In a family law setting, there are two primary arrangements that can affect a child whose parents are separating or filing for divorce. The first is known as child custody, and the second is called the right to child visitation.
How the parents decide to split visitation and custody rights over a child will depend on a broad range of factors. Most importantly, it depends on which arrangement would be in the best interests of a child’s mental or physical health and well-being.
While there are many different forms of child custody arrangements, there are only two separate subcategories for child visitations: supervised and unsupervised visitations. These will be discussed in further detail in the sections below.
To learn more about child visitation rights or to obtain child visitation rights over your child, you should consult with a child visitation attorney in your area about the kinds of rights that you may be entitled to when it comes to visiting and retaining custody of your children.
What is Unsupervised Visitation?
A custodial parent is the name given to the parent with whom a child physically lives with on a regular basis. The parent whom the child does not reside with is known as the noncustodial parent. A noncustodial parent is also typically the parent who is responsible for making child support payments. In addition to paying child support, a noncustodial parent may also be granted the right to child visitations.
The guidelines for a noncustodial parent’s visitation rights can be found in a child visitation court order. This order will also contain the schedule that the parents agreed upon for the times and dates of visitations held between the noncustodial parent and their child. The order will also state whether these visitations will be unsupervised or supervised by a neutral third party.
When a noncustodial parent is granted the right to unsupervised visitations with their child, it means that they can spend time with their child without having the other parent or another adult be present during the visit. Additionally, unsupervised visitations can occur at any time and in any place, so long as the specified time and place is both:
- Reasonable; and
- Agreed upon by both of a child’s parents.
Generally speaking, a noncustodial parent will be awarded the right to unsupervised visitations as long as they do not pose a threat or risk of harm to their child’s physical and mental well-being.
What is Supervised Visitation?
In some cases, a court will award visitation rights on a supervised basis. This means that a noncustodial parent will be able to visit and spend time with a child, but only if an adult party is present at all times during the visit. A supervised visit may also not occur at any time or any place, but rather such visits must be scheduled for specific times and within restricted parameters, such as an exact date and location of where a visit with a child may take place.
A judge may order supervised visitations when there are genuine concerns that the health or safety of a child would be put at risk if they were to be left alone with the noncustodial parent. A court may find that a noncustodial parent should be restricted to supervised visitation measures when any of the following factors are present:
- When a noncustodial parent has a prior criminal record that includes domestic violence incidents;
- If a noncustodial parent has been known to engage in sexual abuse or abuse of drugs and/or alcohol;
- When a noncustodial parent has been diagnosed with a mental condition that impairs their ability to properly supervise their child;
- If a noncustodial parent has previously shown that they have neglected, hurt, or have threatened to hurt their child; and/or
- When a noncustodial parent lacks the ability to offer comfort or the sufficient financial resources that are necessary to provide a safe, stable, and healthy home environment for their child.
Basically, if it can be sufficiently proven with solid evidence that leaving a noncustodial parent alone with their child would put their child’s safety and well-being at risk, then a court will likely approve a custodial parent’s request for supervised visitations.
Who Must be Present with the Child During Supervised Visitation?
When a court issues a child visitation order that requires supervised visitation, it means that the noncustodial parent must have any visits with their child supervised by an adult figure, such as a neutral third party like a court-appointed social worker.
For instance, the family law court will assign a social worker to monitor and act as a supervisor during the noncustodial parent and child’s visits with one another. This will ensure that the noncustodial parent and child are behaving as expected with each other and that the parent is not doing anything that would violate the law and the child visitation court order.
The court-appointed social worker can also ensure that the noncustodial parent is not engaging in any conduct that would be harmful to the child’s well-being and development. Additionally, once the visit between the noncustodial parent and their child is over, the social worker may also be asked to return the child to the home of the custodial parent.
Another party who may be put in charge of such visits is a person, such as a close family friend or a relative, that both the child’s parents agree to and is approved by a court. The person can also be a reliable neighbor, a friend of one of the parent’s, or someone whom both parents are acquainted with like an aid.
One other type of individual is a neutral third party who is also appointed by a court and is known as the guardian ad litem. A court may appoint a guardian ad litem on its own, or it may be willing to do so upon the request of a custodial parent.
Finally, a supervised visitation may occur at either the home of a non-custodial parent, the home of the custodial parent, or at a neutral location that is chosen or approved by a family law judge.
Can Supervised Visitation Become Unsupervised Visitation?
A parent who currently has supervised visitation rights may petition the family law court to modify their child visitation court order. If the court approves the noncustodial parent’s request, then their visits with their child will go from being supervised by a neutral third party to having unsupervised visitations.
A court will most likely grant a noncustodial parent’s request if they meet all of the specified requirements. In most cases, this usually means that the parent has fulfilled their duty as to why they may have been ordered to have supervised visitations in the first place.
For example, if the court ordered supervised visitations because of abuse or anger management issues, then the noncustodial parent may have needed to enroll and to have completed anger management counseling.
Alternatively, if a noncustodial parent received supervised visitation rights due to abusing alcohol or drugs, then they may need to submit a certificate of proof to the court that demonstrates they have completed a rehabilitation program. They may also be ordered to undergo frequent random drug testing for a set number of weeks and show that they have stayed clean throughout the entire period.
If a noncustodial parent fails to meet the requirements of whatever reason they currently have supervised visitations, then the court may deny their wishes as to receiving unsupervised visitation rights. In addition, a court may also modify visitation rights from unsupervised to supervised visitations if the custodial parent can prove that there has been a substantial change in circumstances that would justify such a modification of the child visitation order.
Some examples that may qualify as a substantial or significant change in circumstances can include developing a drug habit, dating a partner who participates in illegal activities in front of the child, or losing their job and ability to provide the child with a safe and healthy home environment.
It should be noted, however, that a substantial change in circumstances will not by itself immediately warrant unsupervised visitations to be changed to modified visitations. A judge will also have to find that awarding supervised visitations would be in a child’s best interests. Again, this is known as applying the best interests of the child standard, which is what is used in these types of cases.
Under this standard, a child’s physical, emotional, and material needs will take precedence over all other matters, including both of the parents’ own wishes and desires. The court will determine what the child’s best interests are and they may also state when their best interests have been altered as the child grows and matures.
Do I Need a Child Visitation Rights Lawyer?
If you are seeking to have your supervised child visitation rights modified to unsupervised child visitation rights, then it is strongly recommended that you speak to a local child visitation lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer who has experience in handling child visitation legal issues will be able to inform you of your rights as a parent under the relevant laws in your state.
Your lawyer can also help you to fill out and file the necessary legal documents to modify your existing child visitation court order. In addition, your lawyer will be able to provide legal representation in court as well should it become necessary.
Alternatively, if you are a custodial parent who is seeking to modify a child visitation order to enforce supervised visitation rights on the other parent, then you may also want to consider hiring a local child visitation lawyer to assist you with the modification process. Your lawyer can recommend different options of legal recourse and can help you to protect you and your child’s best interests.