Materials

A GUIDE FOR SUPERVISED PHYSICAL CUSTODY

Main Points to Remember

Supervisors:

  • Comply with all the directives from the court order
  • Provide a safe positive experience for the child
  • Be physically present – within earshot & eyesight – throughout the visit
  • Be actively aware of what’s happening

Primary Custodial Parents:

  • Create a positive and relaxed environment
  • Avoid arguments and conflicts in front of the child – “no conflict zone”

Non-Custodial Parents:

  • Interact with your child during the visit
  • Be on your best behavior
  • Make each visit a good, positive experience with your child

What is Supervised Physical Custody?

Sometimes a Children & Youth agency or a judge will decide or the parties will agree that when a parent has custody with their child, a neutral third person must be present to supervise and monitor the interaction between the child and a parent.  This is often called “supervised visitation.”

Supervised physical custody may be appropriate for many different reasons:

  • To help reintroduce a parent to a child after a long absence from the child’s life.
  • To help introduce a parent and a child when there has been no prior relationship between the parent and the child.
  • When there are issues of mental illness, domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, or drug or alcohol abuse.
  • When there are parenting concerns.
  • When there is a threat of kidnapping.
  • To give the parent a chance to show they are capable of appropriate parenting.

In this situation, the court order or the agreement states who will supervise the visits, the time and length of the visits and sometimes, where the visits will take place.

Why were you chosen to supervise the visits? 

Parents usually feel comfortable asking a family member or friend that cares and is concerned for the child and family.  You, therefore, are someone whom everyone trusts will keep the child safe.  Before the first visit, it is a good idea to meet with both parents, without the child, to review the rules for the visits.  It is important both parents are familiar with rules, and any court orders, and are prepared for the supervised visits.

Supervised physical custody can be difficult and uncomfortable at times.  Often there are hurt and angry feelings between the parents.  Remember that both parents should be concerned about what is best for the child.  Generally, children benefit from having both parents in their lives.

We want to give you some additional guidance so you are comfortable in your very important role as a Supervisor.

Responsibilities & Role of the Supervisor

You are there to:

  • Keep the child safe, protect, nurture and restore the parent-child relationships.
  • Help the child enjoy the visit.
  • Make sure that the child is free from unnecessary stress.

You must:

  • Be present at all times during the visit.  Do not leave the child alone with the supervised parent at any time.  This includes accompanying a young child to the bathroom.
  • Listen to what is being said.  Whispering and quiet talking between the child and the supervised parent is not permitted.
  • Pay close attention to the child’s behavior and emotions.
  • If necessary, interrupt or end a visit.

Rules for the Non-custodial Parent

  • Arrive and depart on time.
  • Focus on being a good parent to your child.
  • Do not use profanity.
  • Do not smoke, drink alcohol or use illegal drugs during the visit.
  • Understand that the visit will be terminated if you appear to be under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Do not use cell phones or pagers during visits unless they are required for work.
  • Do not bring knives or guns.
  • Do not bring other guests to the visit.
  • Make no threats or negative remarks about anyone.
  • Do not discuss custody, divorce or support issues.
  • Get permission from the Supervisor before the visit to bring a camera or cell phone.
  • Remember any conflict is harmful to your child.

Tips for the Non-custodial Parent

  • Recognize that being with your child in the presence of someone else may be uncomfortable but it will get easier.
  • Do not quiz your child about the other parent’s private life, activities and relationships.
  • Do not make your child a “messenger” to the other parent.
  • Focus on your relationship with your child:  so turn off your cell phone.
  • Do not make promises to your child about future gifts, trips, visits, or changes in custody.  This may cause a lack of trust and unnecessary hurt.
  • Understand that no corporal punishment, slapping, hitting or pushing is permitted during the visit.
  • Say brief and positive good-byes.
  • Understand that your love, patience and commitment will pay off and help you have a better relationship with your child in the future.

Rules for the Custodial Parent

It is also important for the parent who has primary legal and physical custody of the child to be appropriately prepared for the child’s visit with the other parent:

  • Understand that supervised custody can also be a challenge for them.
  • Be aware that you have been taking care of your child and have a routine and this change in routines can be upsetting to everyone.
  • Understand that supervised visitation can sometimes feel like one more responsibility.
  • Recognize your child may ask difficult and important questions surrounding a visit and try to understand how they will affect your child.
  • Recognize these visits are for the best interests of your child.

Tips for the Custodial Parent

  • Have the child ready on time and be prompt.
  • Reassure the child that you support them in having a pleasant visit with the other parent.
  • Do not linger and create an emotional, stressful drop off.
  • Do not quiz the child about the visit.
  • Do not make the child a messenger to the other parent.
  • Do not add stress to the child.

