The Role of Supervised Visitation in Child Custody
Children do best when both parents are fully involved in their lives, both physically and informationally. This standard rests on the presumption that parents are best fit to raise their children without undue interference from the State. In practice, this paradigm means parents are granted parenting time free from supervision by the other parent or a third party. Having an outside set of eyes on a parent/child interaction is likely to hinder a real connection, and would typically be construed as overly intrusive. However, the best interests of the child, a complex and heavily fact-based analysis, will ultimately determine if exposure to a parent is appropriate for a child’s welfare and development. In fact, in certain situations, parents do not have unfettered access to their child, and are restricted to meeting them under the supervision of a neutral third party in a pre-designated safe space. While this restricted visitation model is not common, a court will impose such limitations if necessary. A discussion of when a court would consider requiring supervised visitation, and how these programs are generally structured in Florida, will follow below.
When is Supervised Visitation Appropriate?
As noted above, courts assume that parental responsibilities will be shared, and that each parent will be entitled to unsupervised parenting time with his/her child. This is supported by a provision in Florida law, which holds that public policy supports each child having frequent and continuing contact with both parents. In fact, this presumption is so strong that very compelling evidence against shared responsibility, which requires awarding one parent the equivalent of sole custody, is necessary before supervised visitation is an option. Essentially, a parent asking for the imposition of supervised visitation must demonstrate the other party poses a safety issue to the child (physically, mentally, or emotionally), which attempts to strike a balance between the child’s welfare, parent/child relations, and parental rights. Some situations in which a court is more likely to consider compelling supervised visitation include:
- domestic violence in the home, even if not against the child directly;
- sexual abuse or a history of committing sexual abuse;
- addiction/use of illegal drugs;
- uncontrolled mental illness;
- documented risk of child abduction; or
- physical neglect or abuse while in the parent’s care.
How These Programs Are Structured
Supervised visitation programs may be structured in several ways, depending on the severity of the situation and the child’s adjustment to seeing the parent under these conditions. The most common method is one-on-one supervision with a family member as monitor, such as aunts/uncles or grandparents, if the case is less serious. More severe situations may require professional monitors (mental health professionals or social workers) trained to handle emergency situations if volatility, aggression, or violence is an issue. Therapeutic supervision, conducted by a mental health professional, is provided when a child is having emotional difficulty over visiting the parent, and may include counseling as needed. Supervised or monitored exchanges, on the other hand, are really just someone stepping in to perform the physical act of exchanging the child, so the parents do not come into contact. These exchanges are often performed at police stations and designated centers. Finally, for situations in which one parent is incarcerated, group supervision and telephone/video monitoring are frequently used when multiple children visit a number of parents at once or physical access is prohibited. Supervised visitation is a serious step, and should only be requested when a true danger to the child exists. If safety is an issue, an experienced family law attorney will know the most effective way to convince a judge to impose this restriction.
Contact an Orlando Family Lawyer
Child custody issues will always be difficult, and the older a child is, the more he/she will be aware of and potentially affected by a dispute. If you have concerns about your child’s safety, or believe the standard shared parental responsibility is inappropriate, contact the Orlando attorneys at the Donna Hung Law Group to discuss your options. We understand the dilemma you are facing, and will strive to give you the result best suited to protect your family. Contact us at (407) 999-0099 for a consultation.