What is Supervised Contact?
Supervised contact is a way of allowing one parent to spend time with the children if the other parent or a court is concerned that the children may be at risk with that parent.
Under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), all children, if it is in their best interests, maintain the right to contact with both parents on a regular basis.
Contact or visitation can be supervised in two ways.
Firstly, supervised contact can be when an independent person is present to ensure the child is in a safe and controlled environment when spending time with the non-residential parent.
Secondly, supervised contact can be at the changeover from the residential parent to the non-residential parent.
A supervisor will ensure the child is ‘handed over’ and ‘handed back’ safely.
Supervised contact can include either or both of these situations.
In some circumstances, the child may need to be gradually re-introduced to the non-residential parent and build up a relationship slowly.
These circumstances can include the non-custodial parent moving away for an extended period of time after the separation or the consequence of a, particularly bitter or difficult separation.
Alternatively, if the separation involved a high level of conflict, parents may also seek supervised contact to ‘hand over’ the child so that they do not need to see or speak to each other.
This would ensure a conflict-free environment for the child.
In other circumstances, there may be a history of family violence associated with the non-residential parent.
Supervised contact will protect the safety of both the residential parent and the child from any post-separation violence.
Finally, if the non-residential parent is associated with significant levels of drug or alcohol abuse, the supervised contact will ensure they are fit to care for the child during the contact.
What are reasons for supervised contact?
Supervised contact may be required when:
- A parent has a drug or alcohol problem that may in some way harm the child
- There are allegations, or a real risk of one parent kidnapping or abducting the child
- A parent has seriously neglected the child
- A parent has spent a long period of time away from the child and wants to start a relationship with the child
- There have been any potentially dangerous family situations
- There has been some form of abuse of the child by a parent. The abuse could be physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
- There has been some form of abuse of one parent by the other parent
- A parent poses harm to the child by way of mental illness or suicide
It is important to remember that supervised visitation should be a temporary arrangement. It is not something that should be in place for long periods of time, and if the reports of the supervised visit are good, it should lead to unsupervised visitation.
For example, the non-custodial parent may need to complete an anger management class, or attend sessions with a psychiatrist for 3 months in order to be awarded unsupervised visits.
Who Can Supervise Contact?
Supervised visitation centres
There area range of services provided by Catholic Care and Relationships Australia that provide supervised contact centres in Australia.
There are a number of contact centres but they are normally quite busy so you will need to book in advance.
There are also private supervised visitation centres, which are normally easier to book.
These normally cost between $180 – $250 per hour with a minimum booking time of two hours.
Alternatively, the parents can also hire an independent person from a supervised visitation centre who could supervise the visit outside of the visitation centre.
This may create a more relaxed or natural visit, as it could be in any location, for example, the noncustodial parent’s home, at a shopping centre, or in a park.
Normally the cost of this service ranges from $90 – $120 per hour.
Family friend supervised contact
If both parents agree, a family friend could supervise the contact.
The supervisor could be a relative, mutual friend of the family, or an individual known to the parents.
Even the custodial parent can supervise contact.
This may be a more cost-effective option for parents that will struggle to pay the expensive rates of supervised visitation centres.
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Principal of Justice Family Lawyers, Hayder specialises in complex parenting and property family law matters. He is based in Sydney and holds a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Communications from UTS.