The area of residence and contact litigation is often fraught with highly emotional opinion. When involved in such litigation it is important to consider first and foremost the best interests of the children.
According to law in Australia, the children have the right of contact on a regular basis, with both their parents and with other significant people in their lives, so far as it does not overlap with their best interests. The Court is empowered to make orders only when it is satisfied that it is in the best interest of the child to do so. Such an order may include providing that a party have contact with a child or children only if that contact is supervised by another person.
What is Supervised contact?
Supervised contact is the situation where the non-resident parent (the parent with whom the child does not live) has contact with the child under supervision of another person. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to ensure that the best interests of the child are protected whilst on a contact visitation with the parent or person.
When can a Supervised Contact Order be made?
Before the Court makes or approves an Order it must be satisfied that to do so will be in the best interests of the child. Such a situation may include that in which there is a risk to the child that he or she may be abducted on contact, or there may be some risk that the child may be subjected to violence while with the contact parent or person. It can also include those situations where the contact parent has deficient parenting skills or requires the aid of another person to care for the child. For example, where the parent of a baby is a young man or woman who is not confident or able to care for the child by him or herself.
When will a supervised contact order not be made?
- The Court will not make a supervised contact order if it is satisfied that there is no risk to the best interests of the child if such an order is not made. If the Court is not convinced of the reasonable need to ensure the safety of the child to have contact supervised it will not make or approve the order. For example, the Court will not make an order for supervised contact if it is satisfied that the only reason the resident parent is making the request is to annoy the other parent or cause them difficulties.
- If contact, albeit supervised, is still contrary to the child’s bests interests.
How restrictive is a supervised Contact Order?
Supervised contact orders can be extremely varied. Depending on the particular set of circumstances they can be either very flexible or very rigid. An example of the flexibility of a supervised contact order may be allowing a young father to have contact with his young baby under the supervision of the father’s mother whilst at their home. An example of the rigidity of a supervised contact order may be requiring a mother to have contact with the child in a specially designated care facility under the supervision of a registered nurse. Clearly, the level of supervision will greatly depend on the individual case.
Is a Supervised Contact Order final?.
An Order for supervised contact is usually made for a specific period of time with the aim of eventually nurturing a relationship between the child and other parent to the extent that supervision is no longer required. If Orders have previously been made for supervised contact and the Orders do not provide that the supervised contact was to end at any specified period of time the contact parent can make a new application to the Court to have the Order varied.
Who can be a supervisor?
As long as the person who has agreed to be a supervisor has been found by the Court to be appropriate in the circumstances anyone can be a supervisor. The Court cannot nominate someone to be a supervisor if they do not want to. The prospective supervisor must be aware that should they agree to become supervisor they may be required to give evidence in Court should any disagreements arise out of the period of supervised contact. It can also be an extensive commitment of time. It is possible to have more than one supervisor appointed but all supervisors must be approved by the Court and specified in the orders as supervisors.
There is always the possibility that a child may grow afraid or suspicious of the other parent if supervised contact is ordered for no good reason, thus hampering the ability of the child and the parent to develop a warm and loving relationship. On the other side of the coin, however, it may be just as harmful to the child to allow them to go on contact with the non-resident parent without proper supervision. The decision of the Court to provide for supervised contact will therefore need to be based on objective and reliable information and evidence.
If you are concerned that supervised contact is necessary in your case for the best interests of the child, or conversely, that supervised contact will not be in the best interest of the child, you should talk to Michael Zande an Accredited Family Law Specialist who will be able to critically analyse your situation and give you the best advice.
The information in this article is merely a guide and is not a full explanation of the law. This firm cannot take responsibility for any action readers based on this information. When making decisions that could affect your legal rights, please contact us for professional advice.