Moms and dads often don’t parent the same. Sometimes, that’s a problem, and other times it’s not. It can be just a fact of life; a reflection of the difference in two coparents different backgrounds, perspectives, and world views. It can, actually, be a good thing when two parents are different, because it gives the child they’re raising more than one viewpoint or sounding board or set of experiences off which to grow into the person that they’re meant to be.
It doesn’t matter whether the parents are together – married or not, but in a committed relationship – or not; we often find that there are pretty significant differences.
When the parents aren’t together, though, the differences often cause more friction, especially where custody and visitation is concerned.
When coparents disagree about how to raise their children, the court doesn’t view that as a deal breaker. In fact, like we’ve already been discussing, it’s more or less expected, especially in cases where the parents have already broken up. Can’t we assume there are a lot of things on which the two parties no longer agree? Beyond that, what’s important to the court is looking at the ‘best interests of the child’ when it comes to making custody and visitation determinations, and it doesn’t necessarily follow that because there’s a difference between the two that it creates a situation that doesn’t suit the children’s best interests.
It’s common, though, for parents – especially moms – to ask about supervised visitation. The reasons for requesting it range dramatically, and it’s usually somewhere between two points on a continuum: (1) dad has never spent any time alone with the kids before and wouldn’t know what to do with them if left to his own devices, and (2) dad is a legitimately bad person, suffering from mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, criminal conviction, or something similar.
As you can tell, there’s a big difference between scenarios 1 and 2 here, and it makes a really dramatic difference in how the court feels. Keep in mind, too, that there are a million and one cases in between the two, and that any number of facts and circumstances can exist which would alter the way we analyze the issues involved. It’s always a case by case determination, often with the involvement of a Guardian ad litem or custody evaluator, and sometimes additional professionals (like doctors, therapists, teachers, and others).
“Dad rarely – if ever – spends time with the kids and would have no idea what to do with them on his own.”
Just the fact that dad hasn’t stepped up to parent prior to this doesn’t necessarily mean that supervised visitation is necessary. In fact, I think that just given this information, a court would probably not order supervised visitation.
In most cases, the court is eager to let dad at least try to be a parent, and isn’t going to act preemptively to take away the right of a parent to, well, parent – just because he hasn’t done it before. Many judges seem to feel that when the parties are together, a natural division of the workload often ends up with one parent handling the lion’s share of childcare responsibilities, but that doesn’t mean that -when the situation changes and the parties separate – that the other parent wouldn’t like the opportunity to do so, and wouldn’t step up to parent when given the chance.
Courts will almost always give a parent a chance to parent. Is that how the court should do it? Well, oof – that’s a big question, and a loaded one! It doesn’t really matter what I think – or, for that matter, what you think – because the court’s opinion is its opinion. Maybe you’ll find a judge or a court system that looks at it a little differently, but that’s been my experience.
“Dad has ISSUES and isn’t fit to parent.”
So, if dad has legitimate things going on – drug or alcohol addiction, criminal convictions, untreated mental illness, etc – it’s possible (though not guaranteed) that the court would look at the case differently.
A lot is going to depend on what, exactly, is going on and what, exactly, dad is doing to address the issue. In general, we don’t hold old stuff against a parent – like a criminal conviction from years before the child was born, or a documented mental health condition for which the parent is receiving effective treatment.
If the conviction was recent, or if it was for a dangerous crime, or a crime involving a minor, the court will look at it more seriously. If it’s untreated mental illness, that’s different than mental illness that is well controlled on a treatment plan with which the parent is actively cooperating.
There’s a wide range of things that can be going on here, and a wide range of potential solutions. It’s likely that dad’s attorney, if he has one, will propose different alternatives, and the court may expect you to be willing to cooperate or at least listen to potential alternatives.
Supervised visitation is not totally unheard of, but it’s pretty rare.
Can’t my child’s father just agree to supervised visitation?
Yes. He could agree to supervised visitation. But I think a lot of that would come down to the particular terms you suggest, including how often visitation would take place and who the supervisor is. Are you envisioning supervision in a center designed for such a purpose, or supervision by someone close to him – like his mother, a trusted neighbor, or a close aunt?
Like anything else, it is possible to agree to pretty much whatever terms you want – or he wants – but it’s also still quite uncommon for a dad to agree to supervision on any terms.
Supervised visitation is never guaranteed, and it’s pretty rare. If you have a fear for your child’s health, safety, or well being during dad’s parenting time, though, it’s definitely worth having a conversation with your custody attorney about your options. Don’t get your hopes up about supervised visitation, but it also never hurts to have a conversation.
For more information or to schedule a one on one consultation with a licensed and experienced Virginia custody attorney dedicated to representing moms exclusively, give us a call at 757-425-5200.