When one parent (the custodial parent) has physical custody of a child, the other parent (the non-custodial parent) usually has visitation rights (i.e., “parenting time”). There is an assumption that a parent has a right to unsupervised visitation with his or her child absent any threat to the child’s wellbeing. However, if the court finds that there is a threat to the child’s wellbeing during visiting with the non-custodial parent, the court can order supervised visitation. This means that a third party will monitor the visit to ensure the child’s wellbeing. The person supervising may be an adult family member or friend, or may be a professional third party. Sometimes visitations may also be ordered to take place in public settings.
Courts consider the following factors, among others, in deciding whether to order supervised visitation:
1) A parent’s mental illness if, due to the mental condition, it would cause potential harm to the child if the visits were unsupervised;
2) A parent’s substance abuse, if it causes the parent to act in a way that could be injurious to the child if visits were unsupervised; and
3) A parent’s sexual behavior (for example if the parent might engage with a romantic partner in front of the child and adversely affect the child) during unsupervised visits.
For example, if the non-custodial parent had a history of domestic violence towards the custodial parent, which the child witnessed, supervised visitation might be ordered for the wellbeing of the child (and the custodial parent) since exchange of the child usually occurs between the parents. In a case like that, the exchange of the child might be ordered to be in a public place or in the presence of a third party.
The chief consideration with supervised visitation is obviously the wellbeing and safety of the child. If you have questions on whether supervised visitation may be appropriate in your situation, I encourage you to speak to a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction.