There are several types of supervision. One-on-one supervision requires that a third person be present and that the visitation occurs in a designated place. Visits can be informally supervised through a family member or more formally through a professional supervisor. The court can even order that supervised visits take place in a clinical setting, such as in a psychologist’s office, or at a visitation clinic specifically set up to handle supervised visits. Exchange supervision specifies when, where, and how the children are transferred between parents. Off-site supervision designates a neutral location, such as a playground or local fast food restaurant and a neutral drop-off site, such as a relative’s home or a public place. This form of supervision is least restrictive, and often precedes the slackening or dropping of the supervision once the danger period has passed, and if you believe that you and your children are no longer in danger. For a great article on supervised visitation, click here.
The danger may be reduced if the batterer receives some therapeutic assistance or intervention. The court can order the abusive parent to receive counseling or parenting classes as a condition to being permitted to see the children. Anger management classes are common to most areas, often serving as a diversionary treatment to prison time when after an arrest for domestic violence. However, the efficacy of such programs is unknown.
Some states take the attitude that violence toward the mother does not constitute ample reason to deny fathers their rights to access to their children. Recent reviews published in the Albany and Boston University Law Review journals found that approximately 85% of states (46 states and the District of Columbia) have passed laws requiring consideration of a batterers’ violence as a factor in custody and visitation disputes. All states adhere to the “best interests” standards, however, and so while violence may not be a specific statutory criteria in many states, it will be considered in every case in which it is present. In addition to including violence as a specific criteria, the American Bar Association has issued a statement that where abuse is proven, batterers should be presumed by law to be unfit custodians.
Even if the batterer is not considered a viable candidate for joint custody, many courts will protect his right to access through visitation. Many batterers terrify their spouses by using visitations as an opportunity to continue the abuse. The court must disentangle when batterers should be completely deprived of their paternal rights, and when allegations of threats made are part of the ongoing battles waged by two angry parents. At times, parents wield unfounded accusations as swords against one another in an attempt to gain an advantage in custody cases. The court’s job then becomes one of not only assessing the truth of the accusations made, but also to assess the psychological impact on the children, as well as balancing the Constitutional rights of parents to raise their own children.
Given this complicated landscape, it’s essential to document all allegations, with photos, witnesses or any other documentation that shows when and how threats are made that are later denied. Take note of when the children are present for the abuse, and how they experience direct or indirect consequences of the abuse. Click here for another article.
Ultimately it depends upon what the court finds to be in the best interests of the children. If the children know and are attached to the abusive parent, and the court believes that the children are safe when with that parent, visitation may be ordered. On the other hand, if the court cannot assure the children’s emotional or physical safety, visitation may be suspended indefinitely, until the situation is remedied.
Excerpted from Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001). For more information: http://www.yourdivorceadvisor.com/.
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