Following a divorce or separation, parents often participate in discussions to reach custody arrangements. In cases where they are unable to reach a mutual agreement, the parties approach the Court for parenting orders.
The Courts make parenting orders that are legally binding. For the majority of parents, custody or visitation schedules are of utmost importance during a divorce proceeding. Every party wishes to have continued access to their child/ren. However, in some divorce cases, it is possible that one party has a history of abusing alcohol or drugs, or of exhibiting violent behaviour. In such extreme cases, that party will be allowed to visit the child only if those visits are supervised.
What is supervised visit or supervised contact?
It is not uncommon for people to resort to violence towards their former spouse. Moreover, alcohol and/or drug abuse have also become increasingly common in broken marriages.
The parent who is abusing drugs/alcohol, or who has previously been violent towards the other party, will be allowed to have access to their child provided that their contact is supervised. This is because the Court will see this parent as a potential threat to the safety of the child. The Court gives paramount consideration to the best interests of the child. Their safety and wellbeing is therefore of utmost importance.
Importantly, as part of the best interests principle, the Courts also deem it important for the child to have a meaningful relationship with both his/her parents. This is why the Courts provide avenues for the violent parent to continue to build a relationship with their child.
A supervised visitation centre (a child contact centre) is a neutral place for the non-custodial parent (the parent who has been violent or who has abused drugs/alcohol) to visit his/her child. Neutral parties, or independent parties, are present at these supervised visitation centres. These independent parties ensure that the child has a good time, and has a positive experience when meeting the parent. Importantly, the independent party has to ensure that the child is safe at all times.
Other reasons why supervised centres are considered
- If the custodial parent is concerned that the other parent will abduct the child and restrict the custodial parent from having any access to the child.
- If the non-custodial parent is resuming a relationship with the child after a considerable period of time and the custodial parent is concerned for the child.
- The custodial parent has strong reason to believe that the presence of the non-custodial party can pose some serious threat to the safety of the child.
A divorce or separation in itself is extremely stressful for involved parties. Adding to this, the uncertainty around custody and visitation can make all parties extremely anxious. Moreover, custody matters are complicated when one party has a history of abusing drugs or alcohol. It can be very difficult to reach custody arrangements in such matters.
Supervised visitation centres provide some sort of restitution to both parties. Firstly, the non-custodial parent is able to maintain contact with his/her child. Secondly, the custodial parent need not worry about the child’s safety, or his/her own safety as there are independent professionals who supervise contact.
Lastly, the principle of best interests of the child is upheld by allowing the child to have a healthy relationship with both parents.
Author: John Bui is the Principal Solicitor of JB Solicitors. The firm primarily deals with matters falling under family law, criminal law, property law, and commercial law. John is a nationally accredited family law mediator and arbitrator.
DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to JB Solicitors directly.