Where children are placed at risk by one parent’s actions, an order may be made providing that the party only has contact with that child or children when supervised by another person. This is known as ‘supervised contact.’
The realm of residence and contact litigation involving children is often thick with high emotions. It is important to remember that under Australian law, children have the right to enjoy a meaningful relationship with both of their parents.
However, when the Court is positioned to make a parenting order, the Family Law Act requires it to regard the child’s best interest as the most critical consideration. This is heavily focused on minimising the child’s exposure to conflict and potential harm, and therefore, can often require the intervention of neutral third parties.
What Is Supervised Contact?
Supervised contact is where the non-resident partner may only contact the child or children while under another person’s supervision. The Court may order that supervision be provided by official services known as ‘Children’s Contact Centres,’ which are either Government-funded or provided through private agencies. Children’s contact centres are purpose-built, child-focused venues designed exclusively to facilitate safe and positive interactions between children and their non-custodial parents. Such services can take two forms:
- Firstly, supervision may be required when transferring the children from one parent to another. This is common in situations where there is significant conflict between the parties, creating a hostile and unsafe environment at changeovers.
- Secondly, supervision may be provided for the time the children spend with one of the parents in a controlled and neutral environment.
Why Would A Supervised Contact Order Be Made?
As mentioned above, the Family Law Act 1975 emphasizes maintaining a meaningful relationship between children and their parents. In saying this, before the Court allows an order to be made in favour of supervised contact, it must be satisfied that doing so would preserve the parent-child relationship in an environment which can alleviate the risk.
Situations where it is likely that the Court will order supervised contact include:
- Where the child may be a risk of physical or psychological harm;
- Where there is a risk of child sexual abuse; or
- Where the behaviour/conduct of a parent makes it unsafe for the child to be in their protection. This may refer to situations where the parent has significant drug or alcohol addictions.
- Where the parent has poor parenting skills and requires the support of another. This may be when the child’s parent is relatively young and therefore not confident in caring for the child independently.
Risk of Violence to Children
In M v M (2000) FLC 93-006, two children had been in the custody of their father with reports of aggressive, abusive, and intimidating conduct occurring within the household. During proceedings, the father refused to admit that he had contributed to the children’s emotional and behavioural problems.
Nonetheless, Mullane J held that the father’s behaviour had put the children at risk of both injury and fear, as well as the risk that they may adopt violent behaviour as acceptable conduct. The final order was that the children spend no time with the father except to the extent necessary to avoid separation anxiety. A court counsellor would supervise this minimal time.
Risk of Child Sexual Abuse
Often when there are allegations of child sexual abuse, there are also difficulties associated with gathering evidence supporting the claim. When making such an allegation, it is important to ensure that there is evidence that discloses an unacceptable risk.
Risk of Conduct
As mentioned above, an order for supervised conduct may be granted where a parent’s conduct puts the children at risk and fails to uphold their best interests. An example can be found in Langmeil & Grange (2010) FLC 93-427.
In this case, the children’s mother had made allegations of sexual abuse against the father, which the Court found to be unsupported and near delusional. In response, the Court found that it was in the child’s best interests to have the father obtain sole parental responsibility, only seeing the mother within supervised time.
Orders on the grounds of conduct can be dated back to 1967 in the case of Lister (1967) 11 FLR 93, where a mother had abandoned her husband and child. In response, the Court refused her application to spend time with the children because it would cause emotional distress and confusion.
Here at JB Solicitors we have worked on numerous supervised contact cases.
One of our clients (“Amy”) married her former partner (“Tom”) in 2006. Throughout the marriage Tom became both physically and verbally abusive towards Amy and their two children. The situation was further exacerbated by drug use, numerous affairs, and Tom abandoning his family on a number of occasions.
This had a devastating impact on their children, particularly their eldest who suffered severe childhood trauma from the age of 18 months old after being abandoned and exposed to violent behaviour.
Some years after separation, Tom requested to have parenting orders amended so that he may see his children. His lawyers requested that Tom be able to spend a significant amount of time (weekly basis) with the kids. Amy still held grave concerns about Tom’s behaviour and his substance abuse, and did not feel safe having Tom around the children.
The JB Solicitors team was able to negotiate with the other side a gradual scheme, introducing supervised contact as a way of slowly reintegrating Tom back into the children’s lives, to which Amy agreed.
The service was provided through Connecting Families who have since sent reports of several successful supervised encounters between Tom and the children at locations such as shopping centres and the park.
All parties are satisfied with the experience which has allowed the children to develop a relationship with their father in an environment which ensures their safety, welfare, and wellbeing.
When Will A Supervised Contact Order Not Be Made?
On the other hand, if you’re going through an acrimonious divorce and suspect that your former partner will do everything in their power to restrict your access to your children, there are a few things to keep in mind.
It is important to remember that the Court will not make a supervised contact order if it is not satisfied that there is a risk that the best interests of the child will be compromised.
In saying this, 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 inconvenience the other parent or cause them heartache/difficulties.
What Are The Duties Of A Contact Supervisor?
A supervisor’s primary role is to ensure the safety, welfare, and wellbeing of the child/ren they are supervising when spending time with their parents.
To do so, supervisors are tasked with monitoring all interactions and conversations and must be positioned within close proximity to alleviate any risk of harm.
In most cases, supervisors are trained to identify what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and must act proactively and immediately cease time if necessary. Professional supervisors will also take notes to record what was said and done throughout the session.
Who Can Be A Supervisor?
Supervised Visitation Centres
You can seek professional supervisors through several supervised contact centres provided by Catholic Care and Relationships Australia. These are government-funded organisations, providing services at a discounted rate. Demand for such services is relatively high, and parties are likely to be placed on long waiting lists before supervised time can be commenced.
Private Supervision Organisations
Alternatively, a parent may hire an independent supervisor through private supervision organisations. Generally, the fees are higher; however, greater flexibility is provided as parents can spend time with their child/ren outside of the visitation centre.
Family Friend Supervised Contact
It is acknowledged that many families using a Children’s Contact Service should move to self-management in time. If there doesn’t exist a court order that states otherwise, and both parents agree, a family friend could supervise the contact. The supervisor could be a mutual friend, relative, or any other person known to both parents. Generally, this is the most cost-effective option available to parents.
Is Supervised Contact Highly Restrictive?
It is important to remember that the nature of supervised contact is highly dependent upon individual circumstances. In some cases, flexible arrangements may be made so that the non-resident parent may be able to have contact with their child under the supervision of a family member while at home, e.g., the parent’s mother.
However, where the Court is not satisfied that a safe environment can be created otherwise, it may order that the non-resident parent only have contact with the child in a specially designated care facility under a registered nurse’s supervision.
Can A Supervised Contact Order Be Overturned?
In most cases, supervised Contact Orders are not designed to restrict parents’ contact with their children forever. Instead, some orders are made to last for a specific period of time.
This concept aims to allow relationships to be nurtured over time until supervision is no longer required. However, in cases where the orders do not specify when the supervised contact period will end, the contact parent may apply to the Court to have the order varied.
Let Us Help You With Your Family Law Matter
If you’re seeking to apply for a supervised contact order or vary one that has been made against you, or need assistance with any other family law matter, it’s time to find a reliable and experienced family lawyer.
Here at JB Solicitors, we’ll make the process as pain-free as possible. We have fixed-free pricing for family law, giving you a clear sense of the costs from the start, and we will be sure to help you out every step of the way.
With years of experience under our belt, we pride ourselves on making each client’s family law experience as positive as possible.
Contact JB Solicitors to get started on your legal matter today.