Family law questions, you are not my friend's lawyer
September 18, 2015 5:20 PM   Subscribe

So, my best friend divorced her husband when she discovered that he was a child molester. Subsequent to the divorce, he has been convicted, added to the sex offender database and is forbidden from unsupervised contact with kids. She and he have a young child. Visitation has been at a court mandated facility, for which he bears the cost. Today she called and said her attorney told her to pull together a list of friends who would be willing to supervise the visitation. Wtf?

She called to ask if I would be willing to volunteer to supervise visitation every other week, for years, I guess. This would be difficult for me, as I have kids in the forbidden range, so I'd have to kick my own kids out every other week, or my husband would have to take them somewhere, leaving me alone with a large man that frightens me.

I have no training in supervising sex offenders, I have no training in play therapy, and I could not physically stop this man if he decided to take his kid and leave. I don't want to have to say no to my friend, because she's struggling so hard as a single mom with a blue collar job getting no child support because the ex was a teacher, and so now doesn't have income.

Why would the court ask the mother to find supervisors, and why should her friends and family bear the burden of his crimes? Is she misunderstanding her attorney, or is this common practice? All of her friends have kids, what happens if she can't pull together someone willing to volunteer more than half their weekends for the next 15 years?

If I did agree, what sort of liability am I getting myself into? I know you are not my lawyer, but anyone with experience in this, your perspective would be really valuable to me.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet to Law & Government (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I totally understand that you want to be a good friend, but you clearly really don't want to do this, and I don't think you should consider yourself in any way obligated to do it. Tell your friend that you care about her and will help her in any way possible, but you can't do this. That's all.

My hunch would be that the ex can't afford to pay for someone to supervise, and everyone is looking for alternatives. Your friend may want for her kid to continue having supervised visits with the ex, and that may only be possible if they can find someone who can supervise without being compensated. But you can't do it, so they'll have to find someone else.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:27 PM on September 18, 2015 [16 favorites]

Broadly speaking, U.S. family courts order supervised visitation in a variety of contexts which range from therapy-supervised visitation to family-supervised visitation to informal promises that one person will not be permitted to be alone with a given minor child (not even necessarily a parent--sometimes parenting agreement include clauses like "Alcoholic Aunt Audie can't be alone with the kids"). The accommodation you are describing is not, in my experience, uncommon nor necessarily risky. Awkward, weird, sad. But not unusual, even with parents with a history of neglect, abuse or other significant problems. People in rehabilitation for crimes are rarely fiends who need to under armed guard all the time--they are often just people with serious problems who need checks around them unless and until they can demonstrate better.

That said, you are absolutely within your rights to tell your friend this is not a thing you are comfortable doing if you're not comfortable with the idea. It sounds like you're not and that's absolutely okay.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:38 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think it's on its face inappropriate for her to ask you to host these visits when your own children are in the forbidden range. He probably asked the court/her to try to find a way to do it that wouldn't cost him money, and she wanted to accommodate, but obviously you are not the right person to ask. Just tell her your home won't work. It's kind of a no brainer.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:12 PM on September 18, 2015 [7 favorites]

Your friend is in an awful situation and I commend her for wanting to help her child have a relationship with their dad, in spite of all that has happened and the trauma that must have caused her and her child.

But what an awful situation for you. It's unclear to me if there is a specific age risk category. I know of (but don't know) someone whose husband was convicted, but he's considered only at risk with very vulnerable girls in their mid teens. I don't know what the situation is in this case or whether your children are outside the range.

In any case, I can see how you would be uncomfortable and I don't think there is anything wrong with saying no. You can have compassion for your friend and her son and not be the right person. I don't know how things work where you live, but I would have thought a social worker would provide the supervision.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 6:47 PM on September 18, 2015

Response by poster: The molester groomed girls starting at 9 or 10, and had sex with multiple students who were aged 13-16. He is forbidden from being around any children under 18, male or female unless supervised. He even had to move, because he lived too close to a school. Even though the school hid the first 2 cases, which had they been reported to the police, rather than blaming the girls, might have saved the next victims we know about.

