What is Supervised Visitation?
The public policy of the State of California is to protect the best interests of children whose parents have a custody or visitation case within the family courts. Custodial stability, continuity, and a loving parent-child relationship have been classified as the most important criteria for determining a child’s best interest.
Sometimes, based on issues of safety and protection, a California family court will 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 called “supervised visitation” or “monitored visitation.”
The court order will specify the time and duration of the visits. Sometimes, the court order will also specify who will provide the supervised visitation services and where the visits will take place.
When Does the Court Order Supervised Visitation?
California child custody laws emphasize the importance of a child maintaining frequent and continuing contact with both parents, but that rule is not absolute. The exception to the rule is when such a custody arrangement is not consistent with the child’s best interest and where there may be conditions that make visitation uncomfortable or even unsafe for a child.
In those scenarios, supervised visitation may be an appropriate option. Family Code § 3200.5(b) requires the California family court to determine whether supervised visitation is necessary or not. Supervised visitation is typically ordered by the court on order to give the non-custodial parent the chance to work through their issues and enhance the parent-child relationship. If a child’s safety or well-being are at issue, there are a number of reasons why the court may order supervised visitation, including:
- When there are allegations of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, or substance abuse;
- To give the visiting parent a chance to address specific issues;
- To help reintroduce a parent and a child after a long absence;
- To help introduce a parent and a child when there has been no existing relationship between them;
- When there are parenting concerns or mental illness; or
- When there is a parental threat of abduction.
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.
The court can use the visits to gauge how likely the non-custodial parent is to cooperate with the custodial parent to meet their child’s needs, how likely the non-custodial parent is to follow court orders, and how beneficial it is to the child to have a relationship with the non-custodial parent. On the flip side, if the non-custodial parent doesn’t take the order seriously or fails to exercise their visits, the court will notice that, too.
Who Can Supervise Visitation? [Professional Supervisors vs. Non-professional Supervisors]
There are two types of supervised visitation providers under Family Code § 3200.5:
- Professional Visitation Providers – any person who is paid for providing supervised visitation services, or an independent contractor, employee, intern, or volunteer operating independently or through a supervised visitation center or agency.
- Non-Professional Supervisors – any person who is not paid for providing supervised visitation services. Typically, a non-professional provider is a family member, friend, or acquaintance.
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 can be 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. This usually leads to one or both parents refusing to continue utilizing the supervisor. Lastly, having a friend, relative, or acquaintance as a supervisor may detract from the visiting parent and child’s time together because the child or visiting parent may be tempted to spend time interacting with the familiar supervisor, rather than focusing only on the visits.
A professional provider must satisfy more stringent standards for education and training requirements, be 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.
What Does a Visitation Monitor Have to Do?
The supervisor is there to make every effort to keep the child safe and support the child in enjoying the visit with the supervised parent. The provider must be present at all times during the visit, listen to what is being said, and pay close attention to the child’s behavior. If necessary, the provider may interrupt or end a visit.
Whether a paid professional, family member or friend, the provider’s job is to make sure that the children involved in the visits are safe and free from any unnecessary stress.
Supervisors should follow three basic rules:
- Never leave the child and parent alone. Keep the supervised child(ren) in your line of sight and range of hearing at all times during the visit.
- Interrupt inappropriate talk. Step in if the parent discusses inappropriate topics such as the court case or the other parent, or makes false promises such as, “Soon you will be allowed to live with me.”
- Keep records. Keep a log of visits you supervise and take notes summarizing each visit. Note any out-of-the ordinary events, such as if the parent makes in appropriate conversation or the child is injured during the visit.
How Should a Visiting Parent Deal With Supervised Visitation?
Parents who have been ordered to participate in supervised visitation as part of a child custody matter often experience a wide range of emotions. The visiting parent may feel like they are being punished and it may be uncomfortable trying to engage with their child while someone else is just sitting there watching. They may feel angry because they believe that the other parent manipulated the situation and because they believe that they deserve more than what they got.
However, the visiting parent’s patience and commitment to the child are critical during this time.
If you are a visiting parent, 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. Here are some tips to make the most of a supervised visitation arrangement:
- Arrive on time and keep your appointments. Factor in commute time and make sure you have enough time before each visit to arrive on time. The custodial parent will probably tell the child about the visit and the child may be looking forward to seeing you. Flaking on plans will erode your child’s trust.
