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The name alone — “court-ordered supervised visitation” — sounds sterile and awkward. Being supervised as an adult is never comfortable. But supervised visitation should be viewed as an opportunity, not a sentence. By making the most of supervised visits, you can show the Court, your co-parent, and most importantly your child that you have good intentions and are eager to do whatever it takes to have a relationship with your child.

If you’re reading this because you’ve been awarded supervised visits, it’s time to explore your options and try to make the best of the precious time you have with your child. If you are a custodial parent wondering how to prepare your child for a supervised visit, we’ve got helpful information for you, too. The hope is that this post will give you – the parents – the tools you need to promote comfortable and even enjoyable supervised visits with your child.

When does the Court order supervised visitation?

Supervised visitation is ordered by the Court under NRS 125C.0045(1), a state law that permits courts to make any order “for the custody, care, education, maintenance and support of the minor child as appears in his or her best interest.” Any order issued under this statute can be modified or terminated if doing so would be in the child’s best interest.

Factors the Court considers to determine whether supervised visitation is in the best interest of the child include the physical and mental health of the parents, the level of conflict between the parents, a history of parental abuse or neglect by either parent, an act of domestic violence by either parent, or an act of abduction against any child (in other words, whether a parent has shown he or she is likely to take the child out of the state without the other parent’s permission).

Because it is state policy to ensure that children have frequent associations and a continuing relationship with both parents (see NRS 125C.001(1)), orders for supervised visitation are usually temporary: The Court may order supervised visits until it can hold a trial on custody and issue a permanent order, or it may order supervised visits after a trial, until the non-custodial parent can show that he or she should have more, unsupervised time with the child(ren).

Again, the temporary nature of the order should be viewed as an opportunity: the Court can use the visits to gauge how likely you are to cooperate with the custodial parent to meet your child’s needs, how likely you are to follow court orders, and how beneficial it is to the child to have a relationship with you. On the flip side, if you don’t take the order seriously or fail to exercise your visits, the Court will notice that, too.

How do I get the Court to lift the supervision?

Courts often condition supervised visitation on some other requirement. For example, if one parent poses a flight risk (i.e., the non-custodial parent is likely to take the child out of the country without permission), the Court may require the parent to have her visits supervised unless she agrees to post a large bond. (A bond is money placed in a Court-supervised trust that will be given to the custodial parent in the event of a kidnapping. It will be used to pay for the custodial parent’s travel expenses and court costs if the child must be retrieved from abroad). This is an expensive and rare option reserved for cases with a high risk of parental abduction.

More commonly, visits are conditioned on the non-custodial parent’s taking certain steps toward self-betterment – for example, entering rehab, undergoing a domestic violence assessment, attending anger management or co-parenting classes, and attending reunification therapy with the child. Supervision may be lifted or adjusted if the visits go well for a certain period – say, six months.

In some circumstances, such as where a parent has been convicted of an egregious crime against a child, supervised visitation may be ordered in a permanent custody decree. A non-custodial parent can petition the Court to modify the order if she believes it is in the child’s best interest to increase the length of her visits or make them unsupervised.

Where and with whom do the visits take place?

There are two primary options for supervised visitation services. The most commonly ordered option is Donna’s House, a facility on the first floor of the Family Court building at 601 N. Pecos Rd. Donna’s House is a good option for first-time and high-risk visits because the facility shares a security entrance with the court. Visits are inexpensive at Donna’s House ($20 per hour, unless the judge waives the fee; exchanges are $5 each). The party requesting the visitation is usually obligated to pay, but the Court may order the parties to split the cost.

At Donna’s House, visits are conducted by experienced supervisors who can easily step in for one another if a supervisor needs to use the restroom or leave the room for any reason. Visits are supervised in a group setting, so each supervisor oversees one to three families at a time. Supervisors take notes during the visit and prepare a one- to two-page letter for the Court prior to the next hearing to describe how the visits are going. Even if they are not ordered to do so, some parties request one or two supervised visits at Donna’s House so that a report will be sent to the Court showing that the parent-child relationship is improving or that visits are going well.

However, supervised visits can take place anywhere and with anyone to whom the parties agree. For example, if Mom is ordered to have supervised visits and Dad is comfortable with the children being in Mom’s parents’ care in a public setting, the parties can agree that visits will take place under the grandparents’ supervision at a park or arcade. Note that the order should be specific as to who may supervise the visits and where the visits may take place.

A newer option is Family First Services, located at 1481 W. Warm Springs Road, Suite 139, Henderson, NV 89014. Family First opened in 2017 and conducts supervised visits and exchanges. While the business’s rates are slightly higher than at Donna’s House – $35 per hour on weekdays and $40 per hour on weekends – Family First is unique from Donna’s House in that visits are one-on-one between each family and a supervisor and supervisors can go off-site (depending on whether the Court permits off-site visits and with some limitations, including whether the child has weather-appropriate clothing and whether the supervised parent can provide transportation).

