Family Advocates are independent family law officials tasked with giving recommendations or confirmation to the Courts as to what care and contact arrangements in respect of minor children they believe are in the best interests of those children.
The Family Advocates will intervene, when requested to do so by either of the parties in a dispute and/or if ordered to do so by the Court, and hold an enquiry to make an assessment of the situation and thereafter prepare a Report with their recommendations.
The Family Advocate will send out a notice to the parties with the date and time for the enquiry to take place, with the parties to advise of any material problem with attending on that date and time so that the enquiry can be rescheduled to a more suitable date.
The purpose of the enquiry, at the beginning, is to see if the issues can be mediated between the parties through the Family Advocate. There will often be a Family Counsellor present at the enquiry also, who will be a trained social worker with experience in children-related matters.
In divorce actions in particular, if the parties have already mediated a resolution and completed a Parenting Plan, the Family Advocate’s endorsement is required confirming that they are satisfied that the Parenting Plan is in the best interests of the parties before the Court will grant the divorce.
If the parties cannot mediate a resolution and agreement amicably between them then further enquiries may be necessary and the Family Counsellor will investigate the matter, which may include home visits and discussions with third parties. The Family Counsellor will deliver a Report, which the Family Advocate will consider and rely upon to reach a decision in their own Report.
The services of the Family Advocate’s Office are free as it is a governmental service operating to safeguard the best interests of all minor children. Only in extraordinary circumstances such as where a psychological report must be commissioned will there be any other charges incurred.
It is important to be frank and honest with the Family Advocate’s Offices, and to leave personal issues between you and the other party at the door when attending an enquiry. The focus of everyone present will need to be on the best interests of the children at all times.
If you are requesting the intervention of the Family Advocate, you can only do so if there is an existing application (as the role of the Family Advocate is to advise the Court), and you must ensure that the Family Advocate is provided with all of the relevant papers in the application so that they have an understanding of what the matter is about before the enquiry.
It is within the Family Advocate’s prerogative how to conduct the enquiry and whether they will consider documents or video evidence that you may wish to present to them at the enquiry itself. This evidence is usually more pertinent for if further enquiries or investigations are needed, where this can then be put forward to set out your position as succinctly as is possible.
Please feel free to contact our offices if you need assistance with any children-related issues or concerns about what a Family Advocate enquiry in your unique situation may entail.
For direct answers to your specific personal questions, please contact us directly.
Read more about our family law services.
Author – Murray Taylor