Information for the Child

As custody Supervisor, you should schedule a separate meeting with the child ahead of time to avoid having supervised visitation add to their confusion and anxiety.  Share the rules with the child as well as a simple (not negative) explanation of why the rules have been made, using language and ideas the child can understand.

Here are some things that the custodial parent or the Supervisor should tell the child in advance of the visit:

  • Where and when the visits will take place.
  • What is going to happen that day.
  • How long the visit will last.
  • Where the custodial parent will be.
  • Any restrictions or special arrangements they need to remember (for example, if they, the Supervisor and their non-custodial parent are allowed to leave the location to go to a nearby park to play or out to a restaurant).
  • If a child has been sexually or physically abused you should have a rule that touching during the visit can only be initiated by the child.

Remember – Children are often comforted by developing rituals around the visit: 

  • A familiar way of greeting.
  • Similar questions about how they are doing.
  • A standard way of saying it is time to start the visit.
  • A routine way of preparing the child for the end of the visit.
  • An agreed upon signal for ending the visit, saying good-bye and leaving.
  • Parents should be encouraged to develop rituals for these transitions, much the way many parents do for bedtimes or for leaving children at day care or at school.

The child may think that the visits are being supervised because of something they did wrong.  You should explain the visits are not being supervised because of anything they did wrong.

  • Many children are hyper alert to their parents’ situations and moods and are almost always aware of the conflict.
  • Many children have been overburdened by being told too much and need help to establish boundaries and distance from the parents’ disputes.

To manage problems with transitions, the Supervisor can create a “buffer space” – a separate room away from either parent, to which the child goes for a brief period of play with the Supervisor after leaving the custodial parent and before the actual visit begins, or at the end of the visit with the non-custodial parent, before returning to the custodial parent.  During this buffer period, the Supervisor should reassure the child that the parent they just left will be okay and the visiting parent is looking forward to seeing them.

At the end of the physical custodial event the Supervisor might ask the child what specific things they liked and did not like about the visit that day. The Supervisor should also keep a notebook and write down a few details such as the date, things that occurred during, both positive and negative, to review with the parents.

You must report suspected child abuse to the
Pennsylvania Child Abuse Hotline
at 1-800-932-0313.

The No Show Parent

Do not tell the child about an upcoming visit you are not certain if the non-custodial parent will show up.  You do more harm by “preparing” them for the upcoming visit, if it never happens.

Interventions and Ending a Visit

When a child shows symptoms of distress, it may be necessary to suspend the visit until the situation can be assessed and the parents or the court makes a determination about future physical custodial rules or whether to terminate future contact.

The Supervisor must terminate the visit if the interactions between the supervised parent and the child have become inappropriate, and rules are not followed or if the situation becomes difficult and report the behavior back to the custodial parent, the agency or the Court.

The Supervisor should end a supervised visit at any time if the following occurs:

  • The child appears acutely distressed.
  • A parent is not following the rules.
  • The child is at risk of imminent harm, either emotionally or physically.

Changes to Supervised Visitation

After visits are going well, the parties may agree, or the order may be revised to provide that the visiting parent can start exercising physical custodial time with their child without supervision.

It is also possible that the supervised visits will be terminated, shortened or rules changed if it is not going well.

When changes like this occur, preparing the child for these changes is important.  You should review the upcoming changes with the child, both during the visit with the non-custodial parent and again in the presence of the custodial parent, so that the child knows what is going to happen.

Explaining why the changes are being made is important so the child is not scared, does not attribute the change to something they have done wrong, or feel betrayed by the Supervisor.

Remember the Goals for a Successful Visit

  • Improved parenting skills for the visiting parent.
  • Improved parent-child relationship.
  • Conflict-free experience for everyone.
  • A safe and secure setting where the child and their parents visit under the guidance of a trusted person.
  • That the child feels emotionally and physically safe during the visit.
  • Improved level of trust between the custodial parent and the non-custodial parent.
  • Reduced conflict and hostility between parents.
  • Increased time between non-custodial parent and the child in the future.
  • Progress towards non-supervised visitation.

Professional Supervised Visitation Centers

If you feel you cannot manage or handle the situation, do not hesitate to request the family enroll in a professional visitation setting.  To find a professional supervised visitation center see the Providers page.

More Information

More information about supervised visitation:

Communicate with the Task Force

If you would like to make suggestions or have questions:

Credits

Information about the Task Force, video production, and other participants may be found on the Participants page. Our gratitude to everyone who helped make the completion of the project possible.

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