Like at Donna’s House, parents at Family First go through orientation before the first visit and all visits are within a supervisor’s line of sight and line of hearing. Because Family First is privately run, the facility has more flexible hours and can accommodate one-on-one visits of nearly any length by appointment. Parents can have food delivered to the facility (which is stocked with games, toys, and a craft room) or drive the child and supervisor to a nearby restaurant or movie theater, provided they have seating appropriate for the child. Note that the supervising parent must pay the cost of admitting the supervisor to any off-site activities (for example, the supervisor’s ticket to Adventuredome Theme Park, the Magical Forest, a movie, etc.).

Family First charges $20 per exchange for supervised exchanges. The receiving parent is instructed to arrive early and wait inside, the parent dropping the child off drives up to the facility with the child, and a supervisor greets the child at the car and walks him or her inside to the waiting parent. The exchanges are done this way in order to minimize conflict between the parents at the exchange point.

To schedule a supervised visit at Donna’s House, call (702) 455-4229. To schedule a visit at Family First Services, call Chris Petty at (702) 908-6491.

What are my duties as a supervisor?

Chris Petty at Family First said the biggest misconception when it comes to family-supervised visits is that the chosen relative only needs to be in the same house or vicinity where the visit is taking place. This is not the case, as the supervisor should always be in the same room as the child.

Chris and Jan Parlin, a supervisor at Donna’s House, agree that supervisors should follow three basic rules:

  • Never leave the child and parent alone. Keep the supervised child(ren) in your line of sight and range of hearing at all times during the visit.
  • Interrupt inappropriate talk. Step in if the parent discusses inappropriate topics such as the court case or the other parent, or makes false promises such as, “Soon you will be allowed to live with me.”
  • Keep records. Keep a log of visits you supervise and take notes summarizing each visit. Note any out-of-the ordinary events, such as if the parent makes in appropriate conversation or the child is injured during the visit.

As an unpaid supervisor, note-taking may seem unimportant or tedious, but detailed notes can help the Court decide whether the non-custodial parent should have more time and/or unsupervised visits with the child.

Finally, Chris said there is a fine line between letting the parent be a parent and showing favoritism to the parent during a visit. Try not to interrupt a visit if it is going well, but remember to stop the parent from disparaging the custodial parent, even if you have similar negative feelings toward the custodial parent. Remember that you are the child’s protector. You have been tasked with guarding his or her best interest, not the visiting parent’s interest.

The dos and don’ts of supervised visits

The best way to ease tension and ensure that supervised visits go as smoothly as possible is to be prepared. Here are some tips from family law attorneys and facility supervisors:

DODON’T
Be positive. If you ignore the awkwardness, it will be easier for your child to ignore it, too. Prepare to talk about light, kid-friendly topics.

Build trust, keep your appointments. The custodial parent will probably tell the child about the visit and the child may be looking forward to seeing you. Flaking on plans will erode your child’s trust.

Talk about the child’s interests. Ask your child about what they are doing in school, their friends, their hobbies, their favorite TV shows, music, etc.

Play with the child. Don’t just watch. Young children can be difficult to talk to when distracted. Show them you care by connecting on their level.

Be prepared. If you are taking your child to look at Christmas lights or play at a splash pad, bring a coat and gloves in their size or ask the custodial parent to send the child with warm clothes or a swimsuit. Bring sunscreen and a hat for the child if you will be outside. If you plan to order food, ask the other parent what the child likes and whether he or she has an allergy. Before the visit, ask the other parent what size diapers the child needs, what toys they like, what time they usually eat dinner, whether they will eat before the visit, etc. If the visit is not at a facility, make sure you bring an age-appropriate activity such as a coloring book or board game.

Custodial parents, be cooperative. Inform the other parent that you are sending the child with homework if they have an assignment. Tell the other parent about the child’s likes and dislikes, even if the other parent doesn’t ask. Helping prepare the other parent will ensure your child has a good time.

Give a warm goodbye. Tell your child that you look forward to seeing them again.

Don’t bring gifts. Unless you are celebrating a holiday or birthday, don’t bring gifts to supervised visits. You are trying to build a relationship with your child, not buy one. Family First and Donna’s House have toys and games, and you can ask the custodial parent to send the child with his or her favorite toy from home.

Don’t disparage the other parent. Supervised visitation is about showing the Court and the other parent that you are prepared to be in your child’s life, not tearing down the other parent’s relationship with the child.

Don’t talk about the court case. Supervisors should step in and cut short any conversation about court dates, the judge, or anything else related to the case.

Don’t ask the child about the other parent or their significant other. You can ask the child how the other parent is doing to show that you are friendly, but that should be the end of the conversation. Spend the visit getting to know your child, not digging for information.

Don’t expect the child to be happy and healthy at every visit. Be understanding when the child gets sick and must postpone your visit. (Follow up and ask the other parent if the child is doing ok a day or two later.) If the child is cranky or irritable during your visit, understand that they may have had a long day and give them space to relax.

Court-ordered supervised visitation is often a steppingstone toward more substantial, unsupervised visits between the child and the noncustodial parent. If both parents and the supervisor(s) take the visits seriously and keep the focus on the health and happiness of the child(ren), it will demonstrate that you are able to co-parent and the Court will look more favorably on both parents. Most importantly, your child will see that you genuinely want to support them and have their best interest at heart.

Download our supervised visitation pamphlet here.