Undoubtedly, child custody is one of the most emotional and hotly contested issues in family law cases involving minor children. Since the state of California believes that maintaining a meaningful parent-child relationship, with frequent and continuous contact with both parents, is of the highest importance, joint legal and joint physical custody is oftentimes appropriately ordered. However, notwithstanding the importance of maintaining a meaningful parent-child relationship and frequent and continuous contact between the parent and child, the Court’s first and foremost concern is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the minor children. As such, there are times when supervised visitation is appropriate.
Supervised visitation occurs when the Court believes that it is not in the minor child’s best interests to be left alone with one parent, and the Court will make an order limiting that parent’s contact with his or her child to occur under the supervision of a third party. This may include professional monitors (sometimes the use of family or friends who are willing to supervise is appropriate), group supervision, video or telephone monitoring, and when necessary, supervision from a mental health professional when the court believes that therapy is required to work on issues or to re-establish the relationship when one parent has been absent for a long period of time (among other reasons).
Given the severe limitations that can be placed on a parent under a supervised visitation order, there are limitations to such orders being granted. While one parent may not approve of the other parent’s lifestyle choices or parenting style, such disapproval will not be grounds for a Court to order supervised visitation. Instead, supervised visitation is only appropriate under certain circumstances, including, but not limited to the following:
- When there is a history or allegations of domestic violence, physical abuse, mental abuse and/or neglect;
- When there are allegations of alcohol abuse or substance abuse;
- Concerns of mental illness;
- When there is a threat of parental abduction;
- Where one parent has made false allegations of sexual abuse solely to thwart the parenting time of the other;
- When one parent (or someone that the parent lives with) has been required to register as a sex-offender for sexual offenses against minors;
- When a parent has been convicted of certain felonies such as rape, murder, etc.;
- When a parent has been absent for a long period of time and the parent and child need to be reintroduced to each other (sometimes requiring the assistance of a mental health professional); and,
- When there are specific issues in the parent-child relationship that need to be addressed, again oftentimes requiring the assistance of a mental health professional.
In other words, the Court must be presented with credible evidence that there is a threat to the child’s health, safety and welfare in order to make such orders. When such evidence is presented and supervised visitation is ordered, the court will specify the time, duration and conditions of the visits, and when appropriate, who specifically will provide the supervision and the location of the visits.
If you believe that there is a threat to your child’s health, safety or welfare, or if a previously absent parent is suddenly trying to reassert him or herself in a parent-child relationship, a supervised visitation order may be appropriate in your case.