Have you ever wondered what challenges the presiding officer of the children’s court face on a daily basis? We speak to Mari von Hoesslin about her duties in protecting children and their rights as a magistrate at Palm Ridge Court.
A good day in court would be when she goes home, knowing whatever decisions she made brought justice and fairness to all and above all, with the best interest of the children at heart.
Mari was appointed as an acting magistrate in 2014 and then permanently appointed in February 2018.
“My ultimate highlight was when I was placed as presiding officer in the Children’s Court. I’ve always been passionate about children and their protection. I am definitely fulfilled with where I am and what I am doing.”
From desk to the bench
“I honestly don’t know why I chose this career. I woke up one day and told my mom I am going to study law. She was as surprised as me, but I don’t regret the path I chose.”
Mari obtained her LLB degree from the University of the Free State and then moved to Alberton to do her two years of articles.
“This was such a challenge. When you leave varsity you think you know everything and you are ready to change the world. Boy, oh, boy was I wrong.
“When you enter the firm on that first day, all dressed up like a character from Ally McBeal, the harsh reality hits you. You actually don’t know much. This is not some TV series.
“But, by the grace of God the two years flew past. I passed my board exams and was admitted as an attorney.”
She then worked for a year as a professional assistant at a firm in Alberton after which she decided to open her own practice, M von Hoesslin Attorneys, in 2010.
“I started off with an office, a sign on the door, a cellphone and no clients. I was blessed to get some referrals from old colleagues and friends and soon I had a well-established practice.”
And then, of course, came the appointment at Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court.
Like many others, her day job starts off with a cup of coffee.
“That’s for sure,” she said.
But when she enters the court her duty is to adjudicate disputes regarding parental responsibilities and rights, and parenthood in general.
“People grow up in different circumstances, with different morals and values. When a child is born from such a relationship parents don’t always agree as to what is in the child’s best interest,” she explained.
“It is then the duty of the court, with various other roll players, to assess the circumstances and to guide parents in line with the provisions of the Children’s Act and numerous other acts, to act in the best interest of their child. It is the duty of the presiding officer to protect children and their rights.”
Knowing she has made an improvement or a positive change in a child’s life is the most rewarding part of her job.
“The hardest to cope with is the fact that you will never be able to satisfy everyone. When you apply the law to a specific matter you will always have a successful and unsuccessful party.”
She also holds the utmost respect for social workers.
“Whether in private practice or working for the Department of Social Development, these people are selfless and it is mind blowing to see them attend to the extremely serious matters they deal with on a daily basis. Social workers are the voice of the children in our society.”
Mari also feels strongly about National Children’s Day, celebrated on November 7 this year.
“Children are the most vulnerable members of our society and child protection is everybody’s responsibility. This day was declared with the aim to have a country where we have children who are free from abuse, neglect and exploitation.
“The rights of children form such an important part of our Constitution and are included in Section 28 of the Bill of Rights. I do, however, think more should be done during this month and specifically National Children’s Day, to not just celebrate the progress made but to also educate.
“I want to get more involved with the community in Palm Ridge and our surrounding areas. More specifically with the children. I think children don’t know what their rights are, nor do they realise that with these rights there also comes certain responsibilities. Children need to be educated from a young age.”
When she closes her office and leaves her magistrate’s robe behind, she goes home to her own family.
She has been married to Warren since 2008 and they are blessed with two children, a daughter Leigh-Ann (11) and a son, Jayden (9).
“They are exceptional children and I am so proud to be called their mommy.”
The family lives in Boksburg because it is close to the children’s schools and “in a neighbourhood where they can still go to have a picnic in the park, ride bikes in the streets and we can still take our dogs for a walk.”
Family time is precious time. Due to busy schedules, and added to that the children’s extramural activities ranging from dancing to drumming, it is important to unwind and relax together.
“We call Friday our braai day. We enjoy going to the movies or just having lazy movie days at home.”
They try to get to the coast at least once a year, enjoy camping with their extended family and once a year they go to Manyane, Pilanesberg.
“We enjoy the wild life, bird life, game drives and then most of all the picnic spots in the park where you literally sit in the middle of the bush with a beautiful view over waterholes.
“I am definitely more of an outdoors girl and loves sunshine. There is nothing better than being in a bush with limited resources and limited light. Then you can actually see the stars, feel the fresh air in your lungs and you can ‘hear’ the silence.
“Our favourite holiday was our brief visit to Paris, having supper in a restaurant on the Eiffel Tower and a week in Austria skiing.”
Off the cuff
Things some people may not know about her is she likes arts and crafts, with a recent interest in mosaic, and she loves restoring antique furniture.
Her ultimate spoil is a full day at the spa with everything from a mani, facial to a foot massage and oh, don’t forget the glass of champagne.
When it comes to her guilty pleasure, a Cadbury’s Whole Nut chocolate slab is not up for sharing and wardrobe must-haves include a little black dress which you can dress up or down, comfy jeans and at least one pair of heels.
When asked about her pet peeve she said, “I don’t have pet peeves, I have a whole kennel of irritations.”
And if she could leave us with one last message it would be her motto in life: “Don’t limit your challenges. Challenge your limits.”
* Text: Carina van der Walt. Photo: White Plum Photography.