Functions of the family advocate’s office

by | Feb 10, 2023 | Family Law, Publications | 0 comments

Introduction

Legal processes or disputes affecting families, and particularly children can often prove to be destabilising and difficult. In situations where parents are going through a divorce, or where there are disputes about care and contact over the child(ren), whether or not the parents are married, the Family Advocate’s Office can offer assistance. 

What is the purpose of the Family Advocate’s Office and what assistance is offered?

The Family Advocate’s Office comprises professionals of different social and legal backgrounds (namely attorneys and social workers) who work together to ensure that the best interest of the minor and/or dependent children in disputes relating to parental rights and responsibilities are upheld and kept central to the resolution process. Simply put, it ensures that the best interest of a minor child is protected in legal processes between parents (usually the divorce process). In such situations, the Family Advocate’s office will appoint an independent neutral person (who acts as the Family Advocate) to assist in mediation between parents who find themselves in a dispute or are unable to reach an agreement, in respect of the guardianship, care and/or contact of their child. 

If there is an existing matter before the court, and the best interest of a minor child comes into consideration, the court will refer the matter to the Family Advocate’s office for evaluation and provide a report or recommendation: an appointed Family Advocate may evaluate disputes on a case-by-case basis and make an appropriate recommendation to the court in respect of the care, contact and guardianship of the minor child. Sometimes, the Family Advocate will require the child to go through play therapy or to receive counselling before making a report or recommendation. While the recommendation itself is not binding, it has persuasive power in legal processes and can be integrated into a court order which is binding.

Notwithstanding the above, any parenting plan or divorce settlement agreement that addresses the care, contact and guardianship of a minor and/or dependent child must first be endorsed by the Family Advocate’s Office before it can be made an order of the court. 

The Family Advocate’s Offices also offer assistance in mediating disputes, drawing up of parenting plan agreements, amending existing parenting plan agreements, and assisting unmarried fathers to apply for parental rights and responsibilities.

Conclusion

While Family Advocates assist greatly in mediation and legal proceedings, they are not and cannot act on behalf of any parent’s legal representative. They are an independent institution which offers its services without any charge to the public.  Family Advocates cannot be subpoenaed to give evidence in court but they may give the recommendation to assist the court in its findings. 

Contact an Attorney at SchoemanLaw for assistance today.

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