There may be situations where the court determines that supervised visitation is in the children's best interest. In some jurisdictions there may be a supervised visitation program in place. For example, see the Montgomery County Supervised Visitation Program Guidelines. Any referral to the court's supervised visitation program must be through the court's protocol and procedures and subject to space availability. Where there is no available supervised visitation program, the visitation order should designate an appropriate neutral third party supervisor.
The ABA Center on Children and the Law's A Judge's Guide: Making Child-Centered Decisions in Custody Cases (ABA, 2001), 99-104, provides some helpful insight and suggestions concerning selection of a supervisor, adapting some of its guidelines from Robert B. Straus, Supervised Visitation and Family Violence, 29 Fam. L. Q. 229-252 (1995) and Nancy K.D. Lemon, Domestic Violence and Children: Resolving Custody and Visitation Disputes, A National Judicial Curriculum 57-68. With respect to selection of a supervisor who is a family member or friend, considerations include:
1. Is the individual neutral? a. Will the supervisor report adequately and honestly about the visiting parent's behavior? b. Is there animosity between the supervisor and visiting parent? c. Is the supervisor afraid of the visiting parent? 2. Can the supervisor protect the child? 3. Is the individual adequately mature to supervise? 4. Will the supervisor be present during the entire visit? 5. Is the supervisor available and willing to supervise? 6. The supervisor should NOT be chosen if the custodial parent has concerns about his or her qualifications. 7. The supervisor should NOT be the custodial parent.
Community members may provide more neutral supervision than family members and friends, and where supervision is required due to domestic violence or child abuse, family members should not be chosen as supervisors. The supervisor should be a neutral and mature individual, able to supervise the parent and protect the child, willing to communicate reports on the visit, and available for the entire visit. A copy of the order and responsibilities should be distributed to parent and supervisor. The supervisor should be informed of the reason for the supervision. The order should set forth the visitation schedule, including appropriate restrictive provisions concerning alcohol and controlled substances, provisions pertinent to batterer's prevention programs, and provision for visiting parent to post bond if there is a concern regarding child abduction.
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John S. Weaver, Of Counsel
Z Family Law, LLC 51 Monroe Street, Suite 1501, Rockville, MD 20850