Coparent Academy Podcast

#94 - How to Structure Visitation with the Abuser Parent - Part 1

January 08, 2024
Coparent Academy Podcast
#94 - How to Structure Visitation with the Abuser Parent - Part 1
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In episode 6 of our series on domestic violence and coparenting we discuss how to structure visitation with the abuser parent. This topic turned out to be pretty lengthy, so we've split the episode into two parts. This is part 1. 

If you would like to participate in our domestic violence series as a guest, please contact us and let us know. We are interested in all perspectives and backgrounds for our conversations.

Thanks for listening!  If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please email us at podcast@coparentacademy.com.  To learn more about becoming the best coparent you can be, visit coparentacademy.com.

Speaker 1:

Welcome everybody. Today is episode six in our Domestic Violence and Co-Apparenting series, and today we are going to talk about structuring visitation with the abusive parent and Linda. In our little behind the scenes clip that we put out on Instagram, you indicated that you were doing this under protest, so tell me what's your protest.

Speaker 2:

Well, it is just seemed because I'm the one usually putting the abusive parent and the abused child together for the first time usually that they have seen each other, usually in years or at least many months, and I've noticed a pattern of, during that time span, sometimes the child has received treatment, but rarely has the abusive parent received treatment and they may have put it up or put it off for a while. They may have protested that they didn't deserve to have the treatment. There's all sorts of reasons why it hasn't happened. They may have started it dropped out, but they definitely, especially if it's in the order that it says you know you have to do A, b, c, d and E. And E is getting some sort of structured visitation, series of kinds of structured visitation With your child. They always start there and many times after my first intakes with each parent I'm going back to the attorneys to say are we real sure we're he's allowed to do this E before he got A, b, c and D? You know, because it might be drug and alcohol assessment or you know, anger management assessment or psyche valve or you know all sorts of things that might have come first on the order, but they started with the last one.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I completely understand that perspective. The reason why I pushed a new, graciously acceded to have this one first is because, regardless of what might be therapeutically best, we find practically speaking and you know this better than I do, or at least as well that courts often will order supervised visitation immediately. You could have the person upon filing of the position for divorce. You could have the abusive parent with allegations of abuse out there. It hasn't been litigated yet, but there could be excellent evidence. Even an emergency custody could have been filed and granted. And you're going to have professionally supervised visitation ordered from the very beginning, before there's even a chance to get you into the case. And so the reason why we're going in this order today and I understand that your protest was like half-hearted protest and a perfect, perfectly. Yeah. In a perfect world we would have everything resolved so that the abusive parent and the child were both in the therapeutic place best suited to that reuniting. But in a practical world that almost never happens.

Speaker 2:

And the reason for that, more than anything, is so that we don't have to redo, undo continued abuse and or redo the therapy again down the road after the person does have to go back, to go and make sure they get the therapy they need before him.

Speaker 1:

Completely agree with that. On the other hand, I will say this from a litigation's perspective If you have proper reports from a professional supervisor which is something we're going to get into in this episode it's very, very likely that the abuser who has not yet received the treatment, will display elements of abusive conduct that they think are completely innocuous behavior, and it would then support what may otherwise be unprovable allegations of domestic violence in the form, of course, of control, because you get that their party interactions. So there could be some positives as well. Very true. So yeah, it's definitely a mixed bag, but when we're talking about this today, the assumption that we're beginning with is not that it's therapeutically appropriate for the supervised visitation to occur. Our assumption is is that supervised visitation has been deemed appropriate by the court and is going to happen no matter what, regardless of whether we think it's therapeutically appropriate at the time. So with that assumption we're going to start talking about first. Well, let me give you sort of the whole structure for what we're going to talk about. We're going to talk about the levels and types of supervision. We're going to talk about supervision by category of abuse, by age range of the child, how to prepare the child, the abuser parent and the custodial parent for visitation talk about what is needed in a report from a professional supervisor and we're going to talk about what to make of the report. So once we have a report, what do we do with it? How do we understand it? So that's our basic outline for today's conversation, and so for the levels and types of supervision, I'll just start with this, Linda, and you correct me or add or whatever if I miss something. So the most stringent version of supervision is to have professionally supervised visitation in a controlled facility that has audio and video recording of the interactions. That would be the most restrictive visitation and there's some places in Oklahoma that provide that you have parents potentially being checked. So the abuser parent would arrive before the victim parent and would be in place. The supervised facility would ensure that that parent was appropriate for a visit at that time. They would check to see what they brought with them to try to give to the child. If anything, it would make sure that they were alone or anyone who was present with them was pre-approved to be there at the visitation and then the victim parent and the child would arrive. The victim parent would never have direct contact with the abuser parent. The child would be taken into the facility by employee of the facility and would be taken out by an employee of the facility at the end of the visitation, Right? So that's the most restrictive. Then you still have professionally supervised visitation. That may not be in that kind of controlled facility. It can be out in public, Of course it gets then, depending on the age of the child. You know how you do all of these things. After you have professionally supervised visitation in the public, the next is monitored visitation professional so that monitored visitation is. The supervisor would facilitate the pickup and the drop-off and then in between, depending on the length of the visit, they would make at least one somewhat unannounced appearance during the visit and check with the child to see how it's going Now they're supposed to take the child away from the parent and do so.

Speaker 2:

That doesn't always happen, but they would be supposed to.

Speaker 1:

Correct and it can only be somewhat unannounced, because the supervisor has to know where to meet up with everybody, so there has to be a schedule, and if the schedule is not followed, then the supervisor is going to have to communicate with the abuser parent to figure out where they are so that they can meet up, which then gives the abuser parent time to try to manipulate the child before the supervisor gets there, which is why it's important to have it as spontaneous as possible and separate. So those are the basic.

Speaker 2:

It's also good, too, if the monitor is the same person that was doing the professionally supervised visitation, where they're there the whole time.

Speaker 1:

Right, so that the child needs to have rapport with the supervisor and feel comfortable talking with them? Yeah, for sure.

Speaker 2:

I think we might need to add in something about family supervisors. Okay, family or a friend?

Speaker 1:

Sure, so you can. In addition to the professional visitation, you can have lay visitation and that could be family friend, you know, court staff, whatever and right. And when we have that kind of visitation, ideally because those supervisors, those lay supervisors, and the same with the professional supervisors at least they're professionals. The lay supervisors are not parties before the court. They, the court, has no jurisdiction over them. So if you're going to have a lay supervisor, the best practice is to have an order answered by the court that the lay supervisor signs, acknowledging that they have certain responsibilities as a supervisor and what they're supposed to do, and then the court answers that as an order. So at very least the lay supervisor knows that they've agreed to certain terms and the court knows that they've agreed to certain terms and if they violate those, then whatever good they think they did as a lay supervisor is going to be undone and the party who needed the supervision is going to be looked at as if they were trying to do something wrong, even if it was just a lay supervisor who was leading it.

Speaker 2:

And I have actually heard many stories like that through the years where the lay supervisor behaved much worse or it was the only one behaving badly in the setting.

Speaker 1:

Right, because sometimes even professional supervisors will sometimes pick a side and they may decide that the supervision isn't necessary or they may decide that the visitation shouldn't be happening and they could be unprofessional and they could interfere or they could not properly supervise. And that problem I've heard stories about their behavior as well. Yeah, and that problem just gets worse when you have maybe the abusive parents mother, so maybe the paternal or maternal grandmother during the visitation. You know, sometimes they're the worst because they didn't damn it raise the person right in the first place, potentially, or they are in an environment that's not conducive. So there's lots of reasons to be concerned about lay supervisors.

Speaker 2:

How many times they're not even there the whole time?

Speaker 1:

For sure, that's 100% true, which is another big concern about it and another one of those points that needs to be put in on the order appointed to lay supervisor.

