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    Supervised Contact: A Short Term Solution

    Jul 10, 2019 9:32:27 AM

    The Family Law Act 1975 states that the best interests of the children are served by a meaningful relationship with both parents in a safe environment. Where there are allegations of abuse or harm, it needs to be considered how best to facilitate time with mum and dad in a safe manner. Accordingly, supervised contact may be an appropriate solution.

    Supervision

    Supervision is designed to minimise the risk of harm to the children where one of the parents may be causing the harm. The supervisor must be prepared to intervene during the contact to protect the children.

    In June 2019 in the case of Ingleton & Ingleton [2019] FCCA 1644 the issue of minimising the risk of harm to the children through supervised contact was addressed. At paragraph 20 the judgment reads, “all three children expressed varying degrees of fear of their father and … that any time spent with the father would need to be supervised in the short term.

    When the Court balances up the allegations of the parties, often they are unable to determine early on if a parent represents an unacceptable level of risk to the children. So, in order to maintain a meaningful relationship with that parent and the children, contact is supervised to minimise any potential risk of harm until a final hearing or determination can be made.

    Options for Supervision

    There are number of options for supervision. Supervision can be:

    1. Supervised by a mutually trusted friend or family member;
    2. Through a private contact centre or Relationships Australia Contact Centre; or
    3. Through a private supervisor.

    These options were explored in the recent 2018 case of Teague & Verrell (No. 2) [2018] FCCA 3849 (“Teague No. 2”). In this case, allegations had been made against the mother and due to her past conduct she had been deemed a flight risk. The mother sought “supervised time on the understanding that that is the only basis upon which she will be permitted to see [X] on an interim basis until the very serious issues are tried at the final hearing in May.” The mother proposed her adult daughter as the supervisor, and the father proposed a private supervisor or a contact centre.

    Many have reservations about family and friends supervising contact. At first instance, it may be very difficult to find a mutually trusted friend or family member and even then it may be inappropriate to place such a burden on them. In Teague No. 2 the judge had these reservations saying “What concerns me is … that Ms B will be in a position to supervise the mother’s time, … however, she and the mother live in the same home.”

    In Teague No. 2, the Relationships Australia Contact Centre had delays of 3 months and so was not suitable. This is not uncommon for Relationships Australia Contact Centres, as many centres have delays of 6 months. This is clearly not suitable for maintaining a meaningful relationship with the children, unless an early opening can be found.

    The other option is supervision via a private centre or supervisor. This can be much more expensive costing usually at minimum $100/hour with some additional administrative costs. However, for those who can afford it, it is a small price to pay to see their children. In Teague No. 2 the judge ultimately said, “the mother’s time would need to be supervised by a professional, … though I certainly appreciate that it is highly unlikely that the parties would be able to afford private supervision. I am mindful that the mother has not seen [X] for some five months and I have no doubt at all that [X] is missing her mother and wants to see her.

    Conclusion

    Supervised contact cannot continue indefinitely. As children get older supervised contact increasingly becomes inappropriate, and the costs can make supervised contact a barrier to many. However, when considering the best interests of the child, supervised contact may be the only way forward to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents while ensuring safety.

    If you have any questions about supervised contact, please contact Andrea Harrold at aharrold@franklaw.com.au.

    This is not legal advice.

    Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas from Pexels

    Andrea Harrold

    Written by Andrea Harrold