I need to arrange for supervised contact with my children. What are my options?

Supervised contact is where contact occurs between a parent and a child in a safe, controlled, place with someone like a relative or professional supervisor present.

The aim of supervised contact is for children to safely rebuild their relationship with a parent who may have previously been displaying unsafe parenting or violent behaviour and it can be directed by the Family Court.

For information about why and when a Court might order supervised contact, click here.

In general, there are two forms of supervised contact, ‘formal’ and ‘informal’.

If a Court makes an order for supervised contact, it must specify whether formal or informal supervised contact is to take place. The decision they make will focus primarily on the best interests of the child or children involved. The wishes or best interests of the parents will be ignored if they risk the child’s wellbeing.

Whether formal or informal supervised contact is preferable will often depend on circumstances like:

  •          Whether the child’s other parent or guardian consents to the contact;
  •          The likelihood of more harmful incidents occurring during contact and whether the parent has made efforts to                    prevent the chance of harmful behaviour in the future;
  •          The nature of the past harm, how long ago it happened, and how often it happened; and
  •          How the child personally feels about resuming contact with their other parent.

Formal Supervised Contact

Formal supervised contact almost always will involve a supervised contact provider. These providers have staff with training to help them remain neutral during the visit and know what to do if things go wrong. The contact might take place at an approved contact centre, or in another safe location with a professional supervisor from the approved provider.

Some distinguishing features of formal supervised contact are:

  •          The contact is more likely to be ordered where the risks to the child are higher (but not so high that allowing                     any contact would be unreasonable), or where there is no suitable relative or trusted individual to take on the                   supervisor role;
  •          The Court is more likely to require the supervised contact to take place at a specific location;
  •          Supervised contact sessions might be further apart and for set periods of time; and,
  •          It is more likely that there will be some restrictions on what the parent and child can talk about during their                         supervised contact sessions.

Some parents may find it difficult to rebuild their relationship with their child or children when a professional supervisor is present. In that situation, and if the circumstances allow, the parent may apply to the Court for informal supervised contact with their child.

Informal Supervised Contact

Informal supervised contact is still Court-ordered. The main difference is that the supervision is not independently provided. Instead, the approved supervisor can be a trusted person known to the child. This provides a more natural and relaxed atmosphere for both parties.

Some distinguishing features of informal supervised contact are:

  •         Informal contact is more likely to be implemented where risks to the child are lower, and where there is an                        appropriate known individual in the child’s life who the Court can trust to supervise.

For example, in one case, the Family Court allowed contact to take place outside of a formal centre because the child’s mother demonstrated genuine efforts to tackle her substance abuse issues and had not used drugs for several months.

The Court agreed that the child’s grandmother was a suitable supervisor because she was trustworthy and already had a strong relationship with the mother and child.

  •          The Court might specify a wider range of times and places in which supervised contact may take place; and
  •          There will likely be less restriction on what the parent and child can do and talk about during their contact.

Under either arrangement, the Court might add extra conditions on allowing supervision to take place. For example, the Court might require the parent who is reconnecting with their child to have routine drug tests, counselling, or take anger management classes.

If the supervised contact has been ordered by the Court, it must continue to be supervised until the Court orders otherwise. The parent whose contact with the child is being supervised must apply to the Court and request for contact to be unsupervised. To agree to this, the Court must be satisfied of the child’s safety without supervision.

A lawyer can help you navigate which option is most suitable to your situation and implement the decision reached. Legal assistance is a smooth and efficient way to reach an agreeable decision between parents or caregivers where the relationship is strained, or if it is unsafe for either parent to make direct contact with the other. 

 


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