Speaker 2:

Exactly so in terms of At what point in the QAWP panel we tried to come up with a Judge Bartman was in with us on that Tried to come up with a list of criteria for the lay supervisor to follow and even maybe writing a little report themselves of what had happened and certain things that we needed to know from each visit. I'm not sure that ever got placed into the courtrooms and there's something for the judges to disperse, but that was the plan.

Speaker 1:

Well, like I said, and for anyone listening outside of Tulsa County or who's not an attorney, the QAWP panel is the Quality Assurance Panel for the Tulsa County District Court and Judge Bartman is still currently a judge in Tulsa County. So yeah, we have that order appointed lay supervisor. That's a pretty common order that's used, but there's not anything dictating reports or anything like that. So the supervision by a category of abuse matters as well. So you could have a person who was never physically abusive. You could have a person who was only physically abusive. You could have a person who was only sexually abusive, although that seems impossible because of the level of manipulation required for that Exactly. So you have different types of abuse and I think when we talk about supervision by age range, this probably goes in well with the type of abuse, because you have different concerns about what an abusive parent might do with children of different ages and depending on what type of abuse they've typically done. So, Linda, could I toss this over to you to start talking about by age range and then maybe pepper in some of the category of abuse stuff.

Speaker 2:

Well, I think that, oh gosh, that it depends so drastically with the age of the child and which one of those kinds of? I mean that would be quite the conversation if we took each one. I would just say it's important to not only take into account the age range of the child, but also if you have a child who is mentally delayed, or academically or intellectually delayed or there's a deficit there, because many times I think children are set out on on supervised visitation when they really are not able to protect themselves or give a good report to what has happened. So those are the kids that are most vulnerable, I feel like, in this situation, and it really concerns me for them.

Speaker 1:

And that's actually the whole reason why you need supervised visitation is because the premise is that the children are unable to protect themselves and unable to necessarily report what happened. And so if you have a child who's 17, but is developmentally three, then it doesn't really matter that they're 17, because the premises for the supervision are the same as they would be for a three-year-old at that point.

Speaker 2:

Correct, and then I think it's. It really does make a lot of changes in terms of where you can structure the visit. You know sometimes if the child is really small oh, I'd say up to school age, even first or second grade perhaps that they would need to be in a much smaller kind of controlled environment. Obviously, if you have the sexual abuse or physical abuse, I would say they need to stay in a very structured environment, like you described. First of all, the highest level I don't see any way they can get beyond that really and then a little bit older, even with those higher levels of abuse, still in a very highly structured environment. There just needs to not be a way for them to be physically touching the child in a therapeutic or in a professionally supervised setting. They really need to be in the room but not really able to initiate touching.

Speaker 1:

Right. So let's say you have someone who's physically abused the child in the past and the child and they're in that highest level of supervision and the child initiates a hug or a touch, then that would be okay. You wouldn't stop the child from doing that. But to have the parent initiate would be a no-go from the start.

Speaker 2:

Right, and that would be something I would be preparing the child for. I used to when I was in office, all the time, even for the reconciliation work, because a parent can very subtly they think can't ask for guilt trip the child into even with just body language, using no words, make it obvious that they expect something affectionate from the child. Yeah, and then the child. They feel like they've got to do it.

Speaker 1:

And this ties into the training of supervisors. Too often we have supervisors who have no real background. I mean, they don't have to be psychologists, they don't have to be counselors to be a professional supervisor. They can have a law enforcement background, they can be a teacher, they can have whatever background it is, so long as they've been instructed what to look out for, how to keep the child safe, how to look for the subtle things that you're describing, which is not necessarily obvious to everybody.

Speaker 2:

Now, and it's very important for them to listen to. I mean, I remember a time with most of the professional supervisors in our area weren't doing intake sessions with each of the parents, and so it's really important to do that so that you know when the father talks about this particular thing, that's the activity he used to do with the child when he was sexually abusing the child. Oh yeah, it's so interesting. Otherwise it might sound like a totally innocuous topic about a video game or whatever. That's a great point and you don't know what's just happening to the child. Like you said, you're not in a therapy environment right then to be able to handle that. So I'm really happy that they're starting I think all of them do now to do the actual intakes with each of the parents.

