Why Supervised Visitation?
A court has the authority to order supervised visitation either temporarily or permanently. The most common grounds are because the parent has (or allegedly has) a substance abuse issue (drugs or alcohol), domestic violence/anger issues/impulse control issues, or sexual improprieties (towards the child or other adults). Courts rarely will terminate visitation entirely.
The idea is that children need that contact with a parent, even though they don’t always understand the risks that come with being around the parent. Supervised visitation is intended to ensure that the children’s visitation occurs within a safe context. For the parent who has to be supervised, it’s obviously humiliating. But, for that parent, it can also be an opportunity to completely put to rest any concerns about his/her behavior or judgment around the kids.
What Language to Put in the Parent Plan?
Usually the court will indicate that supervision is necessary and not much more than that. Your parenting plan has to be very specific to avoid future problems. You want to make sure it states: whether supervision is by a paid provider or someone else; whether back-up supervisors are allowed; ground rules for supervision (what is and is not allowed); what happens if there’s scheduling problems; and what does the supervised parent have to do to get supervision removed/expanded OR when the supervision expires (if at all).
Most commonly, the court will want the parties to agree on a supervisor rather than have anyone pay for a supervisor. Paid supervisors can run $50/hour and up, not including expenses (i.e., meals, movie tickets, other fees for having supervisor come to events). The way you express that is: Visits shall be supervised by an agreed party (each side submits 2 or 3 names) or paid supervised visitation if no agreement is reached.
Do I Have to Have a Professional Supervisor?
As stated above, courts prefer that the parties not have to pay for supervision. It’s always better for kids to be around people they know and trust. The obvious problem is that each parent will usually (and foolishly) nominate highly partisan family or friends. Children of all ages can easily sense tension. Don’t have your parent (who hates the other parent with unparalleled malice) as the proposed supervisor! Put forth names of people who are focused on the kids. They don’t have to be friends of anyone.
In fact, if it’s summer time maybe a teacher with time on his/her hands would be good or why not someone from one parent’s church? Provide the name and some contact information so the other party can talk to them. What’s important is that the supervisor know what the allegations are, knows the ground rules, and can assert authority when needed. If it’s a case where a parent may flee, make sure they can have a secured setting for the visit.
What Ground Rules Should I Have?
The ground rules are rules that the supervisor and the visiting parent have to follow. Does the supervisor need to be in visual range the whole time or can they just be somewhere in the house? If there’s sexual allegations or concerns about the parent “whispering” stuff to the kids you have to insist that the supervisor be physically within both visual and hearing range at all times in a visit.
Where will the visit occur? Can the other parent and the supervisor go somewhere? It’s common for parents to have supervisors as they go to McDonald’s or to a movie (but the parent has to pay the supervisor’s way). In your case, insisting on a secured setting may be necessary. Can the parent diaper the child or take them to the restroom? Can the parent have someone else attend the visit too? What happens if the supervisor has a scheduling problem? Give the supervisor authority to terminate the visit if the parent doesn’t comply with any of the rules or shows up under the influence.
What Do I Do if a Problem Arises?
Problems usually are the product of the supervisor or the visiting parent not following the rules. If the supervisor is not following the rules, determine if the supervisor understands the rules (or their authority over the visit). If the supervisor isn’t able or willing to comply, have a back-up supervisor identified (this is why it helps to address this in the court order). If the parent isn’t following the rules, then they forfeit their visit.
Professional supervisors will not keep a case if the person supervised refuses to cooperate. If the supervisor isn’t a professional, they can also decline to continue supervising. It is essential to have visitation reports on a regular basis. You can have the court address the non-compliance through a motion to further restrict the parent’s visitation or a contempt motion with further restriction as a sanction. Make sure your parenting plan stops visits if the parent isn’t cooperating. Don’t take matters into your own hands!
When Does Supervision End?
Sometimes supervision ends once there’s more information or the parent completes certain evaluations, classes, etc. It is critical that any court order specifically state what the parent needs to accomplish to have his/her visits expanded (and how they are expanded–overnight? weekends? all at once or over the course of time?) If the custodial parent refuses to accept that you’ve completed your requirements, then go to court on a temporary motion asking to expand your visits.
If you’re close to the end of the case and there’s going to be supervision, make sure terminating language is in there. If you complete everything and the custodial parent refuses to comply with the expansion language, you can file for contempt. If you are the custodial parent, it’s in your interest to have this language too. It avoids having to “negotiate” with the ex and removes from you any “responsibility” for the supervision/termination conditions. Kids don’t get to decide when supervision ends. Ever.
If you have any questions about divorce in Connecticut, please contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.