Developing a parenting time plan, even in the most amicable divorce settlement, can be a complex process.
Ensuring a fair parenting time plan is generally one of the top priorities of parents when negotiating a divorce settlement that affects their children. Because every family is unique, a number of options exist for creating individualized parenting time that ensures everyone’s needs in the family are met. The ultimate goal is to arrive at a parenting time plan that supports parental rights while ensuring that minor children are protected.
In certain circumstances, it may be appropriate to discuss supervised visitation—a type of parenting time arrangement typically awarded under a very specific set of circumstances. It is not awarded by the courts lightly, but it is utilized when the court believes it is necessary to protect the children from possible harm.
What Is Supervised Visitation?
In New Jersey, both physical and legal custody—including decision-making about issues regarding the health, welfare, religious observance, and education of the children—are included under the umbrella of “child custody.” Without good cause, the courts generally don’t favor one parent over the other and believe that it is in the child’s best interest to spend time with and access to both parents
Supervised visitation, known as supervised parenting time in New Jersey, is when the parent who may present a danger or potential harm to the children can only visit them when there is another adult present to supervise the interactions.
Supervised visitation is awarded if the courts deem it necessary to keep the child safe while still supporting a parent’s relationship with their child.
Why Supervised Visitation May Be Necessary for a Child Custody/Parenting Time Arrangement
There are several reasons why the court may determine that supervised parenting time is a necessary component of a child custody/parenting time arrangement.
Factors could include:
- Any physical, emotional, or sexual abuse of the child by a parent
- Any physical, emotional, or sexual abuse of one parent by the other parent
- If one parent demonstrates a substance abuse or addiction problem
- If one parent has a mental illness that is either unregulated or causes behaviors or judgment which could pose harm to the child
- If there is proven concern for child abduction
- If one parent has neglected the child
- And any potentially dangerous family situations, to be determined by the court
It is also important to note that the court weighs these factors when considering what is best for the child, but that even if one or more of these factors exist, it does not mean supervised parenting time will be ordered automatically.
Supervised parenting time is sometimes permanent, but it can also be a temporary arrangement that could lead to unsupervised parenting time if the parent previously restricted shows that the concerns for the child’s wellbeing have been resolved or remediated. This could include recovery from or ongoing treatment for addiction, or demonstrating that a previously-untreated or unregulated mental illness is under control.
What Does Supervised Visitation Look Like?
If the court determines that supervised parenting time is necessary, then the parenting plan will also specify what supervised parenting time will look like.
For example, a judge may determine that supervised parenting time takes place at a designated location. They could also select an individual to monitor the visits, such as a social worker or other qualified professional. The responsibility of this individual would be to stay present for the entire length of the visit and accompany the child back to the other parent.
Occasionally, judges may allow a friend, relative, or acquaintance to act as the supervisor, depending on the circumstances and if both parents can agree on the person. In very rare and often very specific circumstances, including with newborns, the other parent may act as a supervisor.
Throughout the process, an experienced child custody lawyer can help you find the right solution for your child’s safety.
How Supervised Visitation Can Be Awarded In a Divorce Settlement
In New Jersey, the court believes that children benefit from a relationship with both parents, and will award parenting time accordingly unless there are extenuating circumstances.
In general, where a parent’s safety is not an issue, it is preferable for parents to arrive at a parenting plan through mediation or alternative dispute resolution (ADR), both of which can facilitate a parenting time plan agreeable to both parents. Besides being more cost-effective and efficient, ADR and mediation allow parents to build parenting time plans customized to their needs rather than having a court make those decisions.
If you draft a parenting time agreement through mediation or ADR, it’s essential to work with a child custody attorney to be as specific as possible and leave no room for interpretation.
If you are in a high-conflict or contested divorce and believe that supervised visitation is necessary for your child’s safety, your legal counsel will work with you to develop a case to present to the judge, alongside a proposed parenting time plan that addresses supervised visitation.
Alternatively, if you find yourself on the other side and believe you have been unfairly accused of presenting a danger to your child, it is critical that you work with an experienced child custody lawyer to address the court and compile documentation to back up your position.
Find the Right Solution for Your Child’s Needs
Navigating parenting time plans can seem overwhelming, even more so if you believe one parent may pose a risk to your child. Determining the right path forward can be a stressful process. An experienced child custody attorney can guide you through your options so you can make the right decision for your family’s circumstances.
The attorneys at Jacobs Berger, LLC, have extensive experience navigating child custody and parenting time agreements in New Jersey. We seek to protect your child’s health and well-being, as well as build an individualized parenting plan that all parties are comfortable with.
Schedule a strategic planning session with us today.