In most cases these days, family courts grant parenting time to each divorcing or separating spouse so they can bond with their kids and maintain a strong relationship. These child custody arrangements vary widely, with some parents splitting time equally and others getting more or less time with their children than their co-parent does.
Additionally, if a judge has safety concerns, they might order supervised visitation for a parent. The grounds for supervised parenting time differ, and the actual visitation can take different forms. To make things clearer, this article explains what supervised visitation is, grounds for it, how supervised parenting time may look and how to request this during or after a divorce.
What is supervised visitation?
When a court orders supervised visitation for a parent, it means the parent can’t spend time with their child unless a third party is there to observe the interaction. That third person may be a professional or someone the parents know and agree on. The type of supervisor often depends on the severity and type of safety threat that exists in the case.
The type of danger involved might also dictate whether the supervised visits take place in the supervised parent’s home, a treatment center or a neutral setting.
Types of supervised or restricted parenting time
Just like almost any other family law matter, supervised visitation is not one-size-fits-all. Restricted visitation available in your jurisdiction might include:
- Shortened visitation time that requires the parent in question to check in with a trusted adult before and after the visit
- Monitored visitation time that requires a third party to check in with the parent in question and the child from time to time but doesn’t require the third party’s presence at every moment
- Supervised visitation that requires a trusted third party to observe visitation at all times
- Supervised visitation that requires a third-party professional to observe visitation at all times
Sometimes the goal in a case involving supervised visitation is to decrease or eliminate the restrictions on a parent’s visitation rights over time.
What can or can’t happen during supervised parenting time?
Supervised visitation rules are often tailored to the unique circumstances of the family involved. This is why both parents and the supervisor need to read the judge’s orders.
The supervised parent and child may be encouraged to play and talk during parenting time, but the following parameters might apply to their time together:
- Prohibitions on insulting the other parent or other family members
- Prohibitions on corporal punishment, making threats toward the child or insulting the child
- A requirement that the supervisor stay close enough to see and hear the supervised parent and the child at all times
- Restrictions on the supervised parent exchanging gifts or notes with the child
- Requirements for the supervised parent’s behavior, such as arriving on time and not being under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the visit
- Restrictions on the supervised parent photographing, videotaping or audio-recording the child
- A requirement that the supervisor look out for and report suspected child abuse
- Restrictions on where the visits can take place
- Restrictions on physical contact with the child
- A requirement that the supervisor end the visit early in particular situations (if this happens, the supervision typically tells the parent why they did this)
Additionally, the supervising agent usually takes notes during visitation and has an obligation to report what they observe to the court. (None of the parent’s communications with the child during visitation are confidential.)
What are the grounds for supervised visitation?
The grounds for supervised visitation differ from state to state. A court might grant supervised parenting time in a family law decree for one or more of the following reasons:
- A parent has been accused of domestic violence
- There are concerns the parent may abduct the child
- A parent has a mental health challenge that could jeopardize the child’s safety
- A parent has a substance abuse problem
- There have been allegations of child abuse
- A parent seeking visitation has had no previous relationship with the child
- A parent’s visitation presents other safety concerns for the child or parties to the case
Overall, most state family courts enter orders based on what’s in the best interests of the children.
When can I request supervised visitation in my case?
If you’re concerned about your child’s safety during parenting time, most often you may file a motion asking the court to order supervised visitation at the beginning of your custody case. Additionally, if a judge has safety concerns, they may order supervised parenting time without your request.
If you already have a custody order, in most cases, you have to file a petition to modify the order to require supervised visitation. You’ll likely need to prove a substantial change in circumstances (generally meaning a major change that wasn’t anticipated by the permanent order) and that supervision is in your child’s best interests before the court will order supervised parent time.
However, a court may enter a temporary order sooner if it appears that your child is in imminent danger. Additionally, given the fact that supervised visitation is usually ordered when a parent poses a threat to their child, you may be able to request an emergency protective order.
When to speak with an attorney
When you’re concerned about your child’s safety, an experienced family attorney may help put your mind at ease. They can help you identify and gather the evidence necessary to prove that your custody case requires supervised visitation, then make persuasive arguments to the judge. They can also answer your questions throughout the process and assist if you or your spouse wish to modify orders in the future.