Speaker 1:

That's such a great point. And then for the idea also and I don't know if, because I you know I don't see the intakes a lot that the parents do the supervisors Only if there's been an issue do I typically see them.

Speaker 2:

But right, I don't either. The reports I've gotten have been reports about the actual business.

Speaker 1:

So it would be very helpful for the supervisors to have intakes that maybe even ask for key phrases or terms Like what are key trigger terms or situations that I need to look out for?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I've had children many times give me a list of facial expressions or body language things that then when they have occurred in the session, especially when I was in person with everybody, the kid would look at me like did you catch that? And I'd go, mm-hmm, yeah, Kind of do a little thumbs up with them Like God, definitely caught that up.

Speaker 1:

That's a great point. When you have children at different ages, they have different needs to make them more complicated, and it's not just the age of the children as well. I should have put in the structure for the podcast the number of children, because that's a huge factor as well. Can you talk about? Those different age ranges and what, why it matters how many children there are.

Speaker 2:

Oh boy.

Speaker 1:

Sorry.

Speaker 2:

It's a very good point because, depending, I think the most I've had in therapeutically supervised visits or reconciliation were I think I had five in one. I've had several where there were three kids, one or two where there was four. But when you have different, when you have that many people in a room, it gets a little chaotic. Sometimes it's really hard for the parent to hear whatever kid is saying. It gets way more complicated for the supervisor to hear everything that's happening and accurately receive it and record it At the end. I've seen so many times where one child may feel left out and kind of be hanging back. One child may be trying to be the sitter of attention, getting all the parent's attention. The parent may be trying to corral one of the kids and not listening to the older kid. There's just so many factors that make it more difficult.

Speaker 1:

Oh for sure. And let's say that you have just two kids, one of whom is in diapers and one of whom is potty training, and that's a very typical circumstance for having two kids. And especially, let's make the abuser male just for this conversation, and let's make the Jay, why would you go there? Let's make the children female. So now you've got a person who's accused of abusing a child and that child is a different gender than the abuser. And now we're going to have that person. You can't have them take the child to the bathroom, but then the supervisor may have to, on a moment's notice, take the child to the bathroom, but then you still have the other child. So now you're leaving the abuser alone. You're not going to leave the abuser with the child. So it gets extremely the supervisor has.

Speaker 2:

If the supervisor's a woman, she's taking all the children, male or female, to the bathroom Right, exactly, so that gets hard for the supervisor.

Speaker 1:

Now make it three children right, or make it four children, so you've got to make sure. My general understanding of the rule is that there should never be more than two children per supervisor, and I think that would be a great thing.

Speaker 2:

I've never actually heard that be a rule, but I think that would be great.

Speaker 1:

I've had that. I've asked that to be enforced in my cases where I've had multiple children, just because, if you consider the practicality I mean anyone who's had responsibility for that many children in a young enough age range knows that it's impossible to actually do a good job of supervising them, especially in the wild.

Speaker 2:

So the number of I was going to say it's bad enough teaching kindergarten.

Speaker 1:

Exactly, yeah, so the higher the number of children, the lower the age of the children, the higher the severity of abuse, the more disturbing the type of abuse. Then you've got to use all of those to factor into location of the visitation, duration of the visitation, timing of the visitation and the number of supervisors involved, Because you would want to schedule it around feeding times. If you have an infant, especially one being breastfed, you know you want and it's also extremely awkward if a woman has been abused by her husband to have to hand over her breast milk for him to feed to the child. There's a lot of levels there that I assume not being a lady must else.

Speaker 2:

Thank you, conversations about that.

Speaker 1:

It's very personal, so lots of things that have to be entered in.

