When a party going through a divorce is concerned that the other parent may pose a risk to the children, what safeguards can be put in place by the court to protect the children during their periods of placement?
First, there must be a showing that the parent poses a legitimate risk of exposing the children to physical or emotional harm. If a parent has a documented history of alcohol or substance abuse, that most likely might qualify; where a parent has engaged in documented domestic violence against the other party, that may qualify. Where a parent has previously either abused the children or neglected them, that certainly would qualify. In cases where parents are separated for a significant period of time, and the other parent has been away from the children, until the chkdrrn get reacquainted with the parent, this may cause the court concern over their well being. In cases where a parent and child have been physical with one another, the court may consider restricted or supervised placement.
What is restricted visitation? Restricted visitation means that the parent who is at issue will have limited periods of time with the children; this may include restricting their visitation to no overnights. Placement may be limited to a few hours, several times a week. This approach is taken where the parent at issue, poses the least amount of risk to the children. It may also be part of a larger plan, to start with limited visitation, with an eye of increasing placement over time.
What is supervised placement? Supervised placement is imposed by the court on a very limited basis and only in the most extreme cases where a parent poses the highest risk of potential harm to a minor child. The court will require that a suitable adult be present during all periods of placement to insure the children are protected, and to perhaps, report back to the court if there are any areas of concern. The person supervising may be an agreed upon family member, friend, social worker, or at a clinical setting such as “the parent’s place,”‘in Waukesha, WI.
Are there any circumstances where visitation is suspended altogether due to risk to the children? The answer is yes, but in 35 years of practicing law, I have seen it applied by the court in only one case. It is very unlikely except in the most extreme case of child abuse, that the court would enter a no contact- no visitation order.
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