A non-custodial parent, in all but the most extreme cases, has a right to visit his or her biological children. Usually, a visitation schedule is agreed upon by the parents, and enforced by the family law court. If the parents cannot come to an agreement, a court might impose some type of arrangement upon them, to ensure that the non-custodial parent has at least some access to their children. Generally, the visitation is unsupervised.
However, there are some reasons, very few of them pleasant, why a court might grant visitation on the condition that the visiting parent consent to supervision by a neutral third party.
These reasons include past physical abuse or threats of violence against the child or the other parent, incarceration of the visiting parent (obviously, a prison is no place for an unsupervised child), mental illness of the visiting parent, or a showing of a strong probability that the parent might attempt to abduct the child.
Courts might also order supervised visitation based on the sexual behavior of the visiting parent. While a consensual sexual relationship between the parent and another adult is usually not a problem, if the parent is unmarried and cohabitating with a boyfriend or girlfriend, a court might order supervised visitation if it deems that this would be in the child’s best interests. Courts are split as to whether or not a homosexual relationship on the part of the parent is a bar to unsupervised visitation.
While most parents would presumably prefer unsupervised visitation, if the situation warrants supervised visitation, it can have some benefits. For example, in the vast majority of cases, it is generally seen as better for the child, on balance, to have both parents involved in their lives than not. At the same time, if the parent has shown him or herself to be a risk to the child’s safety, completely unsupervised visitation may be unacceptable. In such cases, supervised visitation is the only viable compromise.
Furthermore, if the visiting parent really loves his or her children (and, whatever their past indiscretions, most of them do), supervised visitation could be beneficial. The presence of the supervisor could serve to remind them of why they’re in this situation in the first place, and their children can be an extremely strong incentive to stay on the straight and narrow.
On the other hand, there may be some costs involved. Obviously, somebody has to pay for the presence of a supervisor (they don’t work for free), whether it’s the parents or the taxpayers. Furthermore, it’s possible that only being allowed near one of their parents with a stranger present might confuse the children, necessitating some very uncomfortable conversations. On balance, however, it’s a good thing that supervised visitation is one of many options that parents have.
According to LegalMatch case data from the last several months, only about 10% of non-custodial parents are in supervised visitation arrangements. This is probably a good thing, showing that the majority of parents, whatever their marital problems, are still fit to visit their children and have unfettered access to them during the scheduled visitation period.