The presumption for family courts in New Jersey is that children should have equal involvement between each parent and the child. Usually, this means both parents have fairly equitable visiting time with the child. However, in some cases, one parent might be awarded supervised visitation only. Supervised visitation in NJ is less common than standard visitation, but it is important to understand when a court might order this arrangement, and what to expect when it happens.What is Supervised Visitation in NJ?
Under New Jersey Status 2A: 12-7, supervised visitation will be ordered if there has been a history of child abuse, medical disabilities, psychiatric problems or other situations where the safety and welfare of the child may be jeopardized. Usually, an adult who is trained for supervised visitation will be appointed by the court. The parties can also agree on a third party to supervise, such as a grandparent or family friend. These designated adults will monitor visits and ensure that the safety and welfare of the child are protected. Visitation can occur at the courthouse, another community organization, or even the custodial parents home, depending on the circumstances.
Visits are usually limited to a few hours each time. Often, the orders can be temporary until the supervised parent can show that they have improved and can be trusted with the care of the children. In cases where the parent is accused of substance or alcohol abuse, visitation restrictions might be lifted once they complete a substance abuse evaluation or rehabilitation. For physical violence, the court might order the parent to attend anger management or domestic violence classes. Once the party has completed the orders of the court, supervision may be lifted. The court might also put in place a hearing to re-evaluate the need for supervised visitation once the party completes his or her obligations.Proving the Need for Supervised Visitation in NJ
The judge must always consider the child’s best interests when making any custodial orders. While supervised visits can ensure the safety of the child, they inherently interfere with the bonding process. As a result, judges are cautious when awarding supervised visits.
It is not enough for one parent to claim that the other parent is subjectively not as good a parent. Evidence that the other parent is more relaxed about bedtime or getting homework done is persuasive when determining primary custodians, but not useful in terms of ordering supervised visits. It must be shown that the parent has physically or emotionally harmed the child in the past, or that they have a history of uncontrollable substance abuse. Evidence that they have been high, or will likely get high, while in possession of the child would be persuasive.
Parenting skills must be objectively harmful. Some examples of this would be leaving very young children home alone to run errands or even continuously failing to secure a swimming pool around a child who may be in danger of falling in. Supervised visitation in NJ might also be employed to strengthen the parent-child relationship if there has been a long period of absence between the two.The Supervised Visitation Program
The New Jersey legislature formed the Supervised Visitation Program. It promotes court-ordered supervised visitation in NJ by creating approved community organizations in New Jersey which provide facilities and people which more easily enable supervised visits. It provides a neutral setting, away from the custodial parent or other interested parties. This means that parents who are ordered supervised visits can have visitation in a conflict-free setting and focus on building a relationship with their child. Volunteers offer to provide supervision at all times of the day, even during evenings and weekends. They complete a training course before volunteering their time. Some facilities offer special services that are more therapeutic or even offer round-trip transportation for families.Potential Problems with Supervised Visitation in NJ
Although in many cases the supervisor is a neutral third-party who is trained, the court might approve of a friend or other family member. Of course, there can be problems with this. A party with a personal relationship with either parent might feel pressured to protect or benefit that party. They could conceal important information or events which occur during the visitation. On the other hand, they might be unfairly harsh to the non-custodial parent while they are exercising their visitations. In rare cases, the visitation might be fraudulent if the supervisor stays during the drop-off but leaves shortly thereafter. This is serious because it could result in serious harm to the child.Termination
In very serious cases, if the non-custodial parent fails to attend their visitation, or violates the terms, then that may be grounds for termination of parental rights. Supervised visitation in NJ should be viewed as an opportunity to improve parenting skills and strengthen the bond between parent and child. A parent who does not take it seriously, or worse, violates the restrictions by harming the child, may lose their rights. The person requesting termination must show that the child's health has been and will continue to be endangered by that parent; that the parent is unwilling to eliminate the harm; attempts have been made to correct the circumstances, and termination will not do more harm than good to the child. Violating or not attending supervised visits will be incredibly persuasive evidence to a court when considering a petition to terminate.
If you have questions about supervised visitation in NJ, call The Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at 201-845-7400 today, for a free consultation.