Supervised Visitation Rights in Tennessee

By Cindy Chung

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During court-ordered, supervised visitation, a non-custodial parent spends time with her child under the supervision of another person or at a designated facility. Tennessee law allows for supervised visitation under certain circumstances, such as a domestic-violence or foster-care situation, or incarceration of the child's mother. Tennessee court orders for supervised visitation aim to further parents' visitation rights while keeping their children's safety as the state's foremost priority.

Supervised Visitation in Divorce and Other Court Orders

Married parents receive a custody and visitation plan as part of their divorce decree. Unmarried parents obtain a custody and visitation plan through the Tennessee juvenile courts in paternity cases. If the court has safety concerns regarding the child, Tennessee law allows the court to order supervised visitation. When a non-custodial parent receives supervised visitation, the order preserves a non-custodial parent's right to visitation according to Tennessee Code section 36-6-301, but also prioritizes the safety and well-being of the child. However, if the court believes that the child's physical or emotional health requires no visitation at all, even if supervised, Tennessee law allows the court to supersede the non-custodial parent's visitation rights.

Orders of Protection

Tennessee law allows individuals to obtain orders of protection from one of three types of state courts when they fear for their safety in domestic-violence situations. The appropriate type of court depends on the marital status of the applicant and whether the applicant has children with the alleged abuser. While an order of protection may include provisions for temporary custody or temporary visitation, a concerned parent should also seek a long-term custody and visitation order. Parents can ask for supervised visitation through a paternity case with the Tennessee juvenile courts or a divorce case with the Tennessee circuit courts. The parent who obtained the order of protection should request supervised visitation for the children's safety and provide the court with information regarding the existing protective order.

Juvenile Dependency Cases

The Tennessee Department of Children's Services, the state's child-welfare agency, takes children into the foster care system when the children need protection from abuse, neglect and other safety concerns. Parents generally have a right to visit children currently placed in foster care, unless a Tennessee court has issued an order to limit or prohibit visitation. DCS identifies circumstances under which parents must have supervised visitation rather than unsupervised visitation. For example, if the agency or a Tennessee court has made a finding of severe abuse involving the child, or the agency has started to investigate allegations of severe abuse, the parents may need to have supervised visitation to ensure the child's safety.

Mothers in Prison

The Tennessee Department of Corrections offers supervised visitation for some mothers through its Tennessee Prison for Women program. The program allows children to stay overnight with their mothers in designated prison facilities, under prison supervision, to encourage a parent-child relationship. However, women inmates do not have a guaranteed right to participate in the program. Women must meet the program criteria in order to have child-visitation privileges with infants and toddlers -- to qualify, they must show classification at a custody level of medium or lower and a lack of recent disciplinary infractions. The required period free from disciplinary history depends on the type of infraction. If the mother does not appropriately supervise or interact with her child during the visits, she may lose her right to visitation.