My kids, and all of the kids in my neighborhood, most of whom congregate at my house, are between 9 and 13. I cannot imagine any of the other parents would want their kids to come here if they knew we were importing a registered sex offender every other weekend. And really, who could blame them?

And yes, I guess I'm trying to feel ok about saying no, because I know she really needs me to say yes, and I love her and want so much to help her. But I'm terrified of the risks, and not at all sure how I could mitigate the inherent issues. And I'm furious that the court would put this on her, like any of this should be her stress.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 7:10 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wonder if you would feel comfortable supervising access at a location removed from your home. Listen to yourself and to your body. If it doesn't feel right, it's okay to say no. But maybe you could offer to meet them at a driving range, bowling alley or something once a week. Does the local social work office have a space you could use?

I would not be able to do this and it is completely okay if you are not able to do it.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 7:18 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Has she asked what will happen if she is unable to find people willing to do this? Because I really cannot imagine there are a lot of people who just happen to have friends who'd be okay with supervising under these circumstances. What exactly are the consequences here if none of her friends wants to be in the presence of this guy?

And for what it's worth, no matter how much you love her, you are very much in the right to say no here. I hope that she contacts her lawyer again and it turns out there's been a misunderstanding somewhere along the line, but if that's not the case, given what you've said this guy has done, you really do need to protect your kids (and yourself - emotionally/mentally even if you don't think he'd target you physically) first.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:24 PM on September 18, 2015 [9 favorites]

First off no, you're providing more help and support as her friend with a safe house that he's not able to access and a strong support network not broken by the stress of handling this, so saying no isn't letting her down AT ALL. You are making sure she continues to have good access to other equally or possibly even more helpful resources that you can give her. And this access, someone else can give or provide without risking what you in your unique position as her best friend can give her.

What's happened to the court-mandated facility? Why can't she access it? Has her lawyer made it very explicit that this is now legally and financially her responsibility, or is the lawyer just giving her a heads-up on logistics that may be helpful coming her way, and she is (with some basis giving the nightmare stress of her ex) panicking and over-preparing?

If he's refusing to contribute solutions or think of ways to logistically solve this and pushing the hassle onto her, it may be his way of trying to back out of custody visits without taking responsibility for it.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:25 PM on September 18, 2015 [14 favorites]

Why would the court ask the mother to find supervisors, and why should her friends and family bear the burden of his crimes?

This is my question, as well. Maybe she's misinterpreting something. Tell her you can't help with what she has asked you to do, but are happy to help her research better alternatives. I'd start with asking her attorney and the court a lot of specific questions.
posted by trip and a half at 7:31 PM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I think he's claiming that he can't afford to pay, and that somehow makes it the mother's problem. I've asked her to ask the attorney what happens if nobody says they can do it, since it was apparently an order from the judge that she pull a list together.( Again, wtf?)
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 7:32 PM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

It sounds like she's trying very hard to do as (apparently) the judge says: to pull together a list of friends who would be willing to supervise the visitation. That despite all her attempts this list of willing people includes no one is...maybe a message the court needs to hear?
posted by spelunkingplato at 7:48 PM on September 18, 2015 [24 favorites]

I wonder if you would feel comfortable supervising access at a location removed from your home.


I had a situation in which I was subject to supervised visits. They didn't take place at home but rather at a shopping mall. Overall it was much better that the person supervising was a friend as opposed to some kind of court appointed guardian.

The last thing the judge wants is to have a bunch of strangers handling these things which is probably why your friend has been asked to compile this list. The father will likely have to approve your supervision so he may opt not to have you do this. I bet the father has to submit the same kind of list.

