Supervised visitation is a custody arrangement in which one parent is allowed to spend time with their child or children only under the watchful eye of another adult. This arrangement is often put into effect when a family court judge questions the fitness of a parent, frequently because of issues with drug or alcohol use or domestic abuse. No parent wants to find themselves in a supervised visitation arrangement, but at heart, its aim is to keep the parent-child attachment intact, to prevent feelings of abandonment, and to give fathers and mothers a chance to spend time and bond with their children.
That said, supervised visitation, which often comes as a result of a messy and unpleasant custody proceeding, can stir up a lot of emotions. Because there is a court-ordered supervisor present, parents who find themselves forced into such situations can feel worthless or as though they’re being punished. These negative emotions can cause resentment to boil over and result in the visits being sabotaged, with remarks being hurled at the supervisor, frustrations being vented to or with the child present, and more.
In short, there are a lot of issues to confront. Fatherly spoke with Anne P. Mitchell, Esq., author of They’re Your Kids Too and one of the first fathers’ rights lawyers in the U.S. about what parents should do to make the best of it during supervised visitations.
Understand the Situation
During a supervised visit, parents spend time with their child while also laying the groundwork for unsupervised visits in the future. That means being on their best behavior. “Parents should always assume that the supervisor will be making notes, even if only mental notes, and will be reporting back to the supervising authority, and to the court,” says Mitchell. “Even if this ends up not being the case, the supervised parent should always assume that it is the case.” Parents should arrive for the visit on time, clean and well dressed. They should also be mindful of what they say.
Come Up With a Plan
It’s important that the time a parent spends with their child during supervised visitation is not only fun for them but that you’re both engaged and active. If the visit is not at a supervising center or the child’s own home, the parent should come prepared with books, games, or activities that they and their child can do together.
“Bring things that are interactive, not an iPad with a movie on it, both because that’s not as bond-building, and also because you don’t want the supervisor reporting that instead of interacting with your child, you both just stared at a screen,” Mitchell says. “If the parenting time is with a mobile supervisor, then go to a park, to a museum, to the zoo, or even just out for ice cream. The parent who is being supervised should expect to, and offer to, pay for the supervisor’s expenses in these cases.”
Don’t Prep Your Child
Parents might feel an urge to talk to their child about what to expect from a supervised visit, Mitchell says that this is a bad idea. “The best thing to do is to just say ‘You’re going to get to see mommy/daddy!’ Children don’t make nearly such a big deal of this as one might think. They will just focus on getting to spend time with their parent if that’s what you focus on.”
Watch Your Mouth
Parents should avoid profanity at all costs. But they should also never, ever say a bad word about the other parent. “Even better, say nice things if you can,” says Mitchell. “For example, if the child complains about mommy, rather than buying into it, say something at least vaguely complimentary about mommy, such as ‘You know that mommy loves you very much and I’m sure she is trying the best that she can.’ This is not only beneficial to the child, but it will also help the parent’s standing with the supervisor, who will report back to the court that they’re being cooperative and encouraging.”
Find a Place to Vent
Despite the brave face a parent might put on, it’s understandable that they’re still going to have feelings of resentment at the unfairness (whether real or perceived) of the confining structure of parental visitation. And it’s important for them to have an outlet to let some of those feelings out. But, as Mitchell says, it’s important for parents to remember that that outlet can’t be their child and those feelings should never be expressed around the supervisor.
“These things need to be talked about with a counselor, a member of the clergy, or a good friend who is completely unconnected from the situation,” Mitchell says. “As anyone else is concerned, you are grateful for the opportunity to show what a good relationship you have with your child—or that you want with your child, if it is currently strained—to the people who are trying to help you further that relationship.
Keeping a positive mindset is vital, as is remembering that the supervisor isn’t the enemy. In fact, if parents play their cards right, they might even be able to turn the situation to their advantage. Keeping a cooperative attitude and showing a supervisor that he or she is willing to do whatever it takes can go a long way towards getting back their unsupervised visits.
“I have seen situations where supervised parenting was ordered specifically so that someone connected to the legal system could see what the situation actually was, rather than relying on the non-supervised parent’s allegations,” Mitchell says. “In fact, I’ve had cases where this ended up with custody being switched to the supervised parent owing to this very dynamic. So you just never know when the supervisor may end up becoming the catalyst for a positive change, if they are seeing the right things while supervising you.”