Sorting out custody and visitation can be one of the most challenging, contentious, and emotional aspects of any divorce.
The court’s job is always to protect the best interests of the child. In many cases, this means that the parenting agreement or custody and visitation order establishes some level of shared responsibility and time to ensure that the child maintains an ongoing relationship and frequent contact with both parents.
But the child’s safety is paramount, and under certain circumstances, one parent’s visits may be limited, monitored, and carefully structured to safeguard the child’s safety and wellbeing.
Supervised visitation, which requires a court order, means that the noncustodial parent is permitted to interact with the child only in the presence of a neutral third party.
Reasons for a Supervised Visitation Order:
- A history or allegations of domestic violence/physical, sexual or emotional abuse
- A history of substance abuse
- A risk or threat of abduction
- A pattern of neglect
- Uncontrolled mental illness
Supervised visitation may also be an appropriate way to reacquaint a parent and child after a long absence (ex: incarceration) or when no previous relationship exists.
The court order will require an impartial third person to accompany the child and facilitate visits. It may also specify that you use a professional supervised visitation provider such as a social worker; alternatively, the judge may allow a family member, close friend, or other mutually agreed upon, non-professional provider to perform this role. In either case, the provider must be unbiased, speak the language of the visiting parent, and be comfortable sticking to the terms and conditions of the order or parenting plan. Typically, the visiting parent must pay the fee for a professional; a non-professional supervisor is generally unpaid.
The court order will also designate a location for the visits, a controlled environment that is safe, secure, and minimally stressful for the child.
Once the court puts conditions of supervised visitation in place, both parents must comply.
The terms and conditions of supervised visitation may be temporary or indefinite, but in most cases, they allow for modification after a significant change of circumstances. For example, the court may order a parent to complete a certain period of rehab or counseling, attend an anger management program, or provide several months of clean drug tests. In cases where there are allegations of abuse or violence, the supervised visitation order will remain in place during an investigation, and it is imperative to cooperate. After a parent fulfills these conditions, filing for a modification to allow unsupervised visits can take several months.
Tips for Successful Supervised Visits:
When you’re the visiting parent, it can be challenging to adjust to interacting with your child while another person monitors; you may feel awkward at first. Try not to let feelings about the order, supervision, or your ex get in the way of quality time with your child.
- Familiarize yourself with the court order.
- Prepare yourself ahead of time, so you are calm and positive in a reasonable frame of mind.
- Arrive on time.
- Leave distractions at the door and focus on your child. Ask about school, activities, and friends. Give affection, encouragement, and your full attention.
- Don’t discuss the case or the order or probe the child for information about the other parent. Don’t make your child carry messages between you and your ex.
- End the visit on schedule. Keep your goodbyes brief, warm, and upbeat.
Supervised visitation can also be challenging for the custodial parent. You may have concerns about how the visits will affect your child or their relationship with you or the other parent. These feelings are normal. But whether or not you agree with the court’s terms, it is vital to show that you are willing to cooperate.
- Familiarize yourself with the court order.
- Inform, support, and encourage your child. Ensure they know when and where visits happen, how they’ll get there, and who will accompany them. Help them prepare and look forward to each one. Make sure they have everything they need to take along. Stay upbeat.
- Arrive on time for drop-offs and pick-ups.
- Don’t make your child a messenger to the other parent.
- Try not to quiz your child about how the visit went or the other parent but allow them to share as they want to.
When a divorce is reasonably amicable and has no extenuating circumstances, it’s preferable to avoid custody litigation with a fair and practical parenting agreement. However, a request for supervised visitation is severe and requires substantial evidence; it’s not something to pursue frivolously. When necessary, you must work through the court system to get an order with enforceable terms. If you genuinely believe that your child is at risk with the other parent, make sure you’re working with an experienced attorney, and inform the judge immediately.
At Schoenberg Family Law Group, our attorneys practice exclusively in family law and are experts in representing custodial and noncustodial parents in custody and visitation cases. Our experienced lawyers handle custody and visitation matters related to divorces and partnership dissolutions, legal separations, annulments, abuse prevention, and parentage actions. We diligently work toward favorable outcomes for our clients, prioritizing your children’s needs and interests.