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Restricting visitation and supervised visitation in Texas child custody cases

In the vast majority of Texas child custody cases, no parent will ever be at risk of having restricted or supervised visitation. The presumption in custody cases is that it is in your child's best interests to have a consistent and ongoing relationship with both of their parents. Only if clear and convincing evidence is presented to a judge would override that presumption and cause a court to institute visitation orders that are not based on joint custody.

If a judge in your case determines that there could be harm caused to your child- either emotionally or physically- as a result of their being exposed in a “traditional” visitation schedule to you or your child’s other parent, then supervised or restricted visitation may be prescribed. You can rest assured that a judge will only come to this conclusion if he absolutely must do so. Judges do not relish having to step outside the boundaries of a “typical” family law case and issue rulings that diverge from standard, joint custody arrangements.

Enhancing the level of safety around your child is never a bad thing, no matter how you want to approach that issue. If you were to ask me if there were steps available to ensure my children were safer, I would be all ears to hear what they are. I'm sure you would be the same way. Judges approach best interest determinations from a standpoint that they know that your child's safety and well-being are the most important thing (even more important than their happiness) and that he has a great deal of power to ensure that your child is safe.

Ways that child safety can be built into a judge’s orders on child custody

What are some of the ways that a judge may choose to be extra cautious when it comes to handing down child custody orders in your case? For one, if you and your spouse have had a history of violence or at the very least verbal altercations, it may be necessary for your pick-up/drop-offs of your child to occur in a public place.

For instance, I had a client a few years ago who could not get along with his ex-wife. She knew how to push all of his buttons, resulting in frequent, angry interactions whenever they would be close to one another. It got to the point where neither party wanted the other near their respective homes. What could these folks do to ensure that the safety of their child was maintained?

While their case did not go before a judge, these folks chose an option that a judge likely would have selected as well. That is, the parties decided that they would exchange their son at the prescribed times in the parking lot of a constable’s sub-station here in Harris County. Each one would arrive (usually with a family member in their vehicle) within view of the constables and exchange their son on weekends.

Certainly, it could be argued that having to go to the police station to drop off/pick up their son could be argued to have potentially detrimental effects on the child’s psyche. However, the long-term effects of the exchanges occurring at this location are hypothetical. The short-term impact was that violence no longer appear in these exchanges, and both parties became more civil as time went on. This should certainly not be the end goal of any of you reading this blog post, but for those of you who have concerns regarding violence in your relationship with your child's other parent, this is a solution that you ought to consider.

Supervised visitation- when is it necessary?

In child custody cases that are highly contested, there are often legitimate concerns that one parent or the other will have regarding the other party's ability to parent the child without violence or harm occurring. Judges are keenly aware of children's safety issues because that is the one real area where they can be "heavy-handed" and not fear an appeal of their decision being successful. The fact is that if the judge in your case believes that there is a circumstance that could cause your child harm, then it is likely that the judge will err on the "better safe than sorry" side of the ledger.

Child abuse, substance abuse, and domestic violence are a few issues that I have seen cause judges to create supervised visitation orders in place of a more traditional visitation schedule. In the eyes of a judge, the supervised visitation structure accomplishes two goals simultaneously. For one, it allows both parents to have some degree of contact with the child. It is not completely restrictive or a denial of the parent’s right to own their child. Secondly, it better ensures the child's safety and well-being in question by minimizing the opportunities for violence or other bad acts to occur.

One visitation allows you as the parent who has a right to have restricted visitation to be in an environment with your child with another adult nearby. Depending on your circumstances, this person could be a relative or friend or a supervised visitation monitor at a local supervised visitation facility. These are places where you pay a fee to be able to visit with your child. This can seem incredibly unnatural at first glance- and that is because it is. The idea of having to pay money to see your child is strange to most people, but if your circumstances warrant it, a judge will not hesitate to order this to occur for you.

Next, supervised visitation can occur only at the points of pick up and drop off. So, if there has been violence that has taken place during the visitation exchanges between you and your ex-spouse, it may be ordered that your exchanges are to occur at a police station where an officer can view the exchange to ensure that violence does not occur. This is less restrictive than the scenario I laid out in the paragraphs previous to this one due to the risk of harm to your child is lower than in those situations.

When can a family member or friend fill the role of a supervisor?

If supervised visitation has to occur, many people have asked me whether a family member or friend could fulfill the duty of performing the supervisory role. A judge would need to see that the person selected is a neutral party. Your mother or your spouse’s mother is probably not the best choice to be the supervisor. If the supervisor needs to report back to the judge on an incident or provide a status update, that judge would need an unbiased and objective assessment of how the visitation sessions are going. If you cannot show that your proposed supervisor is likely to be fair to both sides, then the odds are good that this person will not be eligible.

Next, the safety and well-being of the child would be considered. The bottom line is: can the supervisor keep your child safe in a situation where something goes wrong. If your supervisor is not physically able to intervene in a situation, then it is unlikely that this person would be a suitable supervisor. Additionally, if the supervisor frequently has to leave sessions for work or other commitments, they would not be the best choice.

I cannot recall a situation where the custodial parent was able to act as the supervisor. Imagine a situation where you have to supervise your ex-spouse’s visitation periods with your daughter. Or put yourself in the position of the parent who has the supervised visitation assigned to him or her. Now picture your ex-spouse staring at you from across the room during these visitation periods. I can think of little else that is more awkward than this.

Domestic violence and child abuse and their role in supervised visitation arrangements

First off, if domestic violence or child abuse has led a court to determine that supervised visitation is necessary, then there is little chance that the judge would allow a friend or family member to perform the supervisor's role. There is a wide range of neutral parties that could intervene and act as supervisors in this situation. They include church leaders, community groups, a teacher at a school or childcare facility where your child attends, CPS employees, or even mental health professionals who are familiar with your family. A judge will usually put in safeguards to protect the well-being of these people, as well.

What happens once a supervisor is selected in your child custody case?

Instruction will need to occur regarding how the supervisor is to administer these supervised visitation sessions. The supervisor's responsibilities and duties will be laid out in the divorce decree to provide the supervisor with specific instructions on how to perform their duties. You should always have a copy of your orders handy and should make a copy available to the supervisor as well.

The supervisor will typically take notes on each session, detailing the parent's progress with the supervised visitation assignment. Those notes will be communicated to the custodial parent. If problems occur in these supervised visitation settings, they will need to be communicated to the custodial parent. The reason is that the custodial parent may need to file a modification lawsuit in court to address those issues and further restrict visitation if need be.

Visits are usually short and during the day- at least to start.

It is a transition for all parties involved when it comes to starting up supervised visitation sessions. For that reason, the visits will typically start as being very short and during the daytime. A lunch visitation schedule is not uncommon where you, as the parent with visitation rights, will bring a meal to the visitation location for you and your child to share. It is typical to have restrictions in place that bar you from drinking alcohol for twenty-four hours before the beginning of the supervised visitation session.

Keep in mind that it is not certain that you will always have supervised visitation orders. For instance, you may have a supervised visitation restriction for six months. After which time, if there are no problems, you may be given shorter weekend stays with your child on an unsupervised basis. These gradual “normalizations” are called stair-step agreements and work effectively for many families.

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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Child Custody Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding child custody, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX child custody lawyers right away to protect your rights.

Our child custody lawyers in Houston, TX, are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles child custody cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, Houston, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, and Waller County.

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