What are the justifications for long-term supervised visitation?

Almost two decades of family law practice has made me cautious regarding supervised visitation.  The number of parents who believe their co-parents’ visitation needs to be supervised is substantially greater than the percentage of parents whose visitation actually needs to be supervised.  Supervised visitation adds elements of tension and drama to what should be a relaxed parent-child relationship.  The message it communicates to children is “there’s something so wrong with your mommy or daddy that he or she cannot be trusted to be alone with you.”  The typical intimacy of spending time with one’s child in a homey setting doing “normal” family activities is replaced by spending time in an artificial settling doing limited activities in an unrelaxing environment.  Given that bonding with caregivers is a necessary condition for secure attachments, the family courts rightly set a high burden before requiring a parent’s visitation be supervised.

Yet there are reasons justifying short-term supervised visitation.  Such short-term supervised visitation is typically ordered when a parent has an enduring relationship with the child (or at least a relationship with the child that the court deems worthy of continued support) but that parent suffers from some temporary mental, physical or emotional condition rendering unsupervised visitation unsafe.  The goal is to use short-term supervised visitation to allow the parent-child bond to remain intact, while giving the parent time and incentive to remedy the conditions requiring supervised visitation.  Often the hope of obtaining unsupervised visitation is a useful goad towards helping that parent achieve stability.

There are even reasons justifying long-term supervised visitation.  Sometimes a parent has mental, physical or emotional conditions that cannot be remedied, yet both the parent and child benefit from the relationship.  I have represented parents with severe mental health or intellectual functioning issues that rendered them incapable of taking care of their children without assistance.  However these parents loved their children and the children loved these parents.  Allowing them time together–even if limited and in a supervised setting–was an act of mercy.

However, too often, long-term supervised visitation is used to allow a parent to wallow in dysfunction while maintaining an attenuated relationship with his or her children.  Typically these are cases in which one parent refuses proper mental health treatment or fails to gain control over substance abuse issues.  I am unclear who benefits from long-term supervised visitation in such situations.  It doesn’t really benefit the parent, who is allowed to maintain an attenuated relationship with the children without fixing his or her problem.  It doesn’t really help the child, who is repeatedly thrust into a supervised visitation setting, rasing the obvious question in the child’s mind of, “what’s so wrong about my daddy [or mommy] and why doesn’t [s]he love me enough to fix it?”  Teenagers tend to be particularly resentful of long-term supervised visitation, both because it requires them to spend time in this artificial setting when they’d rather be with their peer and because they understand why the visitation is supervised and exhibit justifiable anger at the parent who refuses to fix his or her problems.

For parents who love their children but suffer problems they are incapable of fixing, long-term supervised visitation is appropriate.  For parents who suffer problems they are capable of fixing, short-term supervised visitation is appropriate.  But what is the justification for long-term supervised visitation for parents who are capable of fixing their problems?

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  • cassandra

    Attorney Greg,

    Do you by any chance know of any case citations that address/incorporates these issues in the decisions?

  • Marina

    I have supervised visitation with arm guards for two years. Dad acussed me falsely of child abuse which was never proven. He got a Doctor “Romirosky” saying I refuse therapy when it was never offered to me.

  • Joshua

    I do not believe those facts or accusations. The supervised visitation is used as a weapon. If anything not taking your children to fun events will cause the other parent to have ptsd. It will make it worse and push them away.

  • Traci Ross

    Let’s just be frank and cut to the chase here…

    My husband decided that using me as his punching bag was more convenient than getting help for his mental, psychological, and emotional issues, so when he turned his “red-zone” anger on our then 4 year old daughter, I kicked him out. He filed for divorce 5 months later and terrorized me until being handed temporary sole custody by my own attorney, via stipulation. A convicted DV perpetrator now has all control over our daughter and I have supervised visits… FOR WHAT REASON? All I do know is that our daughter is permanently traumatized by the legal abuse inflicted by this court and the injustice occurring. Unless a parent is found to be UNFIT through due process of a criminal act, the rights to both parent and child should never be violated

    • Shareina Garner

      So you stepped on your exes legal rights just to benefit you but when it bit back you now think the legal system should be more fair to both parents and child???!!!! If you have or had some way to back up wrong doing . Do it. Think about the harm you put on your kid and the other parent. Not just think about you you you. Hence “ME” ME”ME!”. Is this how they made it sound? Next time you are being abused in front of your kid dont stay there for 4 years or til they harm yoir kid its abuse that your kid is still being subjected to mentally.