Overall I would suggest you do it if you can get over your discomfort and work it into your schedule. Your kids don't need to be present although if they're friends with the child in question it might help. Overall the court is striving for some element of normalcy in this otherwise fucked situation. They need all the help they can get.
posted by lester at 7:59 PM on September 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Is he in treatment? Sex offenders are a different breed when it comes to visit supervision-it is not the same as supervising other fathers. Many treatment programs for sex offenders offer training programs for visit supervisors; this is not typically a casual undertaking. It is completely appropriate-probably best for everyone, really-if you decline, telling her you don't believe you are equipped to do this and you believe it needs a professional. I could go into more details about why you have to be so careful with this, if you want. Is he on parole or probation? His criminal requirements might be able to influence the civil order from the judge-and if the judge is making orders, your friend should talk to her attorney or at least look at the order. Don't take the ex's word for it.
posted by purenitrous at 8:06 PM on September 18, 2015 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't know about treatment. His situation is weird, in that he's on probation, but another case against him is currently in process, so he may be facing the penitentiary, depending on any number of factors.

He has offended enough times, with enough victims that he's not supposed to be at places like malls, or pizza places, or parks, or within a 1000 feet of a school, etc. Finding a safe place for visitation within the strictures of his restrictions would be really difficult, which is why the county supervision place made so much sense.

I was thinking about off site after it was mentioned upstream, and I'm having a really hard time thinking of a place that is kid friendly but with no kids.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:24 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think you're absolutely fine saying no, not in your house. If you want to, you can say you would be willing to supervise at a public place no further than [distance] from your home (let the father identify a location), but if you aren't willing to do that, it's okay too. You could also offer less often -- it can theoretically be cobbled together from multiple people. You do want to help her, but this is a huge request, and she probably knows it but is desperate.
posted by jeather at 8:35 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am all for kids continuing to have relationships with both their parents but in this case if the worst outcome is that child doesn't have as frequent contact with her dad is that the worst thing? I feel bad saying this, but this sounds very difficult.
posted by k8t at 8:44 PM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

If there are several friends involved, is it also a question that someone willing to supervise needs help with baby sitting do they don't have to bring their own kids to this situation? Basically, is there background or support logistics you could provide more readily that would mean someone else in her circle could do the direct supervision she needs?
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:44 PM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

The only place I would consider doing this is the lobby of your local police station.
posted by Scram at 8:55 PM on September 18, 2015 [27 favorites]

This could definitely be one of those things where she's supposed to make a good-faith effort, and she's a good enough person to do that, but that doesn't mean you're being some huge failure as a friend to say no. I wouldn't put forth any superhuman effort here unless she gets absolute confirmation that something awful is going to happen if you don't say yes. Don't feel bad at all for saying no initially to what she absolutely must know is not a reasonable request. You don't need to do a lot of rationalizing it. You're fine. This is how any ordinary decent human being would react. Worry about it later, if at all.
posted by Sequence at 12:06 AM on September 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

Say NO, but also be willing to offer to document to the court that yes, she asked you - and tell them exactly why it's a request that it's absolutely unacceptable for you to comply with.

AKA, it's not her - it's HIM.
posted by stormyteal at 12:26 AM on September 19, 2015 [20 favorites]

Is your friend willing to have you supervise the visit in her house?
posted by GeeEmm at 4:20 AM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is this in the United States? How is this man not in jail? He's raped multiple children. Here is what I found-

No parent, not granted custody of the child, or grandparent, or great-grandparent, or stepparent, or sibling of any minor child, convicted of any offense involving an illegal sex act perpetrated upon a victim less than 18 years of age including but not limited to offenses for violations of Article 12 of the Criminal Code of 1961, is entitled to visitation rights while incarcerated or while on parole, probation, conditional discharge, periodic imprisonment, or mandatory supervised release for that offense, and upon discharge from incarceration for a misdemeanor offense or upon discharge from parole, probation, conditional discharge, periodic imprisonment, or mandatory supervised release for a felony offense, visitation shall be denied until the person successfully completes a treatment program approved by the court.
posted by bkeene12 at 6:04 AM on September 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Your friend needs to start a list of people she has asked and who have turned her down to give to the judge. If she gives him a list of at least ten people who were asked and said no way, then she has something to give him.

