UNDERSTANDING THE ROLES OF SUPERVISED VISITATION AND THERAPY IN FAMILY AND JUVENILE LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
This is a collaborative work by Miranda Calhoun, Barbara Sears, Stephanie Horton, and Ann Keele of the TCBA Children & the Law Committee. We hope this serves as a useful resource to our fellow practitioners in the areas of family and juvenile law. Supervised visitation and various forms of child and family therapy are often ordered in family and juvenile legal proceedings. It is important for practitioners in these courts to be familiar with the differences between supervised visitation and therapy and to understand what is to be expected from their application. This article is designed to give a basic overview of the different visitation and therapy options available, so that you can better determine which services to recommend for your clients’ situation.
I. Supervised Visitation
Supervised Visitation is very commonly ordered and means that a parent cannot visit with his or her child alone. A relative, friend, the other parent or a professional supervisor is present during the parent’s visit with the child. Most commonly, a court may order supervised visitation in situations of domestic abuse, abuse of drugs or alcohol, where the parent does not yet know how to care for the child on their own or when there is concern the parent may leave with the child. Supervised visitation may continue for any period of time until the court is satisfied the issues necessitating supervised visitation are resolved. Of course, circumstances may call for another form of visitation, as discussed in the remainder of this article. Supervised visitation should never be a default but should be utilized in situations where it is in the best interest of the child involved. In situations of supervised visitation, it is crucial the parents, attorneys and the supervisor fully 6 Tulsa Lawyer
understand the role of the supervisor. As much as attorneys have experiences with good supervisors, it seems they have even more stories of supervisors overstepping their bounds. The supervisor’s role is limited to that of a neutral observer and coordinator of the visit, and the supervisor must respect his role at all times. The supervisor is not to provide therapy, counseling or his opinions during or outside of the visit. Instead, the supervisor simply remains with the parent and child during the entirety of the visit (even if the parent escorts the child to the restroom), observes their interactions and ensures that nothing inappropriate occurs. Unless necessary, the supervisor should not participate in the parent/child interactions during the visit. If something inappropriate takes place, i.e. the parent makes an inappropriate comment to the child, the parent becomes angry, the parent appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, etc., the supervisor ends the visit immediately. When selecting a supervisor, it is important to choose someone who can be faithful to the supervisor’s limited role. Often times, relatives or friends of the parties are unable to properly supervise, as they are too emotionally invested. Therefore, it may be necessary for the parties to hire a professional and completely neutral third party supervisor. Before selecting and initiating the first visit with a supervisor, it is important that the parties and attorneys interview and meet face-to-face with the potential supervisor. This will allow the attorneys and parties the opportunity to discuss the supervisor’s role with him and to ensure he fully appreciates his obligations. It also provides an opportunity for the parents