfillment by that father of the conditions set out above, the matter must be referred for mediation to a family advocate, social worker, social service professional or other suitably qualified person. Any party to the mediation may have the outcome of the mediation reviewed by a court.[4]

From this article we can see that the only clear responsibility of Mike is that of paying maintenance to support Jessie. Due to the fact that the definition of a permanent life partnership is so vague, Mike and Alissa should refer this matter to one of the abovementioned mediators to obtain certainty about Mike’s rights and responsibilities towards Jessie.

References:

  • The Children’s Act 38 of 2005
  • Du Bois F, Willie’s Principle of South African Law (2007), 9th

[1] Section 21 of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005.

[2] Du Bois F, Willie’s Principle of South African Law (2007), 9th ed., p363.

[3] Section 21(2) of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005.

[4] Section 21(3) of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005.

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)

What is the role of the family advocate?

Blog_4The Family Advocate has many duties but in the context of Divorce Law, they are mostly consulted for making sure that all Parenting Plans and divorce Consent Papers are in the best interest of any minor children involved. The public can, however, also have access to the Family Advocate and it is important to note that they offer a free service.

The roles of the Family Advocate include the following: to provide education to family members and to others involved in the systems serving the family and youth; to help identify the strengths and needs of families; to be a mediator between the system and the family by helping to educate professionals on the strengths and needs of the family; to help family members understand the different roles of the agencies involved in the system and how they may affect the family and assist families in identifying and utilizing necessary services.

A Family Advocate helps state and local agencies and systems adopt more strengths-based and family-driven programs, policies, and services. The focus is to better meet the needs of families and their youth who have mental illness, co-occurring disorders or substance use disorders and improve outcomes for all, including families, youth, and the agencies they utilize.

A Family Advocate also has the authority to draft Parenting Plans at no cost which will help provide the minor child with a stable and suitable schedule between the two parents. A Family Advocate cannot however provide for a maintenance amount as this falls under the jurisdiction of the maintenance court. Should a parent feel like they are not sure of their rights or responsibilities towards their minor child, the Family Advocate can be approached in order to arrange a meeting between the two parties to mediate the rights and responsibilities between the two parties. This process is also at no cost, however should one of the parties deny the meeting, the Family Advocate has no authority to subpoena them to attend the meeting.

The Family Advocate is a perfect remedy for parents who have their child’s best interest at heart and who aim to provide a stable environment for the child when both parents are no longer together.

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 & omissions excepted. (E&OE)