Speaker 2:

I'm sure you've talked to a few fathers through the years that have not understood the necessity for there to be an actual schedule for those kinds of feedings as well.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and the basic phrase that I use is biology trumps. You know we're going to have to pay attention to the biological needs of the mother and the children. No-transcript If dad has some special biological needs, we're going to factor those in too. But in what we're discussing at the moment it's the nursing mother, potentially, and the children. If mom's the abuser, then it gets a little bit more simple in terms of those kinds of things. But when it's mom who's the victim, they come back in, right?

Speaker 2:

But even if it's mother who's like, I remember years ago a case where the mother and female supervisor and all the children younger kids would go in the bathroom together at a particular time, just kind of like you do in a school situation where everybody's been to recess. Now we're going to go to the bathroom and the supervisor would catch the mother trying to speak to one of the children as they are drying their hand in one of the loud dryers, and so I mean they will sometimes take any potential time that the supervisor is not able to hear to make comments to the kids.

Speaker 1:

Well, and I think women sometimes a little bit more crafty, sometimes guys are a little bit more of a blunt tool and women who are abusive, unless it's just physically abusive to the kids. When women are manipulative and abusive in other course of control ways to the family, including the husband, they usually weren't doing it through brute force, although sometimes they do, and so you know you got to be well aware that the craftiness level can increase when you've got a lady who hasn't depended upon physical strength to do the abusing.

Speaker 2:

Right, and I think sometimes I've actually had this happen with myself and I've had to do it. I have a professional supervisor do it as well, because sometimes it starts with something like myself doing therapeutic level and then it can go to like your first level you were talking about, or professionally supervised out in the community. And sometimes I have just explained because I have spent time with all the children and I know that, like the elder, two might have similar activities they would enjoy doing with the parent on a visitation and the younger two you know would need, or three, ever how many you know there are. Especially the larger groups there are, the more it's going to work to split them up perhaps.

Speaker 1:

I'm a huge proponent of that and that's why in one of our courses on Co-Princess Academy is virtual visitation and that's why I'm a big proponent of putting in virtual visitation that's recorded like Skype calls. Or they have things like the Talking Parents app that has secure calling where it's a FaceTime that's recorded and kept on the recording server. Because when you have multiple children, well, even which is one child, it's better to have that routine, consistent, frequent contact that's safe, to maintain the relationship and it's less expensive than having a lot of professionally supervised visits. But if you have lots of kids and you want to have visitation that's meaningful for each of them and builds each of the relationships appropriately, then you space them out and in the meantime you have some of that video calling that's also secure. You could also have a supervisor on it. I've done that before with Skype calls or Zoom calls to have a supervisor present, but just you can't be seen or heard. To sort of fill the gaps, right, yeah, exactly. Now, if you have abuse that was not physical, was not sexual, it was emotional, it was verbal, psychological, then you have to really urge the professional supervisor to understand what the concern is and that's where you get into that list of things that could be said, or facial expression, the subtle stuff.

Speaker 2:

And an abuser can be quite charming. They very often are With the child and or the supervisor.

Speaker 1:

Exactly, that's often a facet of the abuse, because you know in a lot of circumstances you're not going to get the opportunity to have ongoing abuse that's undetected, unless you're superficially charming at the same time.

Speaker 2:

Right.

Speaker 1:

So it's a symptom. All right, everybody. Well, we have spent a ton of time talking about this so far, Enough time to realize that this is really kind of two podcasts getting into it. So what we're going to do now is we're going to stop the podcast for today on this topic and we're going to continue it. Part two of episode six will be preparing the child. We're going to start there. So in this next episode, we're going to talk about preparing the child, preparing both the abuser parent and the custodial parent, and then we're going to talk about what's needed in a report and what to make of what is reported. If you're a professional or, you know, if you're a parent and you're seeing these reports, what should you take away from it? And that will finish us up for episode six of this Messick Violence and Co-Parenting series. All right, thank you so much for joining us for this first part of episode six, and we will see you next week for the second part of episode six.

Structuring Visitation With Abusive Parent
Visitation Concerns With Lay Supervisors
Supervising Visits in Child Abuse Cases