17 Jul In Child Law
OFFICE OF THE FAMILY ADVOCATE: ENQUIRIES INTO CHILDREN’S INTERESTS
- The Office of the Family Advocate is a division of the Department of Justice. Their function is to investigate cases in which minor children are involved and to report to the court concerned so that the Judge or Magistrate has a neutral view of the dispute.
- The staff consists of advocates, social workers and administrative people.
- An ‘enquiry’ is presided over by a Family Advocate and a Family Counsellor. Bear in mind that these two professionals are not on either parents’ ‘side’; their job is to report to the Court, on the best interests of the children.
- Be early for any appointment. Try to relax and remain calm. Anything you say or do at the office may form part of the record in your case.
- Dress smartly and treat everybody there with respect.
- If accompanied by a young child, take one person with you to stay with the child while you are in the enquiry. Do not take your new partner, as his or her presence might antagonise the other parent. Be sensitive to this.
- Take documents (with a copy for the Family Advocate) that relate to the enquiry – e.g. school or doctors reports pertaining to the children; do not take anything your attorney has not seen.
- Try to state the facts pertaining to the interests of the child. It is best to avoid confrontation with your spouse, or overly critical remarks that might be perceived as aggressive or abusive.
- Usually, the advocate and counsellor will see you and the other parent, with the child or children initially. They will be carefully observing how you all relate to one another. Try to relax and act in an approachable manner.
- After the initial phase, the professionals will ask the children to leave. They will then discuss the ‘adult’ issues with the parents. They may try to facilitate an agreement or settlement of the aspects of your case that relate to the children.
- If in doubt or distress you may excuse yourself temporarily and contact your legal adviser by telephone for advice.
- Usually, legal advisors do not attend enquiries at the Office of the Family Advocate. If one side is represented, the Family Advocate professionals will usually hold separate meetings with the parents so that the unrepresented person is not at a disadvantage.