There are few areas of the law that evoke a more passionate response than family law. This is because our children hold a special place in our heart and most of us want to enjoy a warm and loving relationship with our child. When the freedom to enjoy this relationship is threatened, we can feel a range of emotions – from sadness, disbelief and despair to frustration, distress and rage. If you are having/about to have supervised time with your child, it is likely that at least some of these emotions will be felt. Managing these emotions is likely to be the most challenging aspect of being subjected to having the time you spend with your child whilst being monitored by a supervisor.
The Family Law Act 1975, and the Family Law Courts, emphasise the importance of the parent-child relationship. It is important to remember however that this relationship is not to be seen as a right of the parent (parents have responsibilities, not rights), but as a right of the child. Further, this relationship will only occur if it is in the best interests of the child; that is, the child benefits from the interaction. A child’s time with a parent can be restricted by the Family Law Courts to supervised time if the Court considers that such time would expose the child to an unacceptable risk (of any type of harm). Of course, laws cannot protect a child from all risks.
Five possible reasons for Supervised Contact
The most common reasons that supervised contact is ordered/occurs are:
- Possible exposure to family violence (including emotional, verbal and physical abuse). The child may previously have witnessed family violence or the (supervised) parent may have a history of abusive behaviour.
- Allegations of or risk of sexual abuse or sexually inappropriate behaviour. The child may have previously been exposed (even unwittingly) to pornographic material or sexual behaviour between consenting adults. The child may have made disclosures about sexually inappropriate behaviour. These claims do not necessarily have to be legally or medically substantiated before supervised time is ordered.
- There has been an extended period of time since the child has spent time with the parent.
- There is a risk that the parent might abscond with the child. There may be a past history of the parent withholding the child from the other parent.
- A parent may have previously behaved in ways that were not child-focused and could be viewed as emotionally abusive. A parent may, for example, be suffering from a chronic mental health issue or compromised cognitive function.
Supervised changeovers occur when parents cannot tolerate face-to-face contact with each other.
Making the best of Supervised Contact
As noted above, it is common to experience a range of emotions when you learn that your time with your child will be supervised. Parents may feel embarrassed, ashamed, indignant or just plain annoyed. Invariably, parents do not believe they need to be supervised; it is unfair, unhelpful and inconvenient. If that’s not challenging enough, some parents have to pay for supervised contact. So, as well as being a (you believe) an unjustified and inconvenient exercise, it can be hugely expensive. Then, you are told when you can see your child, what you may or may not say, who else can accompany you, and what activities you are permitted to do. It takes an extremely mature person to tolerate these restrictions and conditions and focus on what is the most important purpose of spending time with your child: making it a positive, enjoyable and enriching experience for your child.
- Remembering that children generally want to have a loving and positive relationship with their parents. You need to be the best version of you that you can possibly be so that your child engages with and forms a relationship with this.
- Showing your child that spending time with them is important, special and meaningful to you. Don’t spend the visit speaking on your phone or seeking to engage with the supervisor.
- Being patient. Even though this is your child, developing a close relationship with anyone, takes time. If there has been a rupture in your relationship previously, you might need to be very patient. Patience shows your child that you think they are worth waiting for.
- Being respectful to those who are providing this service for you. It is not the supervisor’s fault that you are being supervised. Disrespectful behaviour speaks to your inability to manage your feelings and is not suggestive of someone who is focusing on being the best version of themselves.
- If you are struggling to manage the process of supervised contact, seek professional help or consider attending LifeCare’s post-separation parenting program
What is unhelpful?
- Expressing your anger, frustration, negative emotions – overtly, subtly, directly, indirectly – to anyone at the visit – your child or the supervisor. Negative, snide or sarcastic remarks about your ex reveal more about you than your ex and suggest you are more interested in revenge or retribution than building a relationship with your child.
- Attempting to convince the supervisor that your version of events is “the truth”.
- Discussing your legal proceedings with the supervisor or other people at the contact centre.
- Being angry at your child because they are not being as loving as you would like. Remember – this is about your child – not you.
- Being disrespectful of the environment you are being supervised in. Allowing your child to misuse toys, damage property or leave a mess, speaks to your lack of parenting skills and your attitude toward people who are providing an important service to you.
If supervised time with your child progresses well, it is possible that you will enjoy unsupervised time with him/her. You will have the opportunity to enjoy and develop one of the most important and fulfilling relationships you will ever experience: the parent/child relationship.