Under family laws, there are various arrangements when it comes to the raising and caring of children. These can involve child custody and child visitation, depending on the situation. The two types of child visitation are unsupervised visitation and supervised visitation.

What is Unsupervised Visitation?

A custodial parent is the parent with whom a child resides. The parent with whom a child does not reside is called a noncustodial parent. A noncustodial parent typically pays child support. A noncustodial parent is also entitled to child visitation rights. Visitation rights are awarded through a court order. The order contains a set visitation schedule, agreed to be the parents. With unsupervised visitation, the noncustodial parent may visit the child without the other parent having to be present. 

Unsupervised visits can occur at any time or place, so long as the time or place:

  • Is reasonable; and
  • Is agreed to by the parents

Generally, a noncustodial parent will be awarded unsupervised visitation rights so long as the noncustodial parent does not pose a risk to the child’s mental or physical health. 

What is Supervised Visitation?

A court will award sometimes award visitation on a supervised basis. This means that the noncustodial parent may visit the child, but only when an adult is present at all times. Supervised visitation may not occur at “any time or place.” Significant restrictions may be placed on when and where supervised visitation may take place. 

A judge can order supervised visitation when there are concerns that the child’s safety or health would be put at risk were the child to be left alone with the noncustodial parent. Noncustodial parents who are restricted to supervised visitation include those whom the court finds:

  • Have a record of engaging in domestic violence;
  • Have engaged in sexual abuse or drug abuse;
  • Have a mental illness that impairs their ability to properly supervise a child;
  • Threatening or unreliable to the child; and
  • Lacks sufficient financial resources to provide a safe home environment for the child

Who Must be Present with the Child During Supervised Visitation?

During supervised visitation, an adult must be present at all times. This adult can be:

  • An individual agreed upon by the parents, with court approval. This person may be a trustworthy and reliable neighbor, friend, or acquaintance of one or both parents; 
  • A social worker. A social worker can be assigned by the court to monitor the child during the entire supervised visit. When the visit is over, the social worker may return the child to the custodial parent; or 
  • An individual appointed by the court. The legal term for this person is guardian ad litem. The court may appoint the guardian ad litem on its own, or may do so upon request of the custodial parent.

Supervised visitation may occur either at the non-custodial parent’s home or at a neutral location chosen by the judge.

Can Supervised Visitation Become Unsupervised Visitation?

Parents who have supervised visitation may seek to modify the court order. This means that may ask the court for the right to visitation on an unsupervised basis. 

A court may grant this request if a parent meets can meet certain requirements. The requirement the parent must meet is typically related to the reason why the visitation is supervised in the first place. 

For example, if a parent was given supervised visitation because of anger management issues, a court may order the parent enroll in and complete anger management counseling to be entitled to unsupervised visits. If the parent was given supervised visitation because of drug or alcohol abuse, the court may order the parent to undergo drug testing with “clean” results. 

The parent who wishes to change the visitation to unsupervised may be denied unsupervised visitation if that parent cannot meet the requirements imposed by the court.

A court may always change visitation from unsupervised to supervised, if the parent with supervised visitation can demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances warranting the change. Examples of a substantial change in circumstances include a parent’s having obtained the financial ability to provide a home that is safe and secure, by having gotten a job.

A substantial change in circumstances, by itself, does not suffice to change supervised visitation to unsupervised visitation. The court must also find that awarding unsupervised visitation is in the best interests of the child. Under the legal standard known as the “best interests of the child” standard, the court prioritizes the emotional, physical and material needs of the child over all other concerns. This includes the parents’ own wishes and rehabilitation. 

A judge determines what the child’s best interests are. The best interests of the child may change as the child develops and matures. 

Do I Need a Child Visitation Rights Lawyer?

If you seek unsupervised visitation rights, you should consult with a child visitation lawyer. An experienced child visitation lawyer can advise you about how to proceed, answer questions about child visitation rights, and can represent you in court proceedings.