Everything you need to know about supervised visitation

Discover what this arrangement means for you and your child.

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What's Inside

What's Inside

In most cases these days, family courts grant parenting time to each divorcing or separating spouse so they can bond with their kids and maintain a strong relationship. These child custody arrangements vary widely, with some parents splitting time equally and others getting more or less time with their children than their co-parent does.

Additionally, if a judge has safety concerns, they might order supervised visitation for a parent. The grounds for supervised parenting time differ, and the actual visitation can take different forms. To make things clearer, this article explains what supervised visitation is, grounds for it, how supervised parenting time may look and how to request this during or after a divorce.

What is supervised visitation?

When a court orders supervised visitation for a parent, it means the parent can’t spend time with their child unless a third party is there to observe the interaction. That third person may be a professional or someone the parents know and agree on. The type of supervisor often depends on the severity and type of safety threat that exists in the case. 

The type of danger involved might also dictate whether the supervised visits take place in the supervised parent’s home, a treatment center or a neutral setting. 

Types of supervised or restricted parenting time

Just like almost any other family law matter, supervised visitation is not one-size-fits-all. Restricted visitation available in your jurisdiction might include: 

  • Shortened visitation time that requires the parent in question to check in with a trusted adult before and after the visit
  • Monitored visitation time that requires a third party to check in with the parent in question and the child from time to time but doesn’t require the third party’s presence at every moment
  • Supervised visitation that requires a trusted third party to observe visitation at all times
  • Supervised visitation that requires a third-party professional to observe visitation at all times

Sometimes the goal in a case involving supervised visitation is to decrease or eliminate the restrictions on a parent’s visitation rights over time. 

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What can or can’t happen during supervised parenting time?

Supervised visitation rules are often tailored to the unique circumstances of the family involved. This is why both parents and the supervisor need to read the judge’s orders. 

The supervised parent and child may be encouraged to play and talk during parenting time, but the following parameters might apply to their time together: 

  • Prohibitions on insulting the other parent or other family members
  • Prohibitions on corporal punishment, making threats toward the child or insulting the child
  • A requirement that the supervisor stay close enough to see and hear the supervised parent and the child at all times
  • Restrictions on the supervised parent exchanging gifts or notes with the child
  • Requirements for the supervised parent’s behavior, such as arriving on time and not being under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the visit
  • Restrictions on the supervised parent photographing, videotaping or audio-recording the child
  • A requirement that the supervisor look out for and report suspected child abuse
  • Restrictions on where the visits can take place
  • Restrictions on physical contact with the child
  • A requirement that the supervisor end the visit early in particular situations (if this happens, the supervision typically tells the parent why they did this)

Additionally, the supervising agent usually takes notes during visitation and has an obligation to report what they observe to the court. (None of the parent’s communications with the child during visitation are confidential.)

What are the grounds for supervised visitation?

The grounds for supervised visitation differ from state to state. A court might grant supervised parenting time in a family law decree for one or more of the following reasons:

  • A parent has been accused of domestic violence
  • There are concerns the parent may abduct the child
  • A parent has a mental health challenge that could jeopardize the child’s safety
  • A parent has a substance abuse problem
  • There have been allegations of child abuse
  • A parent seeking visitation has had no previous relationship with the child 
  • A parent’s visitation presents other safety concerns for the child or parties to the case

Overall, most state family courts enter orders based on what’s in the best interests of the children.

When can I request supervised visitation in my case?

If you’re concerned about your child’s safety during parenting time, most often you may file a motion asking the court to order supervised visitation at the beginning of your custody case. Additionally, if a judge has safety concerns, they may order supervised parenting time without your request.

If you already have a custody order, in most cases, you have to file a petition to modify the order to require supervised visitation. You’ll likely need to prove a substantial change in circumstances (generally meaning a major change that wasn’t anticipated by the permanent order) and that supervision is in your child’s best interests before the court will order supervised parent time. 

However, a court may enter a temporary order sooner if it appears that your child is in imminent danger. Additionally, given the fact that supervised visitation is usually ordered when a parent poses a threat to their child, you may be able to request an emergency protective order

When to speak with an attorney

When you’re concerned about your child’s safety, an experienced family attorney may help put your mind at ease. They can help you identify and gather the evidence necessary to prove that your custody case requires supervised visitation, then make persuasive arguments to the judge. They can also answer your questions throughout the process and assist if you or your spouse wish to modify orders in the future.

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Frequently asked questions

Can supervised visitation be overnight?

There are forms of supervised visitation in which the parent or child can sleep over, and the parent is required to check in with a trusted adult from time to time.

When does supervised visitation end?

Supervised visitation ends when the court decides it’s time. This decision is typically based on what’s in the child’s best interests. Your court order might give a specific ending date for supervised visitation that depends on the supervised parent successfully completing a rehabilitation program, mental health treatment, anger management course or parenting course. Or the court might base the ending date of visitation on a parent’s progress shown in reports from the supervisor or other professionals. The court might also order the end of visitation when it deems the child and parent have had a sufficient amount of time to get to know each other. But sometimes, supervised visitation doesn’t end. A parent might require monitoring or supervision until the child becomes an adult.

Who pays for supervised visitation?

In many cases, the parent subject to the supervised visitation order is obligated to pay for the supervision. But this isn’t always the case. Family law judges may have a lot of discretion regarding each parent’s financial responsibilities. Either parent may be ordered to pay for all or part of the supervised time.

Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

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