What is supervised visitation?
California’s law and public policy is to protect the best interest of children whose parents have a custody or visitation matter in family court. Custodial stability, continuity, and a loving parent-child relationship have been classified as the most important criteria for determining a child’s best interest. In certain circumstances, however, a judge may place safeguards when there are issues of protection and safety. In order to protect the safety of a child, a judge may order that a child only have contact with a parent when a neutral third person is present during the visitation. This type of third-person visitation arrangement is often called supervised visitation.
How does supervised visitation become mandated by the court?
Although California law recognizes the importance of frequent and ongoing contact with both parents, that rule is not absolute. The exception to the rule is when such an order is not consistent with the child’s best interest and where there may be conditions that make visitation uncomfortable or even dangerous for a child.
In those scenarios, supervised visitation may be an appropriate answer. Family Code Section 3200.5(b) also requires a California family court to determine whether supervised visitation is necessary or not. Supervised visitation is typically ordered by the court to give the non-custodial parent the chance to work through certain issues and enhance the parent-child relationship and visits. If a child’s safety or well-being are at issue, there are a number of reasons why the judge may order supervised visitation, including:
Parents may be able to establish a parenting plan and agree on the supervised visitation provider. However, if parents disagree on a parenting plan or provider and depending on the nature of the situation, the court will specify the time and duration of the visits, and may also specify where the visits are to take place and who is to supervise the visits.
California family courts have wide discretion to consider any factor that may be relevant to visitation if it affects the health, safety, and welfare of the child. Thus, if supervised visitation is ordered, keep in mind it will be because the judge deems it to be in the best interest of the child.
Compare professional providers and non-professional supervised visitation providers, and when are each is appropriate?
When the court orders supervised visitation, a neutral third party must be present when a child has contact with the visiting parent. The supervised visitation provider is there to facilitate interactions between the visiting parent and their child in a safe, stable, and secure environment. Ultimately, the supervised visitation provider’s responsibility is to keep your child safe and free from unnecessary stress.
California recognizes two (2) types of supervised visitation providers: Non-Professional Providers and Professional Providers. When selecting a provider and before any supervised visits, it is helpful for parents to understand what qualifications are required for both types of providers. Generally, all supervised visitation providers must meet minimum qualifications before providing services and must follow the uniform standards of practice outlined in Family Code Section 3200.5. As with any decision-making matter related to your child, parents should consider all factors, requirements, advantages—as well as disadvantages—when selecting between a non-professional or professional supervisor, further discussed below.
Non-Professional Providers: A non-professional provider typically is a family member, friend, or acquaintance who is not paid for providing the supervised visitation service. While choosing a non-professional supervisor may be an attractive option in order to save on costs and have a familiar face at the visits, selecting a non-professional provider frequently does not work out for various reasons.
First, it is often difficult for parents to find a neutral supervisor on whom they both agree. Second, although friends and relatives may be quick to agree to provide supervision, they also may be unable to maintain their regular supervising commitment or find it difficult to refrain from taking sides. Once neutrality is lost, then the supervisor’s credibility is now at issue and much of the feeling of security and safety for the parents and child will be gone. Lastly, having a friend, relative, or acquaintance as a supervisor may detract from the visiting parent and child’s time together because the visiting parent may be tempted to spend time interacting with the familiar supervisor, rather than focusing only on the child during visits. In that kind of situation, the child may resent or even refuse the visits because they feel less important to the visiting parent.
Professional providers: A professional provider is any person paid for providing supervised visitation services through a supervised visitation center or agency. While both types of supervisors must meet the court’s requirements, professional providers must satisfy more stringent standards for education and training requirements, are well-trained in supervising techniques, and have experience in facilitating safe and supportive visiting environments. If there are concerns about domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, or abduction, parents may benefit from choosing a professional provider who has been trained in those issues and clearly understands the specialized knowledge and skills required for those types of cases and concerns.
How might a visiting parent deal with supervised visitation?
It may be uncomfortable being with your child in the presence of a third party, regardless of the supervisor’s relationship to you. You may not agree with the court’s order of supervised visitation, however, your patience and commitment to your child are critical during this time. Do your best to focus on your relationship with your child and try not to displace any anger against the other parent, the courts, or the fact that supervised visitation was ordered. The following is a list of the court’s suggestions to keep in mind before and during any supervised visitation with your child:
How might a custodial parent deal with supervised visitation?
Supervised visitation may also be a stressful and challenging situation for the custodial parent. The custodial parent is accustomed to tending to their child’s everyday needs and have established a routine for themselves and the family. Supervised visitation may raise concerns and questions about the visits, and how they will affect the relationships between the child and visiting parent, and relationship between the child and custodial parent. These concerns are completely understandable. The custodial parent also may not agree with the court’s order of supervised visitation, however, it is equally critical for the custodial parent to demonstrate from the outset the willingness and ability to cooperate in parenting. Here are a few suggestions from the court that may assist custodial parents in the supervised visitation process:
What needs to take place for a visiting parent to have unsupervised visitation?
Although supervised visitation can be a very difficult situation for both parents and the child, fortunately, supervised visitation is usually only temporary and allows parents to maintain contact with their children despite the challenging circumstances. Once the judge orders supervised visitation, the order remains in place until a parent can demonstrate that there has been a change in circumstances. A change in circumstances can include one parent’s decision to move, a parent’s successful completion of rehabilitation or counseling, or other positive changes that impact a parent’s suitability. The parent who wishes to change the supervised visitation order must return to court and request that the order is modified to reflect the change in circumstances.
The family courts will continue to monitor your case to determine if supervised visitation is still necessary. Keep in mind that if you are the parent whose visitation is supervised, consider how you can demonstrate your fitness to a judge and specific instances that validate a change in circumstances in order to transition from supervised to unsupervised visitation.