Child Custody and Supervised Visitation

Mother and her teenager daughter talking with therapist at home concept.

Child custody can be a contentious issue. Critically, when one parent believes the child’s welfare would be in jeopardy by spending time alone with the other parent, custody matters can be even more complex. In such cases, supervised visitation may be an option — but it’s important to understand that North Carolina courts do not take such requests lightly. Both biological parents have a Constitutional right to foster a relationship with their child and any limitations on visitation will only be ordered in the most extreme circumstances.

What is Supervised Visitation?

Unless there is a demonstrable danger to a child, a family court judge will rarely deny visitation. However, if the child’s safety would be at risk by spending time with a parent, a judge may order supervised visitation if they deem it appropriate. Supervised visitation is an arrangement that requires a non-custodial parent to conduct visits with their child under the supervision of another adult. These conditions may be ordered by a family court judge or entered on consent of the parties.

The primary purpose of supervised visitation is to ensure the child gets to spend quality time with the parent — while being kept safe from harmful situations. The duration for supervised visitation can vary, depending on the facts of the case. For instance, a judge might put a temporary order in place pending the outcome of a permanent hearing. Or they may determine that supervision is needed during visitation on a permanent basis.

The judge will decide the details of the visitation schedule, the location of the meeting, how long the visitation will be, and the supervisor who will be present. The individual who supervises the meeting may be an adult family member who is named in the court order. In cases where there are no available supervisors, there are visitation supervision resource centers that provide this service by licensed professionals. While these professionals can provide a report of the visits, it is essential to be aware that these types of visits can be expensive.

When is Supervised Visitation Needed?

Since supervised visitation substantially impacts parental rights, a judge will only order it in limited situations. Conflict regarding parenting styles or disagreements concerning how the child should be raised is not enough to substantiate the need for supervised visitation. Rather, the parent petitioning for supervised visitation must demonstrate that the child would experience harm or danger if parenting time is not monitored.

Usually, supervised visitation is ordered in situations involving the following:

  • History of family violence
  • The child has been abused by the parent
  • The parent has a substance abuse issue
  • There is a substantial risk of kidnapping by the parent
  • The parent has neglected to properly care for the child
  • The parent has an untreated mental illness that may impact the child
  • Evidence of prior abandonment

In cases where a parent has been absent from the child’s life for an extended period of time, a judge might also order supervised visitation while the child becomes familiar with their parent again. Notably, all child custody and visitation cases are determined based on the best interests of the child and the child’s welfare.

Can Supervised Visitation Be Changed to Unsupervised Visitation?

A parent may file a motion seeking a modification to a supervised visitation order if the circumstances have changed and the child would no longer be in danger by spending unsupervised time with them. However, a family court judge may require a parent to meet certain conditions before they can change from supervised to unsupervised visitation. Depending on the situation, the parent may need to complete a parenting class, participate in an anger management program, or pass a drug test. They might also be mandated to attend counseling — the counselor may later render an opinion regarding whether unsupervised visitation would be appropriate.

In addition, a child custody order may include a stair-step supervised visitation schedule that would end after a certain amount of time has passed, or the occurrence of a certain event. When the period of supervised visitation ends, the parent and child may return to a regular visitation schedule using the stair-step approach as the child adjusts. For example, once supervision is no longer required, a normal visitation schedule may begin with only daytime visits before overnight visits are allowed.

Contact an Experienced North Carolina Child Custody and Visitation Attorney

If you are facing a supervised visitation issue or child custody matter, it’s important to have a skilled family law attorney by your side to ensure your parental rights are protected — and the best interests of your child are met. With offices located in Moyock and Elizabeth City, The Twiford Law Firm provides knowledgeable representation for a wide variety of family law matters throughout Northeastern North Carolina and the Outer Banks. Contact us today to schedule a consultation to learn how we can help.