Parents who are quarrelling and cannot agree on the best method of raising children can now find help at the Office of the Family Advocate.
“In Section 28, the Constitution says the rights of the child are paramount to any other rights, so the Office of the Family Advocate is there for the best interests of the child. Whenever there is a parental dispute over responsibilities and rights, the Family Advocate can step in in several ways,” says Chief Family Advocate Petunia Seabi-Mathope.
As a first means of intervening, the Office of the Family Advocate tries to avoid court action and opts to mediate between the two warring parents. Seabi-Mathope says this is because parents must spend a lifetime working together in the interests of the child. If they cannot settle their differences through the mediation process, then the Family Advocate will investigate the circumstances surrounding the child’s welfare.
“When the parents cannot agree out of court, we will start an investigation in partnership with a family counsellor,” she says.
The investigation produces a report that is presented in court in order to assist the court in deciding what is in the best interest of the child.
The Office of the Family Advocate assists all parents, whether they are married or not.
Seabi-Mathope says they also assist parents who have broken up with their partners to get full parental rights, if that is what is best for the child. The Office of the Family Advocate does this by looking at whether a parent has played a role in the life of the child, through child maintenance or the traditional ceremony of paying damages.
When the parents do not live in the same home, the Family Advocate can draft a parenting plan that states the responsibilities of each parent.
If one of the parents does not stick to the parenting plan and the Office of the Family Advocate is unable to find a solution, then one can approach the Children’s Court to have the court enforce the agreement.
For more information about the Office of the Family Advocate, call 012 357 8022 or email NationalOffice-FA@justice.gov.za