The Office of the Family Advocate (OFA) continues to champion the needs of children across the country. The OFA, within the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development assists parents reach an agreement on disputed custody, parenting plans, family mediation, access and guardianship of a child and more. The unit was brought into being through the promulgation of the Mediation in Certain Divorce Matters Act (Act No 24 of 1987).
Since its establishment in 1990, the office has grown exponentially with 25 service points’ countrywide. “When the office was established, it only had six offices situated at the High Courts in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town,” says Chief Family Advocate, Petunia Seabi-Mathope. She highlights that an average of 2000 matters related to mediation of family matters is dealt with her team across the country every month.
In order to ensure the Offices run smoothly there are 127 Family Advocates, 44 Family Law Assistants and 150 Family Counsellors as well as administration support staff members. Recently, OFA was mandated to oversee the child maintenance system. Currently there are 306 designated maintenance courts in the country, with a compliment of 261 Maintenance Investigators and 139 Maintenance Officers across the country, managed by Chief Advocate Seabi-Mathope.
Through wide-spread campaigns such as Operation Isondlo, and the recent Amendment to the Maintenance Bill where defaulters could face criminal charges, maintenance has taken centre stage. Operation Isondlo implemented successful tracing of maintenance defaulters and maintenance beneficiaries whose lump sum monies were lying in the unclassified accounts.
The OFA is also a designated as a Central Authority to discharge duties which are imposed by the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspect of International Child Abduction, 1980. The Hague Convention is a multilateral treaty which seeks to protect the children from the harmful effects of adduction and retention across international boundaries by providing a procedure to bring about their prompt return. South Africa is a member state of the United Nations and consequently a signatory of various international instruments such as the United Nation Convention of the Rights of the Child, 1959.
For more information on the Office of the Family Advocate visit: http://www.justice.gov.za/FMAdv/f_main.htm