The Family Law Act 1975 emphasises the importance of a relationship between a parent and a child. It states all children have the right to regular contact with both parents and other significant people, as long as this contact is in the child’s best interests. Supervised contact allows one parent to spend time with a child safely when the other parent or a court has a concern the child may be at risk with them.
Supervised contact can result from:
- a formal or informal agreement between parties, including via family dispute resolution;
- an order of the court with the consent of parties;
- an order made by judge or magistrate.
Reasons for supervised contact
There is a variety of reasons supervised contact might be appropriate.
This includes where:
- there is a risk of violence to the child;
- there is a risk of sexual abuse of the child;
- the conduct of the parent is not in the best interests of the child;
- there is a history of neglect;
- there is a history of substance abuse by a parent;
- there is a risk of child abduction;
- there is concern about the parent’s parenting skills or experience;
- there is a risk of harm to the child by a parent’s mental illness;
- there is a potentially dangerous family situation;
- there is abuse of one parent by the other parent;
- a parent is re-entering a child’s life after an extended period of time, caused by, for instance, an acrimonious separation or work.
No contact order
A child’s time with a parent can be restricted by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia to no time if the court believes time with a parent would expose a child to an unacceptable risk.
The court must not only establish an unacceptable risk to the child but a real or substantial risk of abuse which can be emotional, psychological or physical. Examples of such a situation is where there is sufficient evidence of abuse, or where spending time with a parent would cause emotional distress or be disturbing for the child.
Supervision can be performed through a children’s contact centre, private supervisor or mutually trusted friend or family member.
Children’s contact centres
A centre’s purpose is to promote the safety and welfare of children and vulnerable adults during changeovers and visits, and to facilitate interaction during visits.
Supervision at such a centre can include situations of:
- scheduled appointments for parent-child contact monitored by a independent third party in a safe, neutral, controlled environment; or
- a changeover, where a supervisor ensures a child is “handed over” and “handed back” safely. This may be necessary where there is a high level of conflict between parents, and can ensure parents do not need to see or speak to each other.
The role of a supervisor is to facilitate a changeover, then observe and take notes on interactions. The supervisor does not make suggestions, or offer direct support, or intervene unless the parent does something contrary to welfare of the child.
When required, a supervisor can provide a report to the court on interactions. Such reports provide independent evidence to the court to help it determine whether supervised visits should continue.
Duration of supervised visits
Supervised visits are designed to be temporary arrangement. A parent may need to complete anger management classes, or attend counselling for a set period before unsupervised visitation will be considered. In some cases, however, supervised contact will be ordered indefinitely or on a final basis (until the child is 18).
Where no end time is specified, a contact parent can apply to the court for an order to be varied. An order can also be varied on recommendation from a contact centre, and the parents agree to the variation. This requires an application to the court for a consent order to be made. A return to court will also be necessary if a court order expires or if a contact centre cannot continue to provide its service.
Use of a children’s contact service is not free, but there are options for those who are on a low income or in financial hardship. Parties usually share the costs. Private agencies are more expensive than government-funded centres.
Preparing for supervised contact
A parent taking part in supervised contact visits should:
- commit to a visit schedule: document it, consider the travel time, allow time after the visit to settle, and limit changes to the schedule;
- focus on the child’s interests, and choose an activity for the child to look forward to, such as reading or craft;
- remain calm and positive;
- research and understand a centre’s rules.
A supervised contact visit can be cancelled in some instances, including where a parent:
- is under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- threatens the child or staff;
- physically disciplines the child;
- speaks about family court proceedings; or
- speaks negatively about the child’s other parent or relatives.
For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.