Custody and visitation issues are among the most hotly contested in a divorce. Most of the time, parents will share responsibility and a fair schedule to make sure they are both actively involved in their children’s lives.
At other times, there may be extenuating circumstances that necessitate the need for limited interactions between a parent and child. This can lead to a supervised visitation order.
- What is Supervised Visitation?
- Why Would a Judge Consider Ordering Supervised Visitation?
- Who Pays for Supervised Visitation and How Much Does it Cost?
- Supervised Visitation Violations
- Going from Supervised Visitation to Unsupervised Visitation
- Supervised Visitation Checklist
- Supervised Visitation FAQs
What is Supervised Visitation?
In all cases, courts place the safety and best interests of children above all else when parents go through a divorce.
Sometimes, based on the safety and protection of the children, a judge may order that a parent only has contact with their children in the presence of a neutral third party.
This is known as supervised visitation.
Why Would a Judge Consider Ordering Supervised Visitation?
Supervised visitations may take place for a limited time until issues that concern the court are remedied. The court order may be lifted or modified if the parent can demonstrate they are capable of providing a safe environment for their children.
Some of the reasons a judge might consider supervised visitation include:
- If there is a history of drug or alcohol abuse.
- If there is a history of domestic violence or neglect.
- If there is a threat of parental abduction.
- When a parent has demonstrated some kinds of mental illness.
- To reintroduce the child and the parent after an extended separation (i.e. if the parent was incarcerated or had abdicated parenting responsibilities).
- If there was never an existing relationship between the parent and the child
- To give the parent a chance to work on any specific issues that might be considered detrimental to unsupervised time.
Who Pays for Supervised Visitation and How Much Does it Cost?
The court may order that you use a professional provider as the neutral third party. Parents may also be given a list of professional providers as part of this requirement.
Whether you hire a professional service or use a family member for visitation, the third party must be able to speak the same language as the parent and the child, be impartial and be comfortable following the terms and conditions of the court order and the parenting plan.
The process and fees will vary from provider to provider, but a typical process and fee schedule may be similar to this:
- Intake appointment. Both parents must complete an intake appointment to discuss the agreement for service, rules, procedures, and fee schedules.
- The cost for this is anywhere from $50 to $100 per parent.
- Supervised visitation. There is generally a minimum number of hours required (2 or more) but rates and length of time may vary due to the number of children, location of the visits, holiday vs. non-holiday dates, and other variables.
- Rates may run from $40 to $100 or more per hour. This is part of what you’ll need to discuss with the provider. Also, you may be able to discuss which parent is responsible for paying for the supervised visit, but generally, it is the parent required to have the supervised visit who must bear the costs.
- Supervised exchanges. Separate from visitations.
- Expect the cost for this to be on the high end of the visitation rate.
- Court testimony. In some cases, especially when there is a dispute or when parents are seeking a modification, a provider may have to testify in court.
- Costs for this can run $100 or more per hour.
Supervised Visitation Violations
When supervised visitation is implemented, it is done so with a series of terms and provisions set for in a court-ordered visitation order. A parent must comply with those terms and provisions or they will be subject to penalties.
Orders are in place for a reason, and when there are violations, they are treated seriously because they could be putting the child’s safety and well-being in jeopardy.
There are also times when visitation schedules may need to be changed for legitimate reasons (such as starting a new job, schedule changes, etc.). In those cases, it’s best to file a formal modification order with the court or child services agency in your state.
Parents should also be careful about speaking in negative terms about the other parent during visits. You can also get into some hot water if you coach children to act a certain way during a supervised visit or say certain things that come off as obviously scripted.
What are some of the ways visitation can be violated?
Visitation violations may vary from state to state, but some of the more common violations include:
- Not picking up or dropping off at the right place or time.
- Arbitrarily changing the visitation schedule.
- Withholding visitation from the other parent.
- Overstaying a visit with the child.
- Attempting to visit the child at non-appointed times.
- Allowing somebody else who has not been appointed by the court to pick up or drop off the child.
