By: Sarah T. McCain
When emergencies, such as when the emotional and/or physical safety of the children is at risk, people generally turn to the court, asking for immediate protections, the primary one of which is supervised parenting time. There are many options when it comes to supervised parenting time and, in many cases, the best and only option will be using a facility. Traditionally, courts will first look to supervised visitation being done at a parenting time supervision facility. There are positives and negatives to using such a facility. Supervisors in these facilities are neutral individuals who take notes of what transpires at the visitation sessions, from the initial interactions to the moment where the non-supervised parent comes to pick up the minor child(dren). This can be beneficial in circumstances when allegations are being made of inappropriate statements to the children or allegations that the children are hesitant to be in the presence of the supervised parent. This neutral supervisor can be on the look-out and address any of those concerns. The supervisor can provide written reports for evidentiary purposes and can testify if necessary. Supervision centers generally charge an hourly rate, sometimes on a sliding scale.
In the alternative, supervision can also be provided through means of using a neutral family member or friend. This must be my mutual agreement of the parties involved or might be ordered by the judge in your child custody case. Just as with a facility, there are positives and negatives to using a family member or friend. If you are the parent who is being supervised, having a friend or a family member supervise often does not have the same impact when it comes to testimony about the visits that using a neutral supervisor does. However, using a family member or friend involved can be easier on the children, as it can be a more comforting experience. Some common complaints regarding professional facilities are that they are too sterile and do not create a natural environment for parenting time to occur in. Additionally, friends or family members are generally going to supervise free of charge. Furthermore, there may be room for expanded visitation periods and, potentially even overnight parenting time.
A question does as to whether there is a happy medium between the professional supervision setting and the friend or family member scenario, which can come with great flexibility. The good news is that yes, there is. The bad news is that it can be costly. Hiring a private supervisor who can accompany you and your children in and around the community has its benefits. For example, the supervisor may transport the children to meet you or the other parent at the park, a restaurant, or even a location such as the zoo or a museum. The options for more natural parenting time are somewhat unlimited, except by time constraints. Arrangements for visitation will need to be cleared with both parents and the supervisor ahead of time. You or the supervised parent will be responsible for not only setting up these arrangements but for financing them as well. What this means is that on top of the hourly rate for the supervisor, including travel, you or the supervised parent would be responsible for any admission fees for the location chosen. It should be noted that in most instances, whether using a private facility or privately hired supervisor, courts will generally order the supervised parent to pay for supervision. Thus, the choice as to private supervisor or facility will often be left up to them. Most private, professional supervisors are going to charge an hourly rate that may be somewhat higher than a center. Though providing greater flexibility than a center, the private, professional supervisor is not going to do overnights.
Another option for supervised parenting time, and one that may be more useful based on the circumstances, is using a therapeutic setting. Some individual therapists and many of those who are well known in the family law community offer therapeutic visitation. Those sessions can be important for both the well-being of the child(ren) and the growth or rebuilding of a healthy relationship between the child(ren) and the supervised parent. The therapist can provide a safe space for the child(ren) to express any concerns they may have as to spending time with the parent and allow that parent to properly address those concerns. This may be beneficial when the child(ren) of the case are older and more able to articulate their concerns as part of the process. Depending on their willingness, the therapist may also have the ability to submit a report or treatment summary to the court. The therapist may also be able to testify in court as to the progress of therapy. This can be vital for the courts to see how the process is working and whether taking the next step in parenting can be taken or whether restrictions need to continue.
If you are facing a situation in which child safety and supervision are at issue, it’s important to consult with a child custody attorney to get a better understanding of your rights and options.