Supervised Visitation Is an Opportunity
Parents get outraged when a court orders supervised visitation. I get it. They think, “I would never hurt my kids; are you saying I’m an incompetent parent?”
Sometimes, supervised visitation is ordered on a permanent basis due to a parent’s drug addiction, history of domestic violence, or other risk to the children. However, many times, supervised visitation is a temporary effort for the judge to protect the children until the court has time to figure out what is really going on via a full hearing or trial.
In the latter, temporary cases, I would suggest that supervised parents can use supervision as an opportunity.
Visitation supervisors, especially when they are with a third-party service like SuperVision or A Family Connection, observe visitation carefully and take notes. Those notes can help build the supervised parent’s case that (1) interactions between the parent and children are appropriate and healthy and (2) supervision is not necessary because the parent behaves in ways that don’t endanger the children.
If you are supervised, here are some tips on building your case:
Follow the rules, even if you don’t understand them or you think they are stupid. Many supervision services have rules about gift-giving during parenting time, what to wear, who accompanies the children to the bathroom, or whether you’re allowed to leave the sight or hearing of the supervisor. Even if you don’t get why those rules exist, you should respect the supervisor by respecting the rules.
Show up ON TIME. Your time with your kids is very limited. It’s likely you’re paying for the supervisor’s time whether you’re there or not. Showing up on time maximizes the time you get with your kids; shows respect for the rules, for the children’s custodian, for the children themselves, and for the supervisor’s time; and demonstrates that you are a capable and responsible person (which is especially important if you have a history of mental illness or substance abuse issues).
Show up SOBER. Regardless of your overall sobriety, you should never, ever, EVER show up to a visitation drunk, high, or altered - whether substance use issues are a part of your case or not. Your kids only get to see you for very small amounts of time. If you have a history of substance use, they are already probably hurting in various ways from the consequences of that. You will make better memories with your kids if you are sober and present. Also, many of the supervision services use mental health professionals, such as licensed clinical social workers, to supervise. They will know if you’re drunk or high, and their notes will rat you out to the court eventually. If you can’t be sober for a couple of hours a week, that may be a sign of a serious addiction problem that needs medical treatment. (As a side note, we live in a day and age where, even if your drug of choice is meth or cocaine or pills, added fentanyl or carfentanil could claim your life with your next dose. Your kids need you to stay alive. You are important to them. They love you. Addiction is no longer something you can safely play with. Help is available. Contact Tennessee REDLINE for resources and referrals.)
Avoid inappropriate conversations. Don’t talk to your children about the reasons for visitation, and don’t make them promises you aren’t sure you can keep (for instance, telling them they will be coming back to live with you after the next court date). Don’t talk about the other parent at all, unless the children mention the other parent, and even then, keep it light and positive. This is YOUR time, and it’s limited. Don’t waste it by talking bad about your ex. Don’t talk about court. Don’t use foul language. Use the time to show the court, through the supervisor, that you are a wise and appropriate parent.
Avoid conflict with the other parent or guardian if possible. I get it. You’re fighting this person for custody of and access to your child. That person will usually not be your best friend. Still, you want visitation to be a positive experience for your child, not something they view with dread because there will be unwarranted conflict. Don’t engage with the other parent in any meaningful way, if you do happen to see them at the exchange. Remember, every bit of time and energy you waste on that person is time and energy you could have put into making the most of visitation for your child.