  • Kelly Garcia

    My daughters father was court ordered after his fourth DUI to sign up for supervised visits through a state funded child advocacy program until he can pass three consecutive hair follicles and attend a couple of classes. That was two years ago and he has yet to sign up or for the classes or register for the visitations. My daughter and her father were extremely close and this has caused emotional turmoil for her. He has never provided financial support …paying 100 dollars every three months to keep him off of the Attorney Generals radar . He is very capable of paying child support, he owns a very successful business, he just choses not to pay being that he isn’t a part of her life anymore. I have tried everything I can to keep him in my daughters life, even going through the proper steps of the courts. Its been two years. What do I do now?

    • Chelsea Rayne

      It’s been over 3 years and I have had less than an hour a week supervised visitation after a motion to relocate hearing where my son came out and accused his father of molesting him. The judge said “I don’t like you (me) you have 1 hour to turn your son over to his father for abusing him putting these thoughts in his head”. She refuses to recuse herself though does not practice family law anymore. She required a note from a therapist who also sided with my son and myself, then referred to it as unsolicited. I’m at a loss. I haven’t gotten to speak to my son this entire time on the court ordered calls (per father and father’s partner). And no visits since Nov 7th 2016. My son is in and out of ER /psych for attempting suicide. Any help. Please.

  • miss j

    what about being forced into supervised visitation without any steps to remove supervised, without any time limits, and four years later, not allowed a court hearing to modify? what if the restriction was made from a court without jurisdiction, then the court with jurisdiction adopts the order without ever deciding whether supervision is needed, or hearing any evidence, and once again, without providing reasonable steps to remove?

    what about supervision at 4 hours a month for the last four years without a single hearing to produce evidence or expert witnesses? what about a cps juvenile court case that strikes an expert doctor that declares there is no mental illness, but the judge and the social worker both decide on their own, without any experts that there must be a mental illness, based on hearsay?

    What about an order from juvenile court that allowed hearsay evidence to be adopted in family court- without a hearing and without any expert witness at all stating there is a mental illness? what if the parent with the supervised visitation has four separate doctors, three of which they had no part in choosing, all declare there is no mental illness, but the judge has refused to allow a hearing to produce evidence in?

  • Smash Some Glass

    In California Supervised visits are being used as a litigation tactic and financial weapon against parents . It is rare that parents who acted normally prior to a divorce or custody battle would suddenly need to be supervised with their own children it is very embarrassing for children as well and can cause life long problems.

  • Me Again

    What about a parent who fled abuse from her child’s father, only to be cornered by cps and the fathers whole network of pro-father activists. Not being able to afford an attorney in family court and being tricked by the fathers attorney into signing a temp which he then gained full custody. I have been bamboozled by the best of the best and the most justified state agency. The same protection agency who were caught lying about saying my UA’s were dirty for drugs, but nothing happened, They weren’t even slapped on the wrist and I was told I could not ask for a trial . CPS just dismissed, moved the case to family court and then wrote a pretty report in favor of the father who has an extensive drug & criminal & DV history. There was no way in hell I was going to even get a Judge to consider any facts or merits of law and Iv’e been buckled ever since. I want to be with my daughter, it’s been 4 years and I’m scared if I ask to change the plan, I’d be up against the same brick wall ,major emotional & physical abuse & control by the father,. I admit , the last four years I have felt literally paralyze. I have behaved almost child-like and behaving like a victim has not turned my life around but I know for fact, this mess would not have happened had I not took our daughter and tried to leave with her in the first place. Not having my “ducks-in-a-row” before hand. was my defeat. again There was nothing on me that was concrete from the beginning. The father is a different story as far as reputation, etc…

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