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How Supervised Visitation Works

What supervised visitation entails and how certain circumstances are involved in ordering it. 

The U.S. Supreme Court has long ruled that a parent's right to have custody of their children and be an active and integral part of their children’s lives is fundamental. For a court to order supervised visitation in place of visitation managed by the child's parents, there must be clear evidence that the child might experience physical, mental, or emotional harm while in one parent’s care. 

What is supervised visitation? 

Supervised visitation is when a parent can only be with their child in specific, restricted circumstances. Once they grant it, judges will dictate the requirements for visitation, including: 

  • If visitations must take place in a dedicated facility 
  • Whether other locations are suitable for visitations 
  • How long visitations may last 
  • When and how frequently a child can visit their non-custodial parent 
  • Whether a monitor, social worker, or similar individual must be present to monitor the visitation 
  • If a friend or relative may act as a monitor, as long as both parents are willing and agree on the person 

Lawyer's office

What justifies supervised visitation? 

A judge will consider granting supervised visitation if one parent believes that the non-custodial parent may be putting their child at risk while in their care. By implementing an order for supervised visitation, judges attempt to provide a safe way for the child to spend time with their other parent. 

The judge may appoint a guardian ad litem to assist in assessing the validity of claims in the case. Their investigation will typically include an interview with the child, parents, family members, friends, teachers, social workers, and other medical professionals to evaluate the reasons for the request for supervised visitation. 

The following reasons are commonly perceived as grounds for supervised visitation: 

  • A child shows signs of abuse after visits with a parent, such as stuttering, bed-wetting, poor school performance, or other unusual behavior. 
  • A parent has an alleged drug or alcohol abuse problem that causes them to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol or neglect their parental responsibilities. 
  • A parent is in prison or was recently released from prison. 
  • There is a perceived risk of a parent committing parental kidnapping. 
  • A parent does not have suitable, consistent living arrangements. 
  • A parent has been absent from a child’s life for a long time, and they don’t know each other well. 
  • A child requires consistent medicines or treatments, and the parent is unwilling or fails to care for the child. 

How does a supervised visit work? 

Supervised visits are different for everyone. Some parents and children describe supervised visitation as a tense, uncomfortable experience. They feel like they are under a microscope because of a monitor's presence, making regular interaction difficult. Others say they do not notice the supervisor's presence because they are so happy to spend time with each other regardless of the circumstances. 

Father and son talking to a woman

Who can supervise visitation? 

The supervisor may be a contracted third party, such as a counselor or social worker, that requires a fee that both parents must cover. The costs can quickly add up, mainly if supervised visits occur multiple times per week or for an extended time. If both parents want to avoid these fees and can agree on a person, they can select a family member or friend as their supervisor. The court will vet and review the nominated individual to approve or deny their supervisor role. 

If both parents wish to avoid fees but cannot agree on a monitor for supervised visits, they can opt for community supervised visitation. Instead of having a specific person managing or overseeing visitation, the visits between the non-custodial parent and their child must occur in a public place like a restaurant. 

Where do visits take place? 

Supervised visits may occur at the child’s home, the non-custodial parent’s house, a local visitation center 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 occur. 

What else can a judge dictate for visitation? 

Depending on the circumstances of the request, the judge may order other types of restrictions on supervised visits. For example, the non-custodial parent may be prohibited from bringing gifts or food to the visitation. The supervisor may be required to maintain line-of-sight supervision of the parent and child during the entire duration of each visit. In more lenient cases, the judge may allow visitation in the non-custodial parent's home if a monitor is present. 

How should I act during supervised visits? 

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 with your child is not the right 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 will likely report to the court about what they see and hear during your visits. Whether your visitation order is temporary or indefinite, you will want reports that reflect positive behavior to avoid eliminating the chance of having unsupervised visitation. 

Also, ensure you interact genuinely with your child during your supervised visits. Arrive on time and ensure you engage with your child during this time. 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 can I get supervised visitation removed? 

Supervised visitation is usually set up temporarily but can be ordered indefinitely if a judge deems it necessary. Regardless of whether the order is temporary or indefinite, the non-custodial parent must return to court to request that visitation be changed to regular, unsupervised visits. Most courts provide ways for parents to regain regular visitation if they can change their circumstances and prove that their children are safe in their care. 

Depending on the initial reason for the order, you may need to: 

  • Complete a substance abuse rehabilitation program. 
  • Attend an anger management program. 
  • Have six months of negative drug test results. 
  • Attend individual, group, or family counseling. 

If your shared parenting situation involves current or potential supervised visitation, a communication service like TalkingParents can help reduce stress and confusion. Keeping track of custody and visitation schedules is crucial, and the Shared Calendar can be a great resource that keeps both parents in the loop with the most up-to-date schedule. 

For parents looking for an affordable alternative to supervised visitation that’s just as accountable, Video Calling can keep parents connected with their kids as a form of virtual visitation. Each call comes with a transcript and recording, enabling non-custodial parents to engage with their children while keeping calls documented for the courts.  

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