In a Superior Court proceeding involving a divorce, or separation of parents of minor children, the law states that both parents should have frequent and continuous contact with their children. Court orders are made in the best interest of the child, which includes the child's safety and well-being. When a child's safety could even remotely be in jeopardy, the court is obligated to seek other means of ensuring that parents can have appropriate contact with their child.

When a parent believes their well-being and/or their child may be in danger, the parent can seek assistance from the court by requesting a restraining order. If granted, the requesting parent becomes the “protected” party and the other parent is known as the “restrained” party. Restraining orders can be temporary or may last three to five years. Because a restraining order is not intended to be forever and the restrained parent may need to have reasonable visitation with his or her child, the court may order supervised visitation to ensure the child and family's safety.

Supervised visitation allows restrained persons in domestic violence situations to visit with their children in a safe environment. This is done in the presence of a neutral person: a supervisor. This supervisory person can be a nonprofessional such as a relative or family friend — basically someone the parent trusts, and who is willing to perform the task of supervisor. The nonprofessional supervisor is not paid but is required to meet specific state criteria such as being over 21 years of age, no criminal record and not having a conflict of interest or financial dependence on either parent, among other things. No training is necessary. A professional supervised visitation provider, however, is someone who has been trained and is paid for providing the service. The professional provider must also meet other state criteria.

In a nonprofessional situation, the visitation between the restrained parent and children could take place in less formal environments such as one's house, a park or a restaurant, provided the nonprofessional can conduct the visit in a safe and secure manner. In a professionally supervised setting, the conditions are far more formal and often occur in a supervised visitation center or with a private provider. Both the nonprofessional and professional provider must ensure that specific guidelines and rules are in place before the visit occurs between the parent and the child. One of the major objectives of supervised visitation is to ensure the safety of all participants.

The court may specify a certain time frame for supervised visits and direct the parents to its Family Court Services Division to begin the supervised visitation process. The parties will be referred to an appropriate professional provider and provided with a general introduction to the program. The professional visitation service provider will maintain a record of the visits and make a report regarding the parent and child contact during the supervised visit. When the designated amount of time is completed, the professional provider will refer the parents back to Family Court Services for further action. At that time parents may begin the process of developing a step-by-step parenting plan whereby the restrained parent may have unsupervised visitation, or the case is returned to court for any additional court orders.

Since 1997, the Napa Superior Court has been the recipient of a small grant from the state's Administrative Office of the Courts (Access to Visitation Grant Program) to assist low-income, non-custodial parents with professional supervised visitation services. This court program is known as Napa Access. Beginning in 2004, the court began partnering with Cope Family Center for Napa Access to assure that qualifying parents maintain safe contact with their children. When a parent does not financially qualify for Napa Access, they are referred to independent service providers of supervised visitation.

Recently the state of California changed the law and now requires that professional providers complete 24 hours of training provided by the California Administrative Office of the Courts, Center for Families, Children & the Courts, Access to Visitation Grant Program. The court's Family Court Services Division will host training for those individuals who wish to acquire training to provide professional supervised visitation services. A three-day training will be conducted at the Napa Superior Court, Jury Assembly Room, on Jan. 15, 16 and 17 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The training will provide 22.5 hours of required training for meeting the 24 hours of mandated requirement under the Family Code. Those who attend will receive a certificate of attendance and continuing education credits will be provided. The faculty will consist of Shelly La Botte, Access to Visitation Grant Program manager from the Administrative Office of the Courts, and Melinda Daugherty, program manager of the Supervised Visitation Program, Napa Access (COPE).

For information, you may contact the court at or call 707-299-1121.

This article was prepared by Kenneth A. Merritt, Ph.D., Family Court Services supervisor, and Kathleen O'Neill, MA, Family Court Program specialist.

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