Understanding the role of the Family Advocate

Family Advocate are appointed by government and is there to promote and protect the best interests of minor or dependent children in legal parental responsibilities and rights disputes. The Office of the Family Advocate is made up of lawyers (Family Advocates) as well as social workers (Family Counselors).

When there is a dispute of issues between two parents about their children, the Family Advocate assist to resolve those issues, such as custody, access and guardianship. The Family Advocate evaluates the circumstances in light of the best interests of the child and makes a recommendation to the Court with regard to custody, access or guardianship.

Any one of the two parents, or both of them together, can apply to the Family Advocate to resolve a matter, the Family Advocate institutes an inquiry during which the Family Advocate, assisted by a Family Counselor (normally a trained social worker), interviews the parties to ascertain their personal circumstances and the background details to their matter. The Family Advocate then interviews the children to allow them the opportunity to be heard. This prevents the child from having to appear in Court.

A matter already finalised by a Court, cannot be brought to a Family Advocate. The recommendation of the Family Advocate is intended to assist the Court in adjudicating a matter and arriving at a particular order. The recommendation itself is not enforceable unless incorporated in a Court Order. When the parents can reach an agreement on the dispute, there will be no trial.

There are other circumstances under which the Family Advocate may be consulted such as any application for the variation of a custody, guardianship or access order, an application for the definition of access, a custody, access or guardianship dispute arising from the dissolution of a customary marriage, an application by an unwed father for custody, access or guardianship to his minor child or any other matter involving minor or dependent children, or where the Court has specifically ordered the Family Advocate to intervene.

The services of the Family Advocate are rendered to the public free of charge. The Family Advocate is a legal officer employed by the Department of Justice and acts as legal representative of the children.