What’s you blog about?
My blog today is about Children’s Contact Services.
What is a contact service?
Contact services are agencies which provide trained staff to supervise handovers or a parties’ time with the Children. They can be privately owned or run by community organisations.
Not only do contact services providers provide supervision, but they can also provide reports in relation to the visits or handovers.
These reports may include information such as:
- The parties’ participation in the visits. For example, their punctuality or ability to comply with the directions of the supervisor.
- The level of care provided by a party during the visit.
- Observations about the relationship between a party and the child or children.
When do you need a contact service?
In Family Law proceedings, if allegations are made that there is a risk of harm to a child when in the care of a party, the Court may make Orders that a party’s time or handovers be supervised.
There are various alleged risk factors such as:
- There may be a high level of conflict between the parties which the child or children should not be exposed to, hence the need for supervised handovers.
- There may be allegations that a party has been violent or abusive towards a child or another person.
- There may be allegations of sexual abuse or inappropriate behaviour perpetrated by one of the parties to or in front of the child or children.
- There may be allegations of drug abuse against one of the parties which may impact their ability to adequately care for a child or expose the child to illegal activities.
- There may be allegations of neglect.
- There may also be allegations that a party derogates (that is, says bad things) about another party to or in front of the child, which can be very damaging to a child.
In these circumstances, supervised visits or handovers may be deemed necessary by the Court.
An Order that a party’s time be supervised does not necessarily mean that a finding has been made that a party has committed an act of abuse.
Rather, the Court errs on the side of caution when making orders in relation to children and must balance the right of a child to have a relationship with both parents and the need to protect a child from harm.
It can take up to 2 years, and sometimes even longer, for parties to reach a trial from the date of commencement of proceedings. In circumstances where there are allegations of a risk of harm to the children, such a period is simply too long to assert that a party cannot spend time with a child in the absence of the allegations being properly examined or tested at trial.
For parents whose time is supervised, it is important to remember that the requirement for supervision is likely to be a temporary measure only until the matter can progress to a trial in relation to the allegations.
Supervised visits provide an opportunity to maintain regular contact with a child whilst waiting for a hearing or negotiating with the other party.
Importantly, supervision agencies can provide reports which can help a party dispute false allegations. For example, the report may show that a party has a great relationship with the child and the child enjoys spending time with that party.
The report may also show that a party provides a good level of care to a child and is aware of the child’s needs.
This can be very helpful in providing an impartial third party’s opinion where the Court would otherwise only have the competing allegations of the parties to a dispute.
How do you use a contact service?
Most contact service providers will require sealed orders of the court or a minute of consent orders sign by both parties confirming that they agree to the supervision arrangements.
It is then a matter for the parties to contact the service provider and organise their intake sessions.
Following the intake sessions, provided both parties participate, supervised visits or handovers can then commence.
What are the costs?
The costs of supervised visits can vary depending on the service provider. There a are numerous low-cost services provided by community organisations. However, you should be aware that these community organisations may have long waiting lists and limited availability in terms of the times of day or days of the week that they can provide supervision.
Additionally, some service providers can only provide a limited number of visits. For example, some service providers can only provide 12 visits, following which they will produce a report.
If the parties cannot come to an alternative arrangement, they may then be forced to go back to Court to apply for additional visits, supported visits or to use an alternative service provider.
Who pays for contact service?
In terms of the costs and who pays for the supervision, this varies from case to case. Sometimes the parties will agree, or the Court will make orders that the parties each pay the costs of supervision equally. In other cases, one of the parties may have to bear the costs of supervisions alone.
Below, we’ve provided links to several service providers so that you can see the costs involved and the services they offer.
It is also important to note that the services available to you will depend upon your location.
Of course, it always important to get advice and make sure that you are aware of your rights and obligations. If you have any questions about children’s contact services, please give us a call.