The Family Law Act places an emphasis on the importance of a child’s relationship with their parents, and if it’s in the best interests of the child, they should be able to maintain a relationship with both parents.
However, sometimes the fitness of a parent and the risk to the safety of a child may be a concern for the other parent or the court. This concern could result in a child only spending time with one of their parents during supervised visitation.
In this article, we’re going to explain what supervised visitation is, why this kind of arrangement may be put in place, and how it works.
What is supervised visitation?
Supervised visitation is a way for allowing a child to spend time with one parent when there is a concern over that parent’s parenting ability.
This type of parenting arrangement means that the child will spend time with the parent that they do not live with, whilst being under supervision of another adult. Whilst most parents would dread the idea of being involved in a supervised visitation arrangement, the aim of this type of arrangement is to allow the child to maintain or develop a meaningful and healthy relationship with this parent.
Supervised visitation may be a temporary arrangement or could be in place until the child is 18 years old. A number of different factors will influence the reasons for the supervised visitation and its duration.
What are the reasons for supervised visitation?
If a parent or the court is concerned that the safety and wellbeing of a child is at risk when they are with a parent, then supervised contact may be decided upon. This concern is usually derived from instances of past behaviour by that parent.
These concerns may be due to:
- The parent has a history of drug and substance use and abuse;
- There is a risk of violence towards the child from the parent;
- There is a history of neglect by a parent;
- There is a risk of sexual abuse of the child;
- There is a risk of child abduction;
- There is concern about the parenting skills of a parent;
- The parent has a mental illness that may put the child at risk of harm;
- There is a history of abuse of a parent by the other parent; or
- The parent has been absent for an extended period of time.
While in many instances supervised contact will be decided due to the risk of harm to a child, it can also be a way for a parent to be able to be reintroduced to their child after a long period of time apart. A parent may have had little to no access to a child for a variety of reasons, including work commitments or the separation from the other parent was particularly acrimonious.
Supervised contact may be a result of:
- A judge or magistrate’s order;
- An order of the court with consent of the parties; or
- An agreement, either formal or informal in nature, between the parties that has been decided upon as part of family dispute resolution.
Can no contact between a parent and child be ordered?
Yes. The Family Circuit and Family Court of Australia can decide that a parent will not be able to spend any time or have any contact with their child if there is an unacceptable risk to that child.
An unacceptable risk to the child must be established by the court, and there must be sufficient evidence that spending time with the parent may cause emotional distress or be disturbing for the child.
If there is a way to reduce the risk of harm to the child whilst still allowing contact between the parent and child, this is usually the preferred option of the family law system in Australia. Very few child custody cases result in no contact.
How does supervised visitation work?
Supervised visitation can happen in a number of different ways. It might occur in a neutral place, like a children’s contact centre, a public venue or even at the home of the parent.
The person supervising the contact may be someone who works at the children’s contact centre, they may be a private third-party supervisor that has been agreed upon by both parties, or it could be a trusted family member or friend that has been agreed upon by both parties.
A children’s contact centre has been developed to be a neutral place for a parent and child to be able to spend time together and have their interaction facilitated by an independent third party. This ensures the visitation happens safely and provides the parent and child a place to continue to nurture and build their relationship. A children’s contact centre can also serve as a neutral place for a parent to drop their child off and to be picked up by the other parent from. This may be required if there is a lot of conflict between the parents of the child.
The supervised contact may be regular and occur a few times a week or it might happen less frequently, however, there is usually a planned schedule for the visitation times – which promotes stability for the child involved.
How long will supervised visitation be required?
In many instances, the order for supervised visitation will be a temporary arrangement, due to the importance of the relationship between a child and their parents under the Family Law Act.
However, the amount of time that the supervised visitation order will be in place for is often influenced by the reasons for the order for the supervised visitation.
When the supervised visitation order is made, it might already provide details surrounding the period of time that supervised contact order will last – this may involve the order being reviewed in a few months’ time or longer.
At the time the supervised contact is ordered there may be requirements outlined that need to be satisfied before the order can be reviewed – for example, this could be the completion of anger management classes or a period of counselling.
As we mentioned, according to the Family Law Act in Australia, a child has a right to have a meaningful relationship with their parents if it is in the child’s best interests. This is why it is very rare that a parent will be ordered no contact with their child.
Supervised visitation allows the child and parent to have a relationship. It also gives the parents and courts the chance to safely establish whether a relationship with that parent is beneficial to the child.
As supervised visitation does put restraints on the child and parent’s time together, if the ongoing relationship is in the best interests of the child and the parent can demonstrate that they are actively working on their behaviours that led to the ruling of the supervised visitation in the first place, then it is possible that the restrictions will be lifted over time and the parenting order could be changed.
Preparing for supervised visitation
If you’re the parent attending a supervised visit with your child, this can be an emotionally and mentally stressful time for you.
Whether you agree with the supervised contact order or not, seeing your child and making the most of your time together is of the utmost importance.
Some of the things you can do to make the visitation successful and meaningful for both you and your child include:
Understand the rules of the visitation
Make sure you know the ins and outs of your visitation circumstances. If your contact is taking place in a neutral place, like a children’s contact centre, make sure you take the time to learn the rules of the centre. They may have requirements of things you need to do prior to your visit.
Supervised visitation is not only the time you get to spend with your child, but it’s also a time to show that you’re actively working hard on your parenting and understand the requirements.
Come prepared with an activity
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the restrictions placed on your time with your child, however, this time is for you to focus on your child and the bond you have. Some of the best ways you can do this is by choosing an activity for your visitation that your child is interested in. They may be interested in crafts, so you could work on making something together. This could be an ongoing project that gives them something to look forward to for each visitation. Another great option is finding a book that you can read together each visit.
Stick to the schedule
This is a time to establish some consistency with your child, so the last thing you want to do is disrupt or even have to cancel your visit with them. Try to plan ahead with the other parent as much as possible to ensure that any commitments that may disrupt your scheduled visitation are taken into consideration.
Whilst emergencies may happen occasionally, where possible try to not change the scheduled time to see your child.
How to prepare a child for supervised contact
The concept of supervised visitation may be difficult for your child to understand, so in order to allow them to be able to focus on their relationship with their other parent, it’s important to prepare them to spend time with their other parent.
- Try not to spring a supervised visit on your child and instead keep them in the loop with the schedule of these visitations. This will allow them to know when they are next going to see their other parent and they too can prepare themselves for it.
- Aim to encourage your child to be excited about their next visit and encourage them to build their relationship with their parent. Even if their other parent frustrates you or you have negative feelings towards them, these visits are about your child being able to continue and build their relationship with them.
By encouraging them to be excited about seeing their other parent, it may make your child more open to communicating with you about how they are feeling and about their visits with their other parent. As curious as you may be about their visitation sessions, you don’t want to interrogate them after it, rather you want to make them feel like they can communicate with you.
It’s also important for you to follow the visitation schedule closely too, you don’t want to take away the chance for your child to spend time with their other parent or disrupt if it is avoidable.
Let Unified Lawyers help with your parenting matters
Whether you’re looking to apply for a supervised contact order, you’ve had one made against you, or you want to understand your rights and responsibilities when it comes to your children, here at Unified Lawyers, our family lawyers can help you.
We have many years of experience in helping families navigate their way through separation, divorce and a wide variety of parenting matters. Discuss your situation with us today during a free consultation.