Experts agree that children of divorce typically fare better when both parents remain involved in their lives. All state custody laws start with the premise that continuing and meaningful contact with both parents is in a child's best interests, unless shared custody or visitation will harm the child.
When Is Restricted or Supervised Visitation Appropriate?
Sometimes, a parent's behavior raises red flags about a child's safety and well-being. For example, a parent may consistently forget to pick the child up after school or may become abusive with the child. When a parent shrugs off parental responsibilities or creates an unsafe environment for the child, a judge can limit that parent's custody rights by ordering supervised visitation or other types of restrictions.
A court may restrict visitation based on any of the following:
- Violence. Parents that abuse or threaten their children may lose visitation rights. In most states, including California, courts will consider any history of domestic violence when making custody decisions.
- Emotional harm. If spending time with one parent is extremely upsetting for a child, a court can restrict visits with that parent. Sometimes, stuttering, bed wetting, unusual behavior, or poor school performance can indicate that parental visits are causing emotional distress.
- Child's wishes. Although state laws vary, courts may consider a child's custodial preference. Some states require children to be a minimum age in order to express their wishes. For example, in California, children 14 and older can state their preferences in court. In other states, including Florida, courts don't set an age requirement, but consider whether the child understands what's being decided, is intelligent enough to make a choice, and has enough experience with each parent to make a meaningful decision.
- Mental illness. Mental problems won't automatically render a parent unfit, but visitation may be restricted if the parent's condition results in behavior that could harm the child.
- Abandonment. A judge may limit visitation if a parent fails to establish a relationship with the child.
- Addiction. When substance abuse causes a parent to use abusive language, drive while impaired, or mistreat the child, a court may restrict or even deny visitation.
- Sexual behavior. Courts rarely terminate visitation solely because of a romantic affair between the noncustodial parent and a partner, but a judge may cancel overnight visits if a parent's sexual activities adversely impact the child.
- Incarceration. Visitation rights may be suspended if jail visits negatively affect the child's welfare.
- Abduction. There must be a strong probability of abduction to limit visitation on that basis. If one parent has repeatedly threatened to abduct a child or has taken the child out of state for periods of time without permission, a court may restrict visitation to prevent a future abduction.
How do Courts Restrict Visitation?
If a court finds that a parent's behavior is threatening the child's physical, emotional, or mental health, a judge may order one or more of the following limitations:
- shortening visits
- prohibiting overnight visits
- prohibiting an addicted parent from drinking any alcohol or using any medications or drugs during visits
- prohibiting an addicted parent from driving with the child
- restricting where the parent can take the child or who can be present during visitation
- ordering supervised visitation, which is where a third party supervises all visits between the parent and the child, either in the child's home or at a local agency that facilitates court-ordered visitation
- ordering an addicted or abusive parent to substance abuse treatment or anger management counseling as a condition of seeing the child, and
- in the most extreme cases, where a parent fails to follow custody orders and is deemed unfit, a judge may permanently terminate all parental rights to visitation and custody.
Every parent is entitled to a court hearing, with advanced notice and an opportunity to be heard, before a judge can order these restrictions. The custodial parent must persuade the judge that visitation with the other parent will endanger the child's welfare. If you have questions about custody or supervised visitation, you should contact a local family law attorney for help.
Questions for Your Attorney
- My ex-spouse beat me in front of my children, and I'm afraid for their safety. Can I ask the court to order supervised visitation between the kids and my ex?
- I have the opportunity to accept a higher paying job in another state. Can I keep my visitation rights if I move there?
- My ex-spouse is a severe alcoholic and was recently charged with a DUI. Can I ask the court to prohibit my ex from driving anywhere with the kids? Can I ask the court to terminate my ex's visitation rights?