Visitation monitors are the eyes and ears of the court.
By Coral and Andrew Kingwell (California)
We received a voicemail on Friday from a family law attorney who stated their client needed a monitor on Sunday. I returned the call, but was too late, someone had been found. We get too many calls like this. Usually the client has just come out of court, having been ordered to arrange for professionally supervised visits with their child. They often presume they can just call up a monitor and start right away. It’s not quite that simple. According to the California Rules of Court, Standard 5.20, each parent must have a comprehensive intake/orientation interview before visits begin. The monitor must obtain a copy of the court order and any restraining orders in existence. Sadly, there are some monitors who do not adhere to the Rules of Court and presently, we do not have anything in place to make sure they do. Hopefully that will change soon as the SDCFLS becomes more involved. In consultation with the Court, they are forming an association for monitors. Standardized training and regulation will come soon.
The visitation monitor is the eyes and ears of the court. Their key duty is to work as a neutral third party during the child or children’s visits with their non-custodial parent. The monitor is present for the physical and emotional safety and legal protection of all parties involved. During a visit, the monitor is in charge. He/she is not present to give advice or opinions or act as a babysitter. The monitor is the “fly on the wall,” observing and noting everything that takes place. He/she should not intervene unless rules are broken or danger is present. If a non-custodial parent, (NCP) breaks the rules or behaves inappropriately, the monitor has the authority to intervene and if necessary, end the visit.
A report is usually required for the court and this will consist of a summary with observations and transcribed notes taken on visits. No opinions are stated and no recommendations are made. Sometimes a client or lawyer will ask for recommendations, but that is not our mandate. It is up to the lawyers, therapists and judges to come up with conclusions and make recommendations based on our report and other factors. The monitor will communicate with the above professionals provided releases are signed by the clients. The only time a monitor can state an opinion or recommendation is when ordered to do so by the court.
Rarely, the monitor is subpoenaed to appear in court. However, the subpoenaing party must remember that the monitor is a neutral third party, and cannot take sides.
Supervised (Monitored) Exchange
Sometimes the child is considered to be safe with the non-custodial parent, however, there is a problem between the parents and there may be a restraining order. The answer is a monitored exchange or transfer. Family situations vary, but most frequently precautions are taken to assure that the two parents or other individuals exchanging the child do not come into contact with one another. Usually the parent with the child will drop the child off with the monitor and leave. The parent picking up the child will arrive 15 minutes later when the other parent is well clear.
Choosing A Monitor
Before you refer your client to a monitor, make sure they are up-front with their rates, clear on when charges start and finish and if there is a travel charge. Try to find a service that is incorporated in some way and has more than one monitor. (If there is a problem with a particular monitor, another monitor can be assigned). A reputable monitoring service will set up intake interviews with each parent. They will ask for a copy of the court order and any restraining orders. They will make sure both parents and children understand and are comfortable with the process, answer any questions and give the clients informative literature.
Some of the benefits of supervised visits for the various family members are as follows:
- It allows the children to maintain a relationship with both of their parents, something that is generally found to be an important factor in positive adjustment to family dissolution.
- It allows them to anticipate visits without stress of worrying about what is going to happen and to enjoy them in a safe, non-threatening environment without having to be put in the middle of their parents’ conflict and/or other problems.
The Custodial Parent:
- Does not have to communicate or have contact with a person with whom they are in conflict or by whom they might be frightened or intimidated. Arrangements can be made by a neutral party (the visit monitor) and there does not have to be contact before, during, or after the visits.
- They can relax and feel comfortable allowing their child to have contact with the other parent and can get some valuable time for themselves.
The Non-Custodial Parent:
- Can be sure that their contact with their children does not have to be interrupted regardless of any personal or interpersonal problems they may be having. If allegations have been made against them, (often the case when supervision is ordered), they can visit without fear of any new accusations because there is a neutral and objective professional present who can verify what happened during their time with the children.
What Is The Purpose?
- Both Supervised Visits and Supervised Exchanges are designed to assure that a child can have safe contact with an absent parent without having to be put in the middle of the parents’ conflicts or other problems. It is the child’s need that is paramount in making any decisions regarding the need for such supervision. However, there are also some significant benefits to parents. It is our hope that no one will look upon supervised visitation or exchange as a negative or stigmatized service. It is a tool that can help families as they go through difficult and/or transitional times.
Coral and Andrew Kingwell operate Families 1st Visitation Service in San Diego County, California (www.Families1.org)