The public policy of the state of California is to protect the best interest of children whose parents have a custody or visitation matter in family court. Sometimes, based on issues of protection and safety, a judge will order that a child only have contact with a parent when a neutral third person is present during the visitation. This type of third-person visitation arrangement is often called “supervised visitation.”
Read the Custody and Domestic Violence section for information and help if you have experienced domestic violence and are dealing with custody and visitation issues.
A judge may order supervised visitation for many reasons, like:
The court order will specify the time and duration of the visits. Sometimes, the court order will also specify who will provide the supervised visitation services and where the visits will take place.
The supervised visitation provider is there to make every effort to keep your children safe. The provider may be a family member, a friend, or a paid professional. The provider’s job is to make sure that the children and everyone involved in the visits are kept reasonably safe and protected. The provider must be present at all times during the visit, listen to what is being said, and pay close attention to the children’s behavior. If necessary, the provider may interrupt or end a visit. All providers are required to report suspected child abuse.
Types of providers
The law says there are 2 types of supervised visitation providers:
A nonprofessional provider is usually a family member or friend who is not paid for providing the supervised visitation service to you and your family. Professional providers charge a fee for the service. They are experienced in and trained to provide supervised visitation services. Your court order will usually say which type of provider you have to use to supervise these visits.
All providers must follow the uniform standards of practice for providers of supervised visitation outlined in standard 5.20 of the California Standards of Judicial Administration and Family Code section 3200.5. The court form Declaration of Supervised Visitation Provider (Form FL-324) which providers can fill out to let the court know about their qualifications can help you understand what the law requires for both types of supervised visitation providers.
Qualifications for a supervised visitation provider
All providers of supervised visitation must meet minimum qualifications before providing services. The qualifications, found under Family Code section 3200.5, for the 2 types of supervised visitation providers in California are:
Training requirements for a supervised visitation provider
Professional providers are required to receive training on the topics outlined under Family Code section 3200.5. Also, supervised visitation providers are strongly encouraged to follow the training and education requirements of the California Association of Supervised Visitation Service Providers and the standards for supervised visitation practice of the Supervised Visitation Network, as well as other professional codes of conduct.
IMPORTANT: Before you enter into an agreement with a supervised visitation provider, get his or her name and California driver’s license number and call TrustLine at 1-800-822-8490. If the provider is cleared by TrustLine, it means that no disqualifying child abuse reports or disqualifying criminal convictions exist in California. You should call from time to time to see that the provider is still in good standing.
Not all professional providers go through TrustLine for child abuse and criminal background clearance. However, all providers of supervised visitation must have fingerprinting clearance and have no record of a conviction for child molestation, child abuse, or other crimes against a person. In addition, professional providers must obtain and maintain insurance coverage that is appropriate to their business operations and the nature of the work and services provided.
Parents will usually ask a family member or friend that cares and is concerned for the children and family to act as a nonprofessional provider. If you are going to ask a family member or friend to supervise the visits, remember that this person must:
Parents should read the Guide for the Non-Professional Provider of Supervised Visitation. It will help you understand what the nonprofessional provider can and cannot do during your visit. The guide is available in several languages at your local court’s office of the clerk of the court.
Also, before a family member or friend agrees to act as a supervised visitation provider, give the nonprofessional guide to the person you wish to supervise the visits so he or she can make an informed decision.
If there are concerns about domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, or sexual abuse, you should probably NOT use a nonprofessional provider. You will most likely need someone who has been trained in these issues and clearly understands the specialized knowledge and skills required for these types of cases.
Your court order, lawyer, or Family Court Services office will probably give you information about supervised visitation services and a list of supervised visitation providers in your area.
If you did not get a list or you want help to choose a provider, here are some things to think about before choosing a provider. Look at:
Also, you will have an in-person meeting with the provider. Make a list of questions you have for the provider and make sure you understand what services will be provided and what is expected of you.
When you interview the provider in person, discuss the provider’s policies and procedures, like:
If there are concerns about domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, or sexual abuse, choose a provider who has been trained in these issues and clearly understands the specialized knowledge and skills required for these types of cases.
The provider will also be asked to sign an agreement that he or she will follow and adhere to the program’s terms and conditions for service. To review the qualifications and guidelines that the provider must follow, read the uniform standards of practice for providers of supervised visitation.
Contact or check with your local Family Court Services office in your local court. Generally, each court’s Family Court Services office has a list of providers in your area. You can also ask your local court clerk’s office.
In addition, the California Association of Supervised Visitation Service Providers and the Supervised Visitation Network (SVN) may have informatoin about service providers. Keep in mind that these agencies do not regulate or regularly monitor the providers listed as members with their organization. So make sure you always interview the provider you choose and make sure he or she is qualified and trained and meets child abuse and fingerprinting clearance requirements.
Tips for the visiting parent
Being with your children in the presence of someone else may be uncomfortable for you, at least in the beginning. You probably have many questions and concerns, and that is perfectly understandable. During tough times you may want to talk to a mental health professional or find a support group to help you with your feelings. Do your best to focus on your relationship with your children. Your patience and commitment are important during this time.
Here are some suggestions that might be helpful to you:
Tips for the custodial parent
Supervised visitation can also be a challenge for you. Typically you have been taking care of your children’s everyday needs and have a routine for yourself and your family. Supervised visitation can sometimes feel like 1 more responsibility. Of course, you also have concerns and questions about the visits and how they will affect your children. This is understandable. In difficult times you may also want to talk to a mental health professional or find a support group where you can talk about your feelings.
Here are a few suggestions that might help you in the process:
Tips for both parents
If you need to change the visitation schedule, the provider cannot do that for you. You will need to ask the court to change the visitation order. To assist you in filing the proper paperwork with the court, contact your lawyer or the family law facilitator in your court.
You may also ask Family Court Services to assist if both parents are willing to meet with a mediator. A court mediator can assist you in reaching an agreement that changes the visitation schedule. Your agreement can then be filed in court and become an order. Call your Family Court Services office to schedule an appointment.
Supervised visitation can be difficult and uncomfortable at times. Often there are hurt and angry feelings toward the other parent. It may also seem impossible to have a positive attitude about supervised visitation. Remember that both of you care about your children and that children benefit from having 2 parents in their lives whenever possible.
You can visit the Supervised Visitation Network website for more information about supervised visitation and related services. You can also find informatoin at the California Association of Supervised Visitation Service Providers. Additional supervised visitation information may be found at the following related links:
American Bar Association (under “search” type “supervised visitation”)
Institute on Domestic Violence in African American Community (University of Minnesota)
Praxis International (a nonprofit research and training organization working to eliminate violence in the lives of women and children)