In some situations, it may not be safe for the Massachusetts child to be left alone with a parent during visitation. In these situations, supervised visitation can be arranged. Supervised visitation means that a third party preferably someone that both parents can agree on and whenever possible someone the child is comfortable with stays with the visiting parent during visits and makes sure that the child is safe and the visiting parent acts appropriately. Generally, the supervisor can stop the visit if he or she has reason to believe that the child is not safe during the visit.
There are supervised visitation centers and other agencies that provide supervised visitation in Massachusetts.
Supervised visits can be appropriate when the visiting parent has an alcohol or drug abuse problem, or another problem that suggests they could put the child in danger if left alone with the child.
Visitation when one parent has abused the other
If there has been violence between the parents, often it is not safe for the parents to have contact with each other during visitation. Sometimes abusive parents will use visitation as a way to continue to have contact with and control over the other parent.
In some situations, your child may be at risk during visits with a parent who has been abusive to you. In those situations, consider supervised visits.
If you have been a victim of violence by your child’s other parent and you have agreed to visitation or the court has ordered it, you can make visitation safe for yourself and the child by considering the options below:
- Have a clear visitation schedule
When there has been domestic abuse, it is important to have a clear visitation schedule. A clear visitation schedule will make it possible for visits to take place without the parents having to be in constant contact with each other.
A good way to avoid contact with an abusive parent during visitation is to have a third party – that both parties trust and can agree on – pick up and drop off the child before and after visits. If visits are supervised, one parent can drop off the child at the place where the visits are to take place and leave before the other parent arrives.
- Choose a third party through whom communications about the visits can made
Even with a visitation schedule, there will be times when there must be communications about the visits. It is often best in domestic violence situations that the parents need not have the communications directly. A good way to avoid this is to choose a third party that the parents can each contact if either party needs to change the visitation plans. This allows parents to deal with changes without having to be in direct contact.
- Ask For Supervised Visits
Often, it is important for the child’s safety that visits between a child and a parent who has abused the other parent, be supervised. This is because in many situations, where a parent has abused another parent they have or will abuse the child. Also, in many situations a child has been frightened or traumatized by seeing the abuse of their parent and will feel unsafe in the presence of the abusive parent unless someone else is there.
If your child’s other parent will not agree to one or more of these arrangements, and you believe they are necessary for your or your child’s safety, you can ask the court to order these things.
If the court has decided that one of the parents is an abusive parent, the court must provide for the safety and well-being of the child and the safety of the abused parent in ordering visitation.
The law says that when making a visitation order for an abusive parent, the court may consider:
- ordering an exchange of the child to occur in a protected setting or in the presence of an appropriate third party;
- ordering visitation supervised by an appropriate third party, visitation center, or agency;
- ordering the abusive parent to attend and complete to the satisfaction of the court, a certified batterer’s treatment program as a condition of visitation;
- ordering the abusive parent to abstain from possession or consumption of alcohol or controlled substances during the visitation and for 24 hours preceding visitation;
- ordering the abusive parent to pay the costs of supervised visitation;
- prohibiting overnight visitation;
- requiring a bond from the abusive parent for the return and safety of the child;
- ordering an investigation or appointment of a guardian ad litem or attorney for the child;
- imposing any other condition that is deemed necessary to provide for the safety and well-being of the child, and the safety of the abused parent.
How can there be visitation if I go to get a restraining order or if I already have one?
If you go to get a restraining order, the restraining order can be designed to fit your safety needs and still allow for visitation. For example, if you want the children to visit the other parent or have contact with the other parent, you can ask the judge handling the restraining order case to order that the “no contact” part of the restraining order apply to you but not to the children.
If you have a restraining order against your child’s other parent, and you have agreed to, or the court has ordered, visitation between the child and the other parent, YOU CAN HAVE THE RESTRAINING ORDER AND VISITS CAN STILL TAKE PLACE. You can keep all of the protections that you need in the restraining order, and make only those changes in the order needed to allow visitation. You should consult a lawyer or a domestic violence advocate for information on how to do this. If you need to change the restraining order so that visits can take place, either the court that ordered the visitation or the court that granted the restraining order can make those changes in the restraining order. You may need to file a “motion to modify” the restraining order.
When a court handling a restraining order case designs the order so that the abusive parent can have contact with the children, this is NOT the same thing as giving the abusive parent visitation rights. Under the law, courts are not supposed to give visitation rights (that is, legally enforceable visitation rights) to a defendant in a restraining order case. Visitation rights can only be established in a family law case such as a divorce or custody case or a case involving determination of paternity for children whose parents are not married to each other. Visitation rights can only be established in a Probate & Family Court.
In some rare situations, it may be in the child’s best interest not to have any contact with one of the parents. An example is when the parent has abused that child and the child, even in a supervised visit arrangement, would be traumatized by seeing that parent. Orders denying one parent any visitation are rare but they are made when necessary to protect the child.
Visitation and child support – is there a connection?
As a general rule, child support payments and visitation rights are not connected. A person paying child support is not automatically entitled to visit a child. At the same time, failure to pay child support will not automatically stop visitation rights.
Courts grant visitation rights when a judge determines that visitation is in the best interests of the child. Courts make child support orders by applying the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines.
Should you be in the midst of a divorce or paternity case, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.