Tag Archives: Family Advocate

What are parental rights and responsibilities?

The rights and responsibilities of a parent is set out in the Children’s Act 38 of 2008 (the “Children’s Act”) and can be defined as a complex set of rights, duties and responsibilities which have to be performed in the best interest of the child. These rights and responsibilities include the following elements namely: caring of the child, maintaining contact with the child, to act as a guardian over the child and to contribute to the maintenance of the child.

Both parents of a child have equal rights and responsibilities, but when they are not living together, specific rights and responsibilities may be given to one parent, either by court order or agreement between the parents.

Biological mothers

The biological mother, whether she is married or not, has full parental responsibilities and rights in respect of her child. She attains those rights solely on the fact that she has given birth to the child.

 Married biological fathers

 The biological father has full parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child if:

    1. he was married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s conception and birth;
    2. he is married to the child’s mother; or
    3. they are or were married at any time after the birth.

 Unmarried biological fathers

Despite the increased recognition of the beneficial role that fathers can play in the lives of their children, the Children’s Act still does not confer automatic, inherent parental rights on biological fathers in the same way it does for mothers. According to the Act, an unmarried biological father will have automatic parental rights and responsibilities only if:

    1. at the time of the child’s birth, he was living in a life partnership with the mother, i.e. they were living in a de facto husband and wife relationship and chose not to get married;
    2. regardless of whether he was living with the mother or not, he consents to be identified as the father of the child or applies for an amendment to be effected on the birth certificate that he be registered as the biological father of the child in terms of the Births and Deaths Registration Act, or pays damages in terms of customary law; and
    3. he contributes or has attempted to contribute in good faith to the upbringing of the child within a reasonable period, and has paid or attempted to pay maintenance.

If there is a dispute between the biological parents over any of the above criteria, then the question of whether the father has parental responsibilities and rights must be referred for mediation to a family advocate, social worker or other suitably qualified person. Mediation is the process whereby the participants, together with the assistance of a neutral party, systematically isolate disputed issues in order to develop options, consider alternatives and reach a consensual settlement that will accommodate their needs.

Reference:

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)

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)