The family advocate assists parents in divorce proceedings to reach an agreement on disputed issues, namely care, contact and guardianship. If the parents are unable to reach an agreement, the family advocate evaluates their circumstances in light of the best interests of the child and makes a recommendation to the court regarding care, contact and guardianship.
The recommendation is intended to help the court in deciding a matter and arriving at a particular order. The recommendation itself is not enforceable unless integrated in a court order.
The purpose of the family advocate is to promote and protect the best interests of minor or dependent children in parental responsibilities and rights disputes. The professional component of the Office of the Family Advocate comprises lawyers (family advocates) and social workers (family counselors), who operate in multi-disciplinary teams to ensure a holistic and qualitative approach to the best interests of the child throughout the dispute resolution or the court adjudication process.
Parents visit the family advocate when they have a divorce pending in court, and have minor or dependent children whose subsequent care, contact, guardianship or visitation arrangements are in dispute. Any parenting plan or divorce settlement agreement that contains parental rights and responsibilities must also be endorsed by the family advocate’s office prior to a divorce being granted.
The Office of the Family Advocate gives the child an opportunity to be heard with regard to his/her position in the pending divorce. The atmosphere at the Office of the Family Advocate is therefore less rigid and solemn and more child-friendly compared to that of a courtroom. The family advocate uses techniques of alternate dispute resolution and may work in liaison with other professionals (such as social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists) in assisting the family and ascertaining what is in the best interests of the child.
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Author – Kate Bailey – Hill