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Supervised Parenting Time – What it is and What it is Not

In Arizona, parents who are no longer married or not living together share parenting of their minor children.  Sometimes they share equally and sometimes disproportionately with one of the parents possibly due to work schedules or maybe, because one parent is not as involved with the minor children as the other parent. Typically, each parent makes day-to-day decisions while he or she is exercising parenting time.

However, there are times when a parent may feel that supervised parenting time is necessary. This is unusual, and results from Arizona law seeking to protect minor children. In such situations, the Court may issue temporary or permanent orders which will require a third party (usually a mental health professional or social worker – but could be a family member) to monitor the interaction between a parent and minor child during parenting time.  The supervisor maintains a record of what transpired during the parenting time and submits reports.  These reports are often valuable in evaluating the ongoing need for supervision.

Most commonly, requests for supervised visitation occur in the context of allegations of drug abuse, alcoholism, severe mental illness, and/or physical or sexual abuse.  Domestic violence in relation to others may not be a basis for requiring supervision.  The need for supervision is focused on the protection of the minor child.

The party believing that supervision is necessary must file a petition seeking supervision, either on a temporary or permanent basis. In order to prevail, it must be shown that the minor child needs the protection – and the evidence supporting this extraordinary relief is often police reports or medical records supporting the argument that the parent has a drug or alcohol history, mental illness or abuse has occurred.

Supervision may be a useful tool where a parent has had no (or limited) contact with the minor child for an extended period and either the minor child or parent feels more comfortable with a neutral third present to assist with reunification.

There are several pitfalls in seeking supervised parenting time if it is a tactic to paint the other parent as “bad”.  First, there is the emotional harm that may occur to the minor child. Second, the courts will see through thinly veiled attempts to discredit the other parent (where no basis exists). And third, our statutes require that the Court consider which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the other parent. Obviously, seeking supervision where no basis exists reflects poorly on the party seeking supervision.

Supervised parenting time is an important tool to protect children that may be harmed.  But using this tool without justification is risky to both parents and the child. Supervision should not be used as a litigation tactic.  It should be used only where absolutely necessary to protect a child.

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