Understanding supervised access is important if you are subject to it, or are facing Family Court proceedings where either you or the other parent are applying for supervised contact. But what is supervised access, and what do you need to know about it?
What is supervised access?
Supervised access is where one or both parents have their visitation with their child supervised by another; this could be by a person known to them, or an independent supervisor provided through a service such as Children’s Contacts Services. This is done to ensure the safety of the child while being transferred or “handed over” between parents, and while spending time with them.
Under the Australian Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), children have the right to have meaningful relationships with both parents. When Parenting Orders are made in relation to children, the Court will apply a presumption that it’s in the best interests of the child for both parents to have equal shared parental responsibility. When the Court determines what is in the best interests of the child, the following factors are taken into consideration (s60CC of the Family Law Act 1975):
- The benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of their parents; and
- The need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence.
When is supervised access ordered?
When a risk to a child’s best interests is identified, supervised access can be ordered by the Court. Situations when supervised access may be ordered under a Parenting Order include:
- Violence, emotional or sexual harm, from a parent or from the risk of it from their environment
- A parent is associated with significant drug or alcohol abuse
- A parent has a history of seriously neglecting their child
- Strong conflict between the parents of the child, and do not wish to see or speak to each other on hand over
- When a parent has poor parenting skills, or limited ability to care for their child
- If there is fear that the child will be abducted by one of the parents
Emotional harm considerations in supervised access
In case law Slater & Light  FamCAFC 4 (2013), a father appealed to the Full Court against Federal Magistrate Coates’ order for indefinite supervision of his time with his three children. The father, who was being treated for Asperger’s Syndrome, was alleged by the mother to pose an unacceptable risk of emotional harm to the children.
The Federal Magistrate had heard evidence from a court-appointed psychiatrist and the father’s treating psychologist, with those experts expressing differing opinions as to the issue of risk. The Court concluded that, based on the evidence and the mother’s concerns, there was no error at the time in finding that the father posed an unacceptable risk of emotional harm to the children.
Limitations on supervised access periods
An order for supervised access will usually be made for a temporary period of time, with supervisors providing reports to the court on their observations. The aim is that the supervision will not be needed indefinitely. Where supervised access has been in place, circumstances may require that the child be gradually “reintroduced” to the parent they have not been living with to rebuild the relationship.
In the event an order for supervised access has been made without an end date, the parent under supervision can apply to the Court to vary this arrangement. In the above case of Slater & Light , the order for supervised time was made correctly, but the appeal was justified on the basis that an indefinite supervision order was not appropriate. No opportunity was provided for the father to apply to vary the supervision arrangements at a later time when the children were older, and his circumstances were reassessed. In this case, the appeal was granted based on this fact.
Need to know more about supervised access or family law?
Family Law issues that arise as a consequence of separation or divorce can be highly stressful for both you as a parent and for your children. Getting sound advice from experienced Family Law practitioners is important so that you understand your rights and entitlements, as well as those of your children.
Here at Joliman Lawyers, our focus is on helping you understand what reasonable outcome you can expect to achieve and guiding you through the process. Contact us for honest and sensitive advice – we’re here to help.