In North Carolina child custody cases, family courts are tasked with entering orders that are in the best interest of children. These courts operate under the belief that children are best served when they have a continued relationship with both parents. Therefore, courts will happily approve agreed parenting plans that allow for an ample visitation schedule between a noncustodial parent and a child. Even in contested custody cases, courts will generally order a generous visitation schedule between a parent and child.
Despite this, courts must make decisions on a case-by-case, child-by-child basis, and there are circumstances that may result in limitations or restrictions of an “unfit” parent’s visitation rights to a child. Factors relating to this lack of fitness may include a parent’s history of domestic violence, absence from the child’s life, neglect, physical or emotional abuse, or substance abuse. The common thread is that the court may infer from a parent’s misconduct that the parent poses a risk of harm to the child’s physical or emotional wellbeing. Depending on the non-custodial parents’ misconduct, the court may restrict that parent’s visitation to supervised contact only.
Supervised visitation involves a third party individual who is tasked with observing visitation between a parent and child. This person may be agreed upon by the parties or designated by the court. It can be a relative, responsible adult, a therapist, or a child exchange program. The supervisor and location of the visitation depends on the nature of the non-custodial parent’s unfitness.
For example, if a parent has a history of substance abuse, but has been actively in recovery, a court or the parents may designate an aunt to supervise visitation at the child’s home. Or if there has been a history of emotional abuse or neglect, a court may order that the parent visit with the child under the supervision of a therapist to ensure and facilitate appropriate interaction.
Another mechanism that courts and parents may use to facilitate supervised visitation is a Child Exchange program. An example of such a program is the Triangle Family Services, Supervised Visitation and Exchange Program, which serves Wake County.
These programs are professional services designed to provide a safe environment for visitation with the child. One of the primary benefits of a child exchange program is that parents and relatives can drop off the children at the facility in a manner where they do not have to see or interact with the non-custodial parent. This is ideal when it comes to domestic violence relationships or highly contentious divorces.
In addition, child exchange programs have trained staff who monitor visits and can provide reports or testimony to the family courts regarding the visitation. This is critical information for when the court is eventually tasked with modifying visitation.
New Direction Family Law
You take your children’s safety very seriously, and so do we. At New Direction Family Law, we provide advice and legal representation to clients regarding separations, divorces, and child custody matters. Our legal team will listen to you, and provide tough, effective legal representation to make sure that your children’s best interest is served. We work in Wake, Johnston, Durham and surrounding counties. Contact New Direction Family Law today at (919) 719-3470 to schedule an appointment or reach us online.
Sarah J. Hink
New Direction Family Law