Information for Court Orders or Agreements

Introduction

Orders and agreements can be made for a wide range of supervised access arrangements. These include:

  • use of Ministry funded access centres to supervise visits onsite and to supervise the exchange of children between parents;
  • use of third parties, including family members, friends, or clergy, to supervise visits in the community or their homes and to transport children between parents;
  • use of private agencies and individuals to supervise visits in the community or their own location and to transport children between parents.

Supervision can only take place when a third party or agency has agreed to be directly involved in the visit or exchange. Exchanges or transfers directly by the parties in public places, including police station parking lots, are not supervised and do not provide the same level of oversight as exchanges that are overseen by an access supervisor

Regulation of Supervised Access Centres

Supervised access services in Ontario are not regulated or certified.  There are supervised access centres in each jurisdiction in Ontario that are funded by the Ministry of the Attorney General and that are therefore accountable to the Ministry. Other access providers are not accountable to any one governing body or regulatory framework.  Children Aid Societies may provide supervised access services for children in their care.

When Might Supervised Visits Occur?

Supervised access can be used to address a number of different situations, which may arise in custody and access disputes. These include cases where: there are concerns about the safety of the child and/or the custodial parent; the non-custodial parent has a drug or alcohol problem or a mental health condition; there has been a lengthy separation between the parent and the child; or there is a risk of abduction.

When Might Supervised Exchanges Occur?

When there is unresolved conflict between the parents, a neutral place to transfer the children from one parent to the other for visits can make access easier to arrange and reduce the tension for the child. Supervised exchanges may also be appropriate when it is necessary to determine if the parent who is visiting with the child is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In other cases, there may be a concern about the safety of the custodial parent during the exchange.

The Legislative Framework for Supervised Access

The CLRA (Children’s Law Reform Act) subsections 34 (1) and 34 (2) provide the legislative framework for supervised access in custody and access matters.

Basic Considerations When Making an Order for Supervised Access

When making arrangements for supervised access, the following questions should be taken into consideration:

  1. What kind of access would be most beneficial for the child?
  2. Is supervised access in the child’s best interests?
  3. Does the suggested plan take into account the level of risk or the other factors that have made supervised access necessary?
  4. Does the proposed plan/supervisor provide for the safety and well being of the child and all other parties?
  5. To whom or how is the proposed supervisor accountable for carrying out the supervised access order?  If it is not a MAG funded centre or a registered professional who is a member of a college, who is the supervisor accountable to in carrying out their duties?
  6. How is the order to be enforced? Supervised access providers cannot enforce orders; they can only facilitate their implementation.
  7. What is the time frame or plan for reviewing whether there is a continuing need for supervised access?
  8. Will observation notes or reports be required for the court’s future review of the access arrangements?

Considerations When Using Supervised Access Centres Funded by the Ministry of the Attorney General

Supervised access centres funded by the Ministry of the Attorney General are provided by community-based organizations such as the YM-YWCA, children’s mental health centres or child and family services. Services take place in child friendly places such as daycare centres and community centres. There are toys and games available for all age groups. Some centres have special rooms for older children, kitchen facilities for meal preparation or fridges and microwaves or fully fenced outdoor play areas, which can only be entered from the building.

The parties never have contact with one another because they are required to arrive and depart at staggered intervals of about fifteen minutes. Most centres have separate parking areas and/or entrances for the parties. Staff checks bags and parcels coming into the centre before permitting them into the visit area.

While Access Centre staff are always within sight and hearing of the participants while they are at the Centre, the staff will not necessarily hear everything that is said during a visit.

Hours, Days Duration:

Except in special circumstances, court orders should set out the number of hours and the number of visits per week and whether the visits or exchanges are on the weekend or mid-week, but they should not specify actual days or times. This allows Access Centres to offer service during times and days that are immediately available and reduces the possibility of families being placed on a waiting list. In addition, centres have limited hours of operation and may not be open during the exact hours or days specified in an order.

A two-hour maximum for visits is generally recommended (although some Centres allow a maximum of 2.5 - 3 hours). Longer visits in the Centre are often difficult for children and adults due to the limited nature of the facilities.

Services:

Orders or agreements must specify whether it is the exchanges or the visits that are to be supervised. Centres provide on-site supervision for visits and exchanges in a group setting i.e. more than one family is on-site at the same time.  As a result:

  • Access Centre staff may not be able to provide service in cases where the access parent is an alleged or convicted sexual offender. The Ministry requires that all sexual offenders whether alleged or convicted be supervised on a one-on-one basis when no other families or children are on site. If a centre cannot provide these conditions then the centre cannot provide service to that family.
  • Access Centre staff do not provide counselling, mediation, parenting skills training or assessment, but they may have information about such services to provide to parents.
  • Access centres are managed locally. Each Centre will have its own best practices that depend on their staffing, geography and facilities.
  • Trained staff and volunteers monitor participants on site at all times during visits and exchanges, including when a parent takes children to use the washroom or during diapering..
  • Access Centre staff do not do drug or alcohol testing but will deny service if there is a suspicion of use immediately prior to or during the visit or exchange.
  • Access Centre staff may suspend or end service to a family if one of the parties does not comply with centre rules and/or the family’s agreement for service or if there is a safety concern that the staff feel cannot be addressed.
  • Access Centre staff record factual observations and can provide reports or copies of observation notes on request, but they do not make recommendations or give opinions.
  • Access Centre staff cannot assess the family situation or determine if families continue to require service. Therefore, final orders for supervised access are discouraged. 

Fees for Visits/Exchanges:

  • Centres charge fees for service on a sliding scale and will waive the fee if a party demonstrates financial hardship.
  • Centres will require half of the family fee from each party unless the order or agreement specifies otherwise.  Each party pays according to their ability.

Fees for Reports:

  • Reports of factual observations of the child/parent interaction at the access centre will be provided to both parties at the request of one of the parties or their lawyers at an additional cost. Legal Aid will reimburse the cost of reports for legally aided clients.
  • Unless specified in a court order or agreement, the access centre will charge the report fee to the requesting party but send it to both parties or their lawyers.
  • If the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL) is involved in the case, the parties can provide a copy of the access notes/report to the OCL or the OCL can request a copy of the notes from the Access Centre staff.
  • Reports must be requested in advance and paid for prior to release.

Helpful Tips:

  • Access centre contact information is available in the Family Law Information Centre (FLIC)
  • See http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/family/supaccess.php  for listings.
  • Each party must contact the Centre to arrange for an intake interview and complete any necessary documents.  Some courts have found it useful to include in the order time frames within which the parties must contact the Access Centre.
  • Access Centre staff’s agreement is required for services to be provided.  Centre staff can only decide whether the case is appropriate for service after intake interviews have been completed with each party.
    • Services may be refused to a family if it is felt that service cannot be provided safely to all adult and child clients.
    • Services will be refused if there is an on-going investigation being conducted by the CAS or the police.

REVIEW MECHANISMS

Supervised Access Centre staff cannot advise families about whether or not they should continue supervised visits or exchanges. They also cannot advise whether a family should move from visits to exchanges or increase the duration of visits.  As a result, a family may remain at the Centre when supervision is no longer necessary, simply because they are not aware that they can ask the court to change the supervised access order.

As a result, it has been found to be helpful when:

  • Court orders contain a mechanism for reviewing the ongoing need for supervised access.
  • Temporary court orders specify the number of supervised visits or exchanges to occur in addition to a return date.
  • Final court orders specify that there is supervised access until such time as the parties agree to a change in the access arrangement or a court order has changed the existing arrangements.

OTHER ISSUES TO ADDRESS IN ORDERS

Addressing the following issues in a court order or agreement may reduce misunderstandings and the chance that a matter will have to return to court or require legal intervention.

Holidays:

Access arrangements should specify what happens on long weekends, school holidays, family vacations, and religious holidays.

Make –up visits and exchanges:

Unless specified in an order, any cancellation of supervised visits and exchanges by either party will be made up in accordance with the procedures and policies established by the Access Centre.

Child Car Restraints:

Supervised Access Centres require that anyone driving children to or from the Access Centre have proper child car seats. Many parents do not agree on who is responsible for providing the car seat/booster. Therefore, including this in an order can help avoid disputes.

Medication:

Responsibility for provision and administration of medication during supervised visits should be specified in the court order. In the absence of such instructions, the custodial parent will be expected to provide the required medication and usage instructions and the non-custodial parent will administer it. Centre staff and volunteers will not administer medications except in an emergency.

Photographs:

Are photographs of the child allowed to be taken and/or are they to be provided by the custodial parent? Many parents often disagree as to whether photographs can be taken at the Access Centre. The taking of photographs, if permitted, will be in accordance with any rules established by the supervised access provider. (Note: Video cameras, tape recorders, cell phones, pagers and other electronic devices are not allowed in the Access Centres.)

Gifts and Food:

Unless specified in the order, the provision of gifts and/or food by the non-custodial parties will be conducted in accordance with any rules established by the Access Centre.

Visitors:

Orders should specify who (if anyone), other than the named parties, is allowed to attend visits at the Access Centre, subject to the Centre’s agreement. The ability of Centres to accommodate visitors is based on sufficient notice, availability of space and visitors’ willingness to sign a service agreement requiring them to follow Access Centre rules and maintain confidentiality.

Who can Pick-up and Drop–off Child at the Centre:

Orders should specify who (if anyone), other than the named parties, is allowed to attend at the Access Centre to pick up or drop off the child.

Considerations When Using Non- Ministry Funded Supervisors

Other Paid Supervisors:

  • What services do they provide and where?
  • What is their experience and professional background, if any?
  • Training – Do they know the laws for reporting child abuse; the impact of domestic violence and conflict on children; the signs of sexual and child abuse; how to supervise visits/exchanges; basic child development?
  • Insurance and licence – Can they provide proof of valid professional and/or general liability insurance and vehicle licence and insurance if transporting the parties and/or children?
  • Safety plan – Do they know what to do if: someone does not return a child; someone becomes confrontational or violent; there is an abduction or attempted abduction; someone arrives intoxicated or under the influence of drugs?
  • Unbiased – Do they understand that they should not take sides with one party over the other, particularly in the presence of children? Are they dependent on any party for their financial well-being?
  • Police check – Can they provide proof of successful completion of a police records check, including sexual offender registry and child abuse registry or CPIC with vulnerable persons check?
  • Do they have all information regarding the reasons why a decision has been made that access must be supervised? Do they understand what is expected of them as a supervisor?
  • Will they have a written agreement signed by each party before service begins concerning the terms of the access, including times, dates, places and fees and expectations and responsibilities?
  • Do they understand that they are expected to maintain the family’s confidentiality except with written releases or as required by law?

Unpaid Supervisors (family and friends; clergy; community contacts)

  • Minimum suggested age – 21
  • Do they have any experience with children?
  • Will they have all information regarding the reason why a decision has been made that access must be supervised? Do they understand what is expected of them as a supervisor?
  • Safety plan – Do they know what to do if: someone does not return a child; someone becomes confrontational or violent; there is an abduction or attempted abduction; someone arrives intoxicated or under the influence of drugs?
  • Driver’s licence and car insurance – Do they have and can they provide proof of valid licence and car insurance if driving the child/children?
  • If they are transporting children do they have required car seats?
  • Unbiased – Do they understand that they should not take sides with one party over the other, particularly in the presence of the children? Are they dependent on any party for their financial well-being?
  • Do they understand the need for discretion and that they should not share information obtained in the course of their supervision (e.g. information about new partners or other personal information that the child might reveal)?
  • Do they understand that they have a duty to report if they suspect child abuse?
  • Is there any reason why they may not be an appropriate supervisor? For example, have they been subject to a supervised access order any time in the past five years? Have they had a peace bond or restraining order taken out against them in the past five years?
  • Police Check – Can they provide proof of successful completion of a police records check, including sexual offender registry and child abuse registry or CPIC with vulnerable persons check? Have they been convicted of a criminal offence related to their ability to supervise the parent and child in the past five years? e.g. Impaired driving, use of illegal substances, assault?