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When Visitation is Supervised in California

Last night, I was watching a television drama.  Indirectly, the show made reference to one or more characters having to have visitation with their children on a supervised basis.  That means a third party, usually a professional, shadows the parent and child to make sure the child is safe during the visitation and that the parent doesn’t say anything inappropriate.

In California, the majority of estranged couples share time with their children without either parent being supervised.  But sometimes, the judge orders it.  In fact, Family Code section 3200.5, subd. (b) requires a California family court to determine whether supervised visitation is necessary and, if it is, whether to use a professional or nonprofessional provider — whenever the judge finds that there has been domestic violence, child abuse or neglect.  Meanwhile, Family Code section 3048 also provides for supervised visitation if there is a risk the parent will abduct the child.  Add to that Family Code section 3027.5, which allows a court to impose supervised visitation against a parent who made a report of child sexual abuse, during a custody proceeding or any other time, knowing that the allegation when made was false.

Regardless of which side of the case you’re on, you have to be prepared for the possibility that supervised visitation may be ordered.  If it is, you have to address the issue of who is going to pay for the supervisor; how long the supervision will last, i.e., when will the situation go back to where the visitation is not supervised; and how much visitation each week the person subject to supervision will have.

The person subject to supervised visitation may feel that the cost is not affordable.  Sometimes, the red tape gets in the way; in other words, before the visitation begins, one or both parents have to go through orientation, the agency involved needs to get a copy of the order, and the supervising agency itself must be available for the specific times, if any, selected by the judge.  It is very easy to become discouraged if something goes awry before the supervised visitation begins.

From the perspective of the person being supervised, it is best to stick with the program.  Even if you feel that the order for supervised visitation was unwarranted, once the judge makes the order, you can either comply or watch your time with your child or children disappear all together.  Bite your tongue and do exactly what the supervisor and the court tell you to do.  Keep notes of interference efforts by the other parent or requirements by the agency that go beyond what even the judge ordered.  The next time you are in court, tell the judge what happened (or better yet, submit a declaration ahead of time).  Eventually, the judge will catch on to who is being cooperative and who is not.

If you are the parent who requested supervised visitation, understand that you, too, may be responsible for some of the supervisor’s costs.  Also, the supervision will not last forever.  If the other parent does what is required, or if the court orders some sort of evaluation that shows that the other parent is not a risk to children, that parent’s time is going to increase, perhaps to the point where overnight visitation is ordered.  And once visitation expands to overnights, supervision of the visits is going to stop.

So far, we have talked about supervised visitation conducted by a professional.  But lay people can be authorized by the court to supervise as well.  The problem is getting someone who both parties trust to be the supervisor.  Also, the lay person can experience scheduling conflicts or other problems that makes her or him unavailable for certain visits.  Or he or she may get tired of the whole process and just quit.  When that occurs, the parent who is not being supervised might argue that visitation is suspended because the judge only ordered visitation if “Neighbor One” did the supervising, as opposed to “Neighbor 2” or anyone else for that matter.  The person being supervised will counter that the judge ordered supervised visitation in general, not supervision with one specific person doing the supervision.  If the parties cannot work out their differences, it may be necessary to come back to court as soon as possible.  Otherwise, the parent being supervised risks extended time without seeing the child or children, and that can have a long term impact on the parent-child relationship.

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