The Family Advocate is an unbiased family law specialist and advisor to the court in cases of legal disputes over custody and parental rights.  The Family Advocate assists members of a family to reach an agreement on disputed issues of custody, access and guardianship.  If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the Family Advocate evaluates the parties’ circumstances in light of the best interests of the minor child/children and makes a recommendation to the court.

A Family Advocate assists families by promoting and protecting the best interest of the minor/dependent children in a parental responsibilities and rights dispute.  They evaluate the family’s circumstances and then make a recommendation to the court with regards to care, contact and guardianship.  Family Advocates are responsible for creating a relationship with assigned children and their families to support them through difficult situations and provide parenting guidance.

The Family Advocate has many duties but in the context of Divorce Law, they are usually consulted to ensure that all parenting plans are in the best interests of any minor children involved. 

The role of the Family Advocate includes the following: 

• To institute an inquiry so as to be able to provide the Court with a full report and  recommendation regarding the welfare of a child or children;

• To provide mediation to parents who cannot agree on their rights and responsibilities relating to the child or children;

• To place or register a Parenting Plan already agreed upon by the parents, at no cost;

• To provide assistance in order to ensure that a Parenting Plan being agreed upon, will be in the best interests of the child or children;

• To conduct forensic investigations relating to the best interests of a child or children, where necessary.

The Family Advocate cannot however advise on the issue of maintenance. Maintenance for minor children is dealt with by the maintenance court. Should a parent feel like they are not sure of their responsibilities or rights in respect of their minor child/children, the Family Advocate can be approached in order to arrange a meeting between the parties to mediate the responsibilities and rights between them. 

The Family Advocate cannot become involved in any matter that has already been finalised by the court.  They cannot be subpoenaed to court as a witness to give evidence on behalf of any party even if his/her recommendation is in favour of that party.

The recommendation of the Family Advocate is intended to assist the court in providing recommendations as to what is in the best interests of a minor child/children.  The recommendation is not enforceable unless it is made an Order of court.  The Office of the Family Advocate is a neutral institution and they therefore cannot act as a legal representative for either party in a matter.

The Family Advocate is a highly beneficial organisation for all parents who have their children’s best interests at heart and whose aim is to provide a stable environment for them should their parent’s separate / divorce.

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Author – Samantha Delmoney

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