By Alexandra Metherell

8 February 2017

In recent times, sensationalist current affair stories in the media have canvassed the issue of supervision in Family Law cases.

There are often disputes in respect of parenting arrangements. However, sometimes these disputes extend to one party making allegations that the other party does not have the capacity to appropriately care for the children of the relationship. Most typically, this type of allegation will relate to incapacity arising from drug or alcohol abuse or allegations of physical or psychological abuse of the children during the course of the relationship by a party. If these allegations are disputed, then the Family Court needs to determine how to protect the children of the relationship from the potential risk posed by the parent, whilst balancing that risk against maintaining the parent/child relationship.

According to section 60CA of the Family Law Act 1975, the children’s best interests is the paramount consideration when making any parenting orders. In order to make this determination, the children’s meaningful relationship with both parents is a primary consideration for the Court. This provision must be assessed against the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm, or being subjected to abuse, neglect or family violence. A common solution imposed by the Court that seeks to address these competing considerations, is the supervision of a parent’s time with their children.
Supervision, as the name suggests, is the appointment of a third party to oversee all of the time spent between a child and a parent. This arrangement occurs whilst the Court and all relevant parties work out the level of risk to the child in spending unsupervised time with a parent where allegations of incapacity have been made. The role of the supervisor is to ensure that the child or children are kept safe at all times whilst they remain in the care of the parent whose capacity is in question.

An approved supervisor could be a grandparent, a new partner, or a trusted friend. However, the choice of supervisor is usually reflective of the allegations involved: the more serious the allegations of abuse or potential risk to a child of the relationship, the less likely that a friend or family member will be nominated as a supervisor.
In the event that parties can not agree to an appropriate supervisor, a professional supervisor will be appointed. Professional supervisors usually have a social science background, such as social work, and they are paid an hourly rate to supervise time between the parent in question and the children. Supervision can take place at contact centres or sometimes the supervisor will travel to a party’s home. They can oversee changeovers and the time spent between a parent and child.

The benefit of a professional supervisor is just that; they are professional. They are independent, and thus do not have any bias towards one parent or the other. Further, they can be requested to provide a report to the Court in relation to the time spent between the parent and the children. This can offer valuable insight to the Court about the allegations which have been made against a party and give a glimpse into the strength of the parental relationship.
The use of supervised time can also be a valuable tool in assisting the parties to resolve issues of trust which lead to the request for supervision in the first place. It is the aim of the Court and practitioners that a parent’s time with their children does not need to be supervised any longer than is absolutely necessary.
While the Court has been criticised for the use of supervisors in Family Law disputes, there are many circumstances when the use of supervision can assist both the parent raising the allegation and the parent against whom an allegation of risk has been made. Used appropriately, supervisors and the reports they can provide can help resolve disputes and move matters forward where issues of risk have been raised.

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