The obvious thing to do, IF you want to do this is for the friend's to stay home, you to leave your kids with your partner and for the visitation to take place at her home, in the kid's safe environment. She can absent herself for the duration of the visit if the parents prefer not to meet.

That said, help your friend make a list of people that refused, rather than be the one to step up.

The father needs to find a way to stay in his child's life that does not burden a bunch of other people. He's going to need to work on video chat, long letters with badly drawn illustrations, small loving gifts - not seeing his kid in person. Just like paying for babysitters, asking people to be visitation supervisors means paying them. There are very few people who can and will do it for love. It's not like the world is full of comfortably well off stay at home mothers.

As a parent you spend a lot of your life saying "yes" to unreasonable demands, such as listening to stulifying accounts of a day at elementary school and getting up three times in the middle of the night with a sick kid and cleaning up other people's vomit, so it is not automatic for you to say no when presented with requests that you really can't do, don't want to or will suffer if you do them. You end up entertaining preposterous requests as if they are reasonable.

In this case it is the well-being and mental health of a kid and a kid's mother that you are trying to support. There are plenty of ways for this man to support his kid without having in-person visitation. How does the kid feel about the supervised visits? If the kid is whimperingly anxious to see Daddy it is very different than if the kid shrugs it all off.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:23 AM on September 19, 2015 [10 favorites]

Definitely not in your house.
I think it is fine for you to decline doing it at all.
posted by LoveHam at 7:21 AM on September 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mod note: One comment deleted. OP, I sympathize and it's totally understandable to have the feelings you do about this case and this guy. But for this thread, please limit updates only to info that people strictly need to answer your question.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:50 AM on September 19, 2015

You're a mother & your obligations are first and foremost to your own children. Spending weekend time away from your children so that a child molester has access to his kid does not seem to conducive to the first sentence.
It's okay to say, "Sorry, I really want to help you, but this makes me very uncomfortable and I just can't do it."
That's it.
posted by Neekee at 5:07 PM on September 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have a family member who has worked as a visitation supervisor. I called her to ask about this situation, and this is what she told me:

"It's not appropriate to ask an untrained person to do this work for free. I would counsel this mother not to accept anyone who is untrained; it's very skilled, exhausting, traumatic work. You have to be a tetherball to that parent, because the tiniest window of opportunity can lead to them saying or doing really awful things. But you have to be able to be a silent impartial observer, at the same time. I take copious notes for the entire duration of the visit, in shorthand -- the shorthand part is important because those parents will try anything to read what you're writing. If the father can't pay for a supervisor, then he doesn't get to see his kids; I've been in that position before, where a parent could no longer afford my services and had to give up visitation. But regardless, it's not the mother's job to find a replacement, and she should report back to the court that she asked around but was unable to find anyone qualified and willing to work for free."
posted by KathrynT at 9:17 PM on September 19, 2015 [16 favorites]

My guess is that the mother is terrified of having her kids taken away or having negative consequences - family court can be crazily scary with their mandated shit. But if her attorney is saying that there's no other option but finding her friends to supervise this, then she needs to get a new attorney. She doesn't need to make it easier for her child molesting ex husband to have access to her kid. In fact, probably quite the opposite. If he doesn't get visitation, maybe he shouldn't have molested kids.
posted by corb at 3:15 AM on September 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you (understandably) would not be comfortable doing this regardless of location. Just say no.
posted by emd3737 at 5:21 AM on September 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Please pass on KathrynT's response to your friend.

As you said, she is asking others as well and there is no guarantee that they will stop to consider all that was mentioned on this thread.
posted by Tarumba at 9:52 AM on September 21, 2015

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