What are the possible consequences of violations?
Again, penalties and approaches to handling violations may vary from state to state, but can include:
- Court appearance. Violating parents may need to appear in court and explain why they violated the court order.
- Modification of visitation rights. If you disrespect the rules laid out by the court, your privileges can be curtailed, and in some extreme circumstances, they can be terminated. Also, violations are entered into court records and may be used against you at a future date if problems persist.
- Contempt of court charges. This results from willful disobedience or disregard of the court-ordered visitation parameters and can result in fines or possible modifications of the visitation order.
- Criminal charges. When a parent repeatedly violates visitation orders, they can be charged with a more serious crime, resulting in possible fines, and in some cases, jail time.
What can you do when a visitation order is violated?
Depending on the nature of the violation, here are some steps you can take:
- Attempt to resolve the issue on your own. Sometimes, the violation is minor and a genuine oversight by the other parent. If your relations with them are decent, attempt to work it out on your own.
- Call the police. If the other parent is not reasonable or cooperative, or you have any kind of fears about confronting them, ask for assistance from the police.
- Get legal help. Contact your attorney who can send a letter to the other parent and putting them on notice about potential penalties for non-compliance.
- File a motion. You can file a motion with the court for contempt of court if there are repeated violations of the visitation order. As part of this, you can seek attorney’s fees and other costs as well.
Going from Supervised Visitation to Unsupervised Visitation
Circumstances can change (and often do) so that a supervised visit may no longer be warranted. For example, a parent with a drug problem may have gone through drug rehabilitation as mandated by the court. This is sometimes set as a condition of changing supervised visits to unsupervised.
The key in all cases is that the court will always put children’s best interests above all other issues in a co-parenting situation. If you are required to have supervised visits, it is up to you as the parent to demonstrate a new level of responsible behavior over an extended period to earn back your rights.
Understand also that seeking a change in custody can take a long time. If you are seeking a change, be aware that the process can take several months. There are checks and balances in place for a reason, and you will have to be patient while the process plays out.
Obtaining a visitation modification begins with filing an Order to Show Cause (or something similar depending on your jurisdiction) for the modification with the court. The order will detail your reasons for seeking a change. You may also consider filing a change in child support at the same time, if your situation warrants.
You can get help from a lawyer to ensure you make your best case. Some courts also have family law facilitators to help with visitation and custody issues.
Once your paperwork has been filed with the court, you will be given a court or mediation hearing date. Much like other parts of a divorce, you will need to have the order served on the other parent and file a proof of service with the court when this is completed.
Keep in mind that the changes you are requesting may also have an impact on your parenting plan that has been approved by the court. You may need to revisit this agreement as well.
After the court hearing, the judge will make a determination and sign the new court order. In some cases, the court prepares the order, and in other cases, the person who requested the change is responsible for prepping the new order.
How you can help your own case for seeking unsupervised visits
Here are some suggestions that might be helpful to you:
- Read the court order.
- Arrive and depart on time.
- Avoid discussing the court case or terms of the visit with your children.
- Don’t ask your children about the other parent’s activities and relationships.
- Avoid making your children messengers to the other parent.
- Stick to brief and positive good-byes to your children when your visit is over.
Supervised Visitation Checklist
The specific types of behaviors and conditions that are observed and noted will vary a bit from state to state or agency to agency. In general, though, the following are typically the guidelines for supervised visitation a third party looks for when monitoring.
- The parent arrives on time.
- The parent initiates contact.
- Does the child feel comfortable initiating contact?
- Parent hugs and/or kisses the child.
- Parent praises and encourages the child.
- The parent is sensitive to the child’s feelings.
- Does the parent ignore or change what the child says?
- Does the parent ask about school and other activities?
- Does the parent use child-friendly language?
- Does the parent use profanity? If so, to what degree?
- Does the parent ask about the child’s friends?
- Does the parent initiate conversations with the child?
- How often does the child initiate conversation with the parent?
- Does the parent speak in a threatening or intimidating fashion? Is their evidence of being short, curt, or too demanding of the child
- Does the parent introduce guilt-inducing or other negative behaviors when conversing with the child?
