Recently, I have received a number of legal enquiries from people who said they felt they were forced to agree to be supervised by another adult or a paid supervisor when spending time with their children because the other parent had expressed safety concerns or made allegations about them.
Sometimes it is preferable for a parent to agree to supervised contact for a defined period of time, rather than spending no time at all with a child. Even if you do not think supervision is necessary, you can use the visits to show that you can build (or rebuild) a relationship with your child. The courts do not make orders about supervised time lightly, although they generally prefer to err on the side of caution. Even if you think a supervised time order is unnecessary it is usually better to maintain even a restricted relationship with your children rather than abandoning that relationship altogether, if you wish to remain an important part of your child’s life.
Supervisors can be:
- A friend or relative
- A Children’s Contact Service (CCS)
- A Private Supervisory Service.
Some people are reluctant to ask friends and family to act as supervisors because they can feel uncomfortable in this type of situation. In these cases, a supervisory service may be more appropriate.
Most Children’s Contact Services receive government funding. You do not need court orders to access their services, which are generally free, or charge fees according to an income-based test. Children’s Contact Services are located throughout Australia, and provide a safe, neutral and friendly place for children to develop or re-build relationships with a parent where there are concerns about the child’s safety or welfare. They also provide a safe place for change-overs to occur between high conflict parents, with separate entrances and staggered arrival times so that parents can bring their children to a changeover, and not have to meet, speak to, or even see the other parent.
Children’s Contact Services have intake assessments to see if the proposed arrangements can be properly managed. There is a high demand for these services, and waiting times vary. As children grow older and time passes, it is hoped that parents will eventually develop their own strategies for minimising conflict or risk.
Children’s Contact Centres do not take sides in a family law dispute. If parents are involved in court proceedings, staff notes of visits can be subpoenaed, however fees may apply before this evidence can be produced. Parents who use Children’s Contact Services are required to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner at and around the service.
In addition to the Contact Services, there are a number of private supervisory services who can provide supervision for parents and children in the wider community. These services generally charge higher fees than the Children’s Contact Services, but they are mobile services and are usually more flexible.
It is extremely important to work out a suitable and safe way for children to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents after separation, especially where there has been a history of conflict or allegations of violence.
If supervised time is a feature in your parenting case, you can find out more information about the options available to you by contacting one of our experienced family lawyers on (02) 9261 4555.