- Get your head in the game. Before each visitation, take a few minutes before your parenting time to clear your mind and get ready to focus on your child. It may sound easy enough, but it’s important to not let outside worries or personal issues impact your visit. Listening to your favorite music, meditating, or using a calming app on your phone can help get you focused for your parenting time.
- Be prepared. Bring sunscreen and a hat for the child if you will be outside. If you plan to order food, ask the other parent what the child likes and whether he or she has an allergy. Before the visit, ask the other parent what size diapers the child needs, what toys they like, what time they usually eat dinner, whether they will eat before the visit, etc. If the visit is not at a facility, make sure you bring an age-appropriate activity such as a coloring book or board game.
- Be positive. If you ignore the awkwardness, it will be easier for your child to ignore it, too. Prepare to talk about light, kid-friendly topics.
- Avoid discussing the court case or terms of the visit with your child.
- Avoid quizzing your child about the other parent’s activities and relationships.
- Play with the child. Don’t just watch. Young children can be difficult to talk to when distracted. Show them you care by connecting on their level.
- Avoid making your child a messenger to the other parent.
- Talk about the child’s interests. Ask your child about what they are doing in school, their friends, their hobbies, their favorite TV shows, music, etc.
- Say brief and warm good-byes to your child when the visit is over. Tell your child that you look forward to seeing them again.
- Give yourself breathing time afterward. If possible, try not to schedule any appointments or meetings immediately after your visit. Knowing that you have another commitment right after your visit may serve as a distraction during your parenting time and may make you feel rushed and stressed out during the visit.
- Keep a journal to reflect on your visits.
How Should a Custodial Parent Deal With Supervised Visitation?
Supervised visitation may also be a stressful and challenging situation for the custodial parent. If you are the custodial parent, you may feel resentful. You may feel like you do all the parenting of the children and like the other parent doesn’t deserve to even see the kids. You may even feel like the visits are harmful to your children because the other parent is too unfit to adequately meet their needs.
These concerns are completely understandable, however, it is equally critical for the custodial parent to demonstrate from the outset the willingness and ability to cooperate in parenting. Here are some tips to assist custodial parents in the supervised visitation process:
- Explain to your child where and when the visits will take place. Be sure to discuss the visits with your child beforehand and mark the date on a calendar that your child has easy access to. This will help keep your child aware of when they see the other parent next and how frequently.
- Be prepared. Have your child ready with anything they will need during the visits.
- Arrive on time to drop off and pick up your child.
- Reassure your child that you support them in having a pleasant visit. Encourage your child to look forward to the visits, even if either you or your child have negative feelings about the visits. Always support your child in their efforts to build a relationship with the other parent.
- Be cooperative. Inform the other parent that you are sending the child with homework if they have an assignment. Tell the other parent about the child’s likes and dislikes, even if the other parent doesn’t ask. Helping prepare the other parent will ensure your child has a good time.
- Avoid making your child messengers to the other parent.
- Avoid quizzing your child about the visit. Do not question or interview them about the visit or the other parent. Instead, allow your child to share as much information as they want.
How Can I Find a Supervised Visitation Location?
Contact or check with your local Family Court Service office in your local court. Generally, each county Family Court Services office has a list of providers in your area. Click here to find your local Family Court Services office.
What Can a Non-custodial Parent Do to Get 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 generally 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.
Courts often condition supervised visitation on some other requirement. For example, commonly supervised visits are conditioned on the non-custodial parent’s taking certain steps toward self-betterment – for example, entering rehab, undergoing a domestic violence assessment, attending anger management or co-parenting classes, and attending reunification therapy with the child. Supervision may be lifted or adjusted if the visits go well for a certain period – for example, six months.
Court-ordered supervised visitation is often a steppingstone toward more substantial, unsupervised visits between the child and the noncustodial parent. If both parents and the supervisor take the visits seriously and keep the focus on the health and happiness of the children, it will demonstrate that they are able to co-parent and the court will look more favorably on both parents.
Contact a California Child Custody Lawyer Today
The unprepared and those who try to handle their own contested child custody cases face a difficult time. It’s not a task you can undertake alone.
Parents can rely on the experience of our child custody attorneys in California in obtaining child custody orders, stipulated custody agreements, and judgments. Contact Talkov Law in California at (844) 4-TALKOV (825568).
Our knowledgeable family law attorney, Colleen Talkov, can also help if you have questions about any of the following: