What is Supervised Custody and is it Right for You?

April 29, 2024 | By Marcelina R. Policicchio

While the rights of parents to see their child hold a high importance in the law, when it comes to custody, the best interest of the child is the family court’s number one priority.

There are sixteen factors courts consider when awarding custody in Pennsylvania.

Each factor is carefully weighed with the ultimate goal of crafting a custody arrangement that ensures that the child is comfortable, safe, and happy. Some of these factors include the stability, safety, and the appropriate development of the child, while a few others focus on the alcohol/substance use history and the mental health status of the child’s parents.

When a parent struggles with substance or alcohol abuse or has an untreated struggle with mental health, the family court may opt to proceed with extra caution. If neither of these situations apply, but there is a history of neglect, alienation, or the child has not seen the other parent for an extended period of time, then a court may consider ways to ease the child back into the relationship. One of the safeguards the courts use in these circumstances is supervised custody.

Supervised custody is pretty exactly what it sounds like; custody time with a parent that is supervised by someone else. When there are safety or adaptation concerns, a third party is utilized to ensure that a parent’s visitation with the child goes smoothly.

The court often permits the parents to pick who the custody supervisors will be. Typically, grandparents or other family members make the list. Other times, when there is history of domestic violence or criminal history, the custody supervisor may be a professional third party. In these more risky or volatile situations, the court may require the parents to use trained mental health professionals, social workers, or court-affiliated agencies who offer custody supervision at designated locations.

So, what does this mean for you? If you have genuine concerns about the safety of your children when they are in your co-parent’s care, you can ask your attorney whether supervised custody is an option. In addition to having a third-party chaperone during the custodial periods, there are other precautionary measures you can request, such as drug or alcohol screening before the visits, or having the visits take place in public areas like parks or libraries. Additional protections to consider include having the supervising persons issue regular updates on the progress of the visits and/or asking them to sign a verified affidavit acknowledging that they will follow the specific terms of the supervised custody arrangement.

If, on the other hand, your co-parent requested supervised custody during your time, there are a few things that may make the supervised visitation a bit more bearable.

  • First, you can ask that the person supervising the custody visits is someone with whom you are familiar, such as a family member or mutual friend.
  • Second, when custody discussions are taking place, you can ask for a step-up plan for increased custody time or a probationary period where the supervised custody winds down and unsupervised custodial periods are implemented.
  • If neither is an option, and you have had multiple successful visits over an extended period of time, you can ask your attorney to submit a motion to the court to lift the supervision requirement. It is worth noting that in most circumstances, if the custody order is final, to change the arrangement, a custody modification may be necessary. Therefore, it is important to know what to ask for in advance so that you can avoid a longer, more costly process.

Fighting for your right to custody of your children can involve many steps, one of which may include supervised time with one parent. Knowing what to request to make your claim for custody stronger and more successful is an important aid in this process. Supervised custody is an opportunity to get a glimpse into the suitability of a co-parent’s parenting abilities. It is also a great way to help better familiarize the children with a parent with whom they have a distant relationship. In addition, if taken seriously, it can be a tool for parents to show that they are working hard to overcome personal obstacles so that they can ultimately achieve their custody goals.

If you have questions related to your custody action, please contact a member of our team to determine what steps you should take based on your individual circumstances.

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys. 

About the Authors

Marcelina Policicchio - Pittsburgh family law attorney

Marcelina R. Policicchio


Pittsburgh Family Law Attorney Marcelina divides her time between family law and business transactional work. As a Pittsburgh family law attorney, her family law practice primarily includes matters such as adoption, custody,...

Read More by Author