- How does the parent deal with the subject of the other parent when it comes up?
- Does the parent practice good personal hygiene?
- Does the parent provide good personal hygiene for the child?
- Are there any signs of substance abuse?
- Are there any signs of domestic violence?
- Does the child share gifts, schoolwork, and other personal mementos with the parent?
- Are both the child and the parent attentive, and express non-verbal communication such as smiles and good eye contact?
- What kinds of questions does the parent ask the child?
- Does the parent attempt to engage the child in productive activities such as working on homework together?
- Is the parent involved with the child to an appropriate degree? Is the parent under- or over-involved (hovering) with the child.
- Is the parent’s home an overall safe place for the child to visit?
- Does the parent provide the care necessary for the childâ€™s developmental stage (i.e., parent changes a diaper, helps to tie shoes, cuts up food, etc.)
- Does the parent have age-appropriate toys on hand?
- Does the parent feed the child age-appropriate snacks and meals?
- Does the parent play with the child and engage in age-appropriate activities?
- Does the parent show respect for the child’s physical space when the situation requires it?
- How does the parent handle the child’s anger and tantrums?
- Does the parent administer appropriate discipline when needed? Does the parent follow through with rewards or consequences based on behaviors?
- Does the parent set limits and enforce them?
- What is the child’s overall demeanor toward the parent?
- What is the parent’s overall demeanor toward the child?
Supervised Visitation FAQs
What are the basic rules for supervised visitation?
At a minimum, and in accordance with the court-ordered supervised visitation, a supervisor will follow and enforce several basic visitation rules. They will include:
- The supervisor will be present at all times.
- All parent/child contact will be with in sight and hearing of the supervisor at all times.
- There will be no threatening, spanking or hitting children during the visit.
- No visit will be allowed if a parent appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- There will be no derogatory comments made about the other parent or their family members.
- No gathering of information about the other parent, extended family, or family situations will be allowed.
If I’m hiring a professional provider, what questions should I ask as part of the vetting process?
Start your interview process with these areas:
- Fees and method of payment
- Safety and security measures
- Program conditions and guidelines
- Hours of operation
- Reasons for interrupting or ending a visit
- Confidentiality and termination process
- Specialized knowledge in the areas of domestic and substance abuse
What services are NOT covered by supervised visitation?
Supervised visitation providers will not provide legal advice, or act as a third party that a parent can vent upon. They also will not enter into mediation or remedial parent education services. It is also not their job to provide a custodial evaluation.
Above all else, if a supervisor for visitation witnesses abuse or illegal behavior, no confidential privilege exists. Any violations of this nature will be reported to law enforcement or the appropriate agency as provided by law.
How often should supervised visitation be?
There are a lot of variables to consider in how long and how often supervised visitation should be. The visitation schedule variables can include the age of the children, their temperament, the strength of the bond with the parent, how much parenting time has elapsed since the last visitation, and others.
The other thing to consider is how much involvement the parent wants or how much the custodial parent is willing to allow.
Up until three years old, visits should be shorter in duration and more frequent. One to two hours is often sufficient to develop a positive bond with a parent.
After age three and up to five years old, the length of the visits can increase, but the frequency may decrease. Two 2-hour visits per week are fairly normal.
From five to 10 years old, routine for children is critical. Children this range tolerate two to three-hour visits two times a week.
At age 10 through 15, frequency tends to decrease because the child has more outside social interactions. Once a week for up to three hours is normal, but the older the child becomes, the less likely they want to engage in visitation with their non-custodial parent in a supervised setting.
By age 16, children rarely have supervised visitation with their parents. Young persons in this age are entrenched in their school, social activities, and friends. They often have little time for both parents. Negotiating parenting time is best.
How do you keep supervised visitation?
As the custodial parent, if you have concerns about your child’s welfare, you need to routinely monitor their interactions with the other parent. This can be tricky because there is a certain expectation of privacy when a parenting plan is in effect.
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