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How Supervised Visitation Works

For a court to order supervised visitation, there must be compelling evidence that the child might experience physical, mental, or emotional harm while in the parent’s care.

Supervised visitation is a severe situation. The U.S. Supreme Court has long ruled that parental rights—the rights of parents to have custody to their children and be an active and integral part of their children’s lives—are fundamental rights. Fundamental rights are rights that have a high degree of protection from government interference.
For a court to order supervised visitation, there must be compelling evidence that the child might experience physical, mental, or emotional harm while in the parent’s care. 

Grounds for Supervised Visitation 

Supervised visitation is when a parent is only allowed to visit with his or her child in specific, restricted circumstances. This visit will be under the supervision of a social worker, family member, or in a public setting.
You can’t ask a judge for supervised visitation unless you have compelling evidence that your child might be at risk while their other parent’s care. Judges want supervised visitation to be the exception, not the rule, so every request for supervised visitation will be subject to a potentially lengthy court hearing.
The judge may appoint a guardian ad litem to assist with the case. A guardian ad litem is an independent investigator who often is a counselor or social worker. This individual will interview the child, the parents, family members, friends, teachers, social workers, and other medical professionals to evaluate the validity of the request for supervised visitation. 

every request for supervised visitation will be subject to a potentially lengthy court hearing

Reasons for Supervised Visitation 

  • Allegations of abuse, especially if a child is showing signs of abuse after visits with a parent, such as stuttering, bed-wetting, unusual behavior, or poor school performance.
  • Ongoing drug or alcohol abuse problems by a parent, which causes them to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or neglect their parental responsibilities, such as continually forgetting to pick up their child from school.
  • A parent is in prison or recently released from prison.
  • If there is a risk of parental kidnapping.
  • A parent does not have suitable living arrangements, for example, if they are homeless or live in a hazardous area.
  • If a parent has been absent from a child’s life for a long time and they don’t know one another very well.
  • If a child requires administering of medicines or treatments, and the parent is uninterested with caring for the child or have a history of failing to administer medications. 

When does supervised visitation end? 

Supervised visitation usually is set for a temporary length of time, although it can be ordered indefinitely. 

Steps a Parent Can Take to Regain Regular Visitation

  • Completing a substance abuse rehabilitation program
  • Completing an anger management program
  • Having six months of clean drug tests
  • Attending counseling programs to build the skills needed for healthy family functioning 

Supervised Visitation Rules 

Supervised visitation can take several different forms. 

Who can supervise?

The supervisor may be a contracted third-party, such as a counselor or social worker. If this is the case, there is a fee for these services, which you and your child’s other parent will be required to pay. The costs can quickly add up, especially if visits occur multiple times per week, or supervised visitation is ordered for an extended length of time.
The supervisor can be a family member or friend if both you and your child’s other parent approve of the person chosen, and the court carefully vets the person. Do not choose anyone with a criminal history as they most likely will not be accepted. Also, don’t choose someone who is not able to accommodate the visits. Judges do not like to hear that supervised visits are being canceled.
There also is such a thing as community supervised visitation, which means there isn’t a person managing or overseeing the visits. Instead, the visits between parent and child must occur in a public place like a restaurant.

Some parents and children describe supervised visitation as extremely uncomfortable

Where do visits take place?

Supervised visits may occur at the child’s home, at the parent’s house, at a local agency that facilitates court-ordered visitations, or in a public setting like a restaurant or park. It will be up to the judge to determine where supervised visits will take place.
Additionally, the judge may order other types of restrictions on supervised visits. For example, the supervised parent may not be able to bring gifts or food to the visitation. Or, the supervisor may be required to maintain line-of-sight supervision on the parent and child during visitation.

What is the visit like?

A supervised visit is different for everyone. Some parents and children describe supervised visitation as extremely uncomfortable. They feel as if they are under a microscope the entire time, and it makes interaction with one another in a usual manner difficult. Other children, however, do not even notice the presence of the supervisor because they are so happy to have time with mom or dad.
If you are a parent with court-ordered supervised visitation, you must moderate your behavior during your visits. No matter how much you disagree with the court’s decision, your visitation time is NOT the time to express this. Do not take out your frustrations on the supervisor and do not discuss the situation with your child or badmouth your child’s other parent in any way.

The supervisor is likely reporting back to the court about what they see and hear during your visits. You want reports that you are cooperative and encouraging.
Also, make sure you are interacting with your child during your supervised visits. Arrive on time, clean, well-dressed, and make sure you engage with your child during this time, don’t just start at a television screen. Play board games, solve a puzzle, take a walk outside, and talk. The supervisor wants to see that you and your child are bonding. 

How to Get Supervised Visitation Removed 

You must return to court to have supervised visitation changed. However, because parenting is a fundamental right, most courts provide for ways for parents to regain regular visitation if they can show a change in their circumstances.
If you are concerned about your child's safety while he is visiting with their other parent, or if you feel your parental rights are too restricted, it is essential to seek legal counsel right away. Custody and visitation are complicated subjects, and the laws vary by state and jurisdiction.

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