When parents split up and one parent is awarded custody and the other parent gets visitation, there are a number of different ways that the visitation aspect of the arrangement can work. One type of visitation that’s often misunderstood is supervised visitation.
If you’re a parent who has been granted supervised visitation (or believe that you may be granted supervised visitation), it’s important to understand what this means, why it might be ordered, and how it works in your situation. Read on to learn more about the ins and outs of supervised visitation.
What Is Supervised Visitation?
Supervised visitation is what it sounds like – the visiting parent gets to spend time with their child, but they’ll be supervised by a third party while doing so. Supervised visitation can take place at:
- The parent’s home
- An outside location chosen by the parent (like a restaurant or park)
- A facility designated for that purpose
Where a parent can have their supervised meetings with their child depends on the details of the case and why the supervision was ordered.
Why Would Visitation Be Supervised?
Generally speaking, family courts want children to be able to develop and maintain relationships with both parents whenever possible. This is generally considered to be important for a child’s development.
However, family courts are also obligated to act in the best interests of the child, and there are situations where the court may decide that it’s not safe or in the child’s best interests for a parent to have unsupervised access to their children. There are a number of reasons why this might be the case, for example:
- If a parent has physically, sexually, or emotionally abused the child in question, another child, or the other parent of the child.
- If a parent has neglected the child in question or another child.
- If a parent has a history of active addiction to alcohol or other substances.
- If a parent has an unmanaged mental illness that poses a risk to the child.
- If a parent is considered likely to abduct their child or to refuse to return them to the parent who has custody.
- If there are dangerous living conditions or family situations at play.
- If a parent has been absent from a child’s life for a long period of time and now wants to establish (or re-establish) a relationship with that child.
Essentially, if there’s any risk of physical or emotional harm to the child, supervised visitation is a way to mitigate that risk while still allowing parent and child to form a bond and maintain a relationship.
Who Will Supervise?
There are several ways that a judge can arrange supervision. Some supervised visitation takes place in a designated facility where staff members are trained to supervise these interactions. Parent and child meet at the facility and leave when the visitation is over.
In other cases, the judge can assign a social worker who will meet the parent at their home or at another location for the scheduled visits. This way, parent and child interactions are still monitored by a professional, neutral third party, but the visits can take place in a non-institutional setting that may be more comfortable for both parent and child.
One other option is for either the custodial parent or a friend, relative, or family acquaintance to be the designated monitor. Typically, both parents must agree to this arrangement and to the person who will be monitoring for the judge to accept the arrangement. The details of the case make a big difference in who will get designated to be the supervisor.
In a case where the parent with visitation is considered high risk for abducting the child, a judge might prefer to use a designated facility with staff members to do the monitor in order to reduce the risk of flight. Parents who have previously abused the children they’re visiting in some way may need to be monitored by a social worker or other court-appointed professional.
A parent who has previously been absent from their child’s life, but has no reason to be considered unfit or potentially dangerous, is more likely to be granted monitoring by the other parent or a friend or relative, as long as they and the custodial parent can come to an agreement.
Is Supervised Visitation Permanent?
It’s important for parents to realize that supervised visitation is often only a temporary situation. Of course, this is largely case-specific – the reason for ordering supervised visitation factors heavily into when and whether a parent will eventually be granted unsupervised visitation. In many cases, a parent will have to meet certain requirements in order to be considered for unsupervised visitation.
For instance, a parent who suffers from a substance abuse disorder may be required to complete a treatment program and pass drug screenings for a certain amount of time. They may also be required to meet other conditions, like getting and maintaining a job or obtaining suitable housing for a parent with children.
When the conditions have been met, the court will consider changing the visitation order. Parents who comply often do receive unsupervised visitation. Formerly absent parents who are seeking to build a relationship with their children may need to be supervised for only a short period of time if there are no other factors that could impact the need for supervision.
In these cases, the supervision is often mainly a means to help the child get comfortable with an unknown parent before spending time alone with them. Once a healthy parent/child relationship is established, the parent may be able to successfully petition for unsupervised visitation.
In some cases, however, supervised visitation may be permanent. The most frequent reason for a permanent supervised visitation order is previous sexual abuse of the child, although severe physical abuse or domestic violence incidents could also result in permanent supervision.
No matter what the reason for a supervised visitation order, it’s in a parent’s and child’s best interests for the parent to comply with the court’s instructions and keep up a regular visitation schedule. Not only can this result in eventual unsupervised visitation, but it can also help parents build a relationship with their children that can last into the child’s adulthood.
If you’re a parent who may be facing supervised visitation, you may be able to successfully be awarded unsupervised visitation instead, or achieve unsupervised visitation in the future. A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you prepare to advocate for yourself in court.