Parenting Time: Difference Between Supervised Time & Unsupervised Time

Introduction

In family law we often talk about parenting arrangements in two basic, clear cut categories – supervised time or unsupervised time. We think of supervised time as time you spend with your children in a children’s contact centre being supervised by those suitably qualified to intervene if necessary. Unsupervised parenting time is generally when you do not have to have any third person with you when you spend time with your children.

Relevant Case Law

Recently, in the case of Elias [2019] FamCAFC 53 the Family Court of Australia was asked to determine whether supervised time and time in the presence of another person mean the same thing.

Elias was, to give a very brief summary, a case regarding the parenting time for a Father where the Mother was the primary carer for their 7 year old son. The Court formed the view throughout the trial that, for various reasons, it was in the child’s best interests to spend time with the Father first in a supervised contact centre for three (3) months, and then for parenting time to take place either at a supervised contact centre or supervised by the Father’s Sister. The difficulty was that the Court used the terms ‘supervised time’ and ‘time in the presence of’ interchangeably, but then issued Orders which clearly left the Father with supervised parenting time.

The Father in Elias appealed the Court’s decision, arguing that spending time in the presence of another person is not the same as supervised time, with supervised time being a higher threshold for supervision than merely spending time in the presence of a third party. The impact of this being, the Father argued, that while the Court had determined that he could spend parenting time with his son in the presence another person or supervised, they had then issued Orders which saw him spending time with his son in a supervised contact centre or supervised by his sister – he had lost the benefit of a lower threshold of supervision which he argues that the Court had found to be appropriate.

On appeal the Family Court of Australia disagreed with the Father, finding that Orders to spend supervised time with a child and Orders to spend time with a child in the presence of a third party are exactly the same.
If you are considering agreeing to a proposal which has your parenting time taking place in the presence of a friend or family member, please remember that this is still an agreement for supervised parenting time.

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