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Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: When to Seek Supervised Visitation

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on May 7, 2010

If you feel your co-parent is a danger to your children's health and well-being, you can ask the court to require supervised visitation, in which the co-parent's visitation is monitored by another person. When supervised visitation is really needed, it can save a child's life. When supervised visitation is not needed, it is one of the most humiliating experiences a parent can go through during a high-conflict divorce or post-divorce action.

Understanding Supervised Visitation

There are instances where parents and children do need to be supervised. Supervised facilities range from those that are watched over by armed guards to those that are more friendly. Information on supervised visitation facilities is usually available through the court. For many years I ran a supervised visitation establishment called The SmartParenting House in a very quaint and comfortable house. Parents visited there and learned good parenting skills in an environment that was an approximation of a natural setting. Parents cooked for their children and learned how to change diapers and do other parenting chores.

Everything that happened in the house was recorded on videotape, and there were cameras in every room that relayed images to a supervisor's room. There was usually one social worker at the video bank and one social worker who managed the session.

Each social worker carried panic buttons in case there was a problem. In the tens of thousands of supervised visitation hours I have conducted, there have been very few problems during visitation, and merely a handful of problems in the parking lot. We do not let parents come and go from the same doors in many of my establishments. It is good to look for supervised visitation facilities that keep an eye toward safety.

Supervised visitation time is usually one to two hours per week, so children really do not get that much time to visit with their parents. While my facilities provided cooking facilities, cable television, video games, books, and toys, many establishments do not. Some of the state-run supervised visitation facilities are large auditoriums with long tables that cannot help but remind me of visitation facilities in some of the jails I have worked in. The development of humane and comfortable supervised visitation facilities is something I hope people at each state and community level will take a stronger interest in.

When Supervised Visitation Is Necessary

The circumstances under which supervised visitations should occur are quite varied. Parents who are found guilty of severe abuse (where they have injured a child or sexually molested a child) should not have any visitation at all, but are generally permitted supervised visitation by most courts. Parents who have used poor parenting judgment are often given supervised visitation, but the only effective use of supervised visitation in these cases is when it is combined with a therapeutic and/or educational program that seeks to modify the supervised setting and make the visitation normal again when the parent improves behavior.

Another common reason for supervised visitation is when a parent has recently abused drugs or alcohol. I would say this is a very necessary referral, especially in cases where the abuse has been ongoing. Most twelve-step programs teach clients that they have to accept the natural consequences of their behavior. If you abuse drugs or alcohol, and your co-parent is aware of how potentially dangerous this is to your children, one of those consequences will be a very limited interaction with your children.
When You Obtain Supervised Visitation Unnecessarily

For a moment, let's talk about what happens when you convince the court that supervised visitation is needed when it is not. In other words, before I talk about what life is like from the accused person's side, let me say a few words about parents who seek visitation needlessly as a means of expressing anger or being malicious.

  • First, when you convince the court that supervised visitation is necessary, you communicate to your child that his parent is a dangerous person who needs to be watched and monitored. This has an effect on the supervised parent's relationship with the children.
  • Second, you confine your children's childhood memories of the supervised parent to the experience of being in "visitation jail."
  • Third, you increase the co-parent's motivation to retaliate with legal nonsense that may put you in the same position one day. How does that happen? Judges will order supervised visitation for a parent who "cries wolf." In addition, parents who fake or exaggerate circumstances that lead to unnecessary supervised visitation often lose custody of the children. If you want to play dirty, there are some judges who are slick enough to beat you at your own game, so be warned.

When You Are Sent to Supervised Visitation Unnecessarily

If you are sent to supervised visitation and you do not think this is fair, before your case is taken off the court calendar find out what sort of documentation is required from the visitation facility in order to normalize your contact with your children. You can get "stuck" in supervised visitation if there is no mechanism for you to apply for normal visitation again. My facility will provide an evaluative report for clients, but a report is useless unless you have a court date and a judge to show the evaluation to.

I think it is a good idea for anyone who is sent to supervised visitation to enroll in a parenting course. If you want to show your judge that you are taking the order for supervised visitation seriously, this is the best way to do it.

It is a bad idea to make a pain in the neck of yourself at the supervised facility, even if you feel as though you have been sent there unfairly. The people who run the facility had nothing to do with sending you there, in most instances. Good facilities provide you with a list of rules you must follow prior to beginning your supervised visitation. Many people going through high-conflict custody make things worse for themselves than they already are. This happens because they feel frustrated, picked on, abused, and taken advantage of. Yes, all of these things happen, and sometimes despite the system's best efforts, they happen unfairly. There is no point in defeating your own best interests, however. Patience and civilized behavior will generally get you to the end of most court-related problems.

Quick Tips

Think carefully about whether you really believe the co-parent requires limited periods of supervised visitation. These will be the memories your child has of his parents growing up.

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