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Negotiating contact with the resident parent

Information about mediation or other form of dispute resolution with the parent who has residence of the child.

Prison visits

It may be possible for a prisoner to make arrangements for face-to-face contact with their children. Provided that the other parent is willing to encourage and facilitate this contact, and there are no restrictions placed on the visits by the prison management, children are able to visit parents in prison. Visits are usually restricted for a period if a prisoner has been charged with committing an offence while they are in prison. Children under 16 have to be accompanied by an adult unless prison management makes an exception.

There are different kinds of visits to prisons that family and friends can take part in with a prisoner. Visits can be contact, non-contact or residential visits. Prisoners who are not eligible for a contact visit are offered at least one 30-minute non-contact visit each week.

See:

Factors to be considered

Whether visits can happen will depend on:

  • any family law courts orders
  • the nature of the relationship between the prisoner and the children
  • the offences that the prisoner has committed
  • the distance that has to be travelled
  • the willingness of the other parent (or trusted adult) to bring the children to prison, and
  • any restrictions imposed by the prison or other government authorities.

See How a judge decides.

Contact visits

Prisoners may be able to have contact visits with family members, including children, provided that the prison General Manager is satisfied that adequate supervision can be provided. Visitors will be searched before and after their visit.

If a prisoner has been charged with (or found guilty of) a prison offence that was committed on a contact visit, they will not be able to participate in the contact visits program for about 3 weeks.

If a prisoner has been found guilty of a prison offence that involves introducing drugs into the prison, they may not be able to have contact visits for the remainder of their sentence. In exceptional circumstances this may be reviewed after this restriction has been in place for 12 months.

Other prison offences related to drugs and alcohol will also mean that the prisoner cannot have contact visits for some time.

See 2.0 and Schedule 3.04(2) in DCI 3.04 Visits—Personal, professional, Adult Parole Board in Deputy Commissioner's Instructions.

Restricted access prisoners

A restricted access prisoner is a prisoner who has been charged with, convicted of, or has had prior convictions for:

  • an offence involving physical or sexual abuse against children, including pornography offences
  • sex offences against an adult, where the offender has at least 2 separate prior convictions for sexual offences
  • an offence involving physical or sexual assault of a vulnerable victim over 15 years-old
  • current offences for breach of a family violence intervention orders, or
  • a person who the general manager reasonably believes may be a risk to children.

Where a person is identified as a restricted access prisoner, they will be ineligible to receive contact visits from children unless visits have been approved by the General Manager in consultation with the Sex Offender Program or the Offending Behaviour Programs. Generally, restricted access prisoners are required to participate in offence specific programs, such as a sex offender program, or violent behaviour program before they are likely to be deemed suitable to take part in a parenting program or to be permitted to have visits from children.

See 3.3 in DCI 3.04 Visits—Personal, professional, Adult Parole Board in Deputy Commissioner's Instructions.

Residential visits for prisoners with children

These prison visits, often called category one visits, are designed to maintain family relationships between the prisoner and their families. The focus is on developing positive parenting relationships with their children and developing a complementary parenting style with their partner, or the person who has responsibility for supervising the children. These visits are designed to re-establish family relationships and to strengthen the support structures before the prisoner is released. The visits allow parents to address relationship issues and changes to family dynamics to minimise problems for the prisoner reintegrating into their family when they are released.

Residential visits are held in a private setting, but prison staff may enter unannounced to check on the well-being of participants.

To be eligible for these visits, the prisoner must have served at least 6 months of their sentence and there must have been regular contact visits with the child during this time.

The visits will initially last for between 3 and 8 hours. The length of time will depend on assessments and recommendations from the prisoner's caseworker. The maximum time that a residential visit can last is 24 hours.

These visits cannot happen more than once every 8 weeks.

The prisoner's caseworker can organise these visits for eligible prisoners.

See 3.5.1 in Deputy Commissioner's Instruction 'Visits' 3.04 in Deputy Commissioner's Instructions.

Dispute resolution with the other parent

In most cases where a prisoner has a dispute over their contact with a child the prisoner will need to attempt family dispute resolution before applying to court. For example, a prisoner might need to attempt mediation if the other parent has refused to communicate or is not responsive to correspondence. When applying to court for parenting orders the applicant will need to file a s. 60I Family dispute resolution certificate, signed by a family dispute resolution practitioner, to say that the parties have attempted mediation or that it was not appropriate.

See Family dispute resolution certificate.

Try to sort it out first

Before trying dispute resolution, the prisoner or their lawyer can invite the other parent to try to negotiate an out-of-court settlement of their parenting dispute.

The prisoner should attempt to do this before they begin proceedings through a Family dispute resolution conference, Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service (VLAFDRS) or any other organisation providing a similar service.

At FDRS the prisoner will first have to participate in a telephone interview to decide whether the matter is suitable for a conference. The conference will be conducted by video or teleconference. The conference will either take place as a shuttle conference, where the chairperson (mediator) has discussions with each party separately, or at a joint conference where both parties have discussions with the chairperson at the same time.

Assistance the prisoner will need

If the other party is still unwilling to allow some kind of contact with the child, the prisoner will need to apply for a grant of legal assistance to bring an application in the family law courts for parenting orders.

To access the relevant Guidelines see VLA help.

Outcome of dispute resolution

Although parties are expected to make a genuine effort to resolve their dispute, participation in family dispute resolution is voluntary. However, the court may take into account any lack of co-operation when they are deciding on what parenting orders are in the child's best interests.

Depending on whether the parties participate and make reasonable attempts to resolve the dispute, a family dispute resolution practitioner will issue a certificate under s. 60I of the Family Law Act 1975. If the prisoner later decides to proceed with the application to court, then a copy of the certificate will need to be filed in court together with the Initiating Application form and affidavits.

Note: The prisoner should be referred to a Victoria Legal Aid or other family lawyer for advice in relation to commencing proceedings before the Family Law Courts.

See Forms.

How to find the other parent

If the other parent has disappeared the prisoner can apply for a location order.

See Locating the child or other parent.

More information

Legislation

Corrections Act 1986 (Vic)

  • s. 37—visits by family and friends
  • s. 38—contact visiting and residential visiting

See Corrections Act 1986 (Vic).

References

Family Relationships Online

This site has information about family relationship issues. It provides a free family relationship information line and has information about government funded family relationship centres and other information to support parents and other family members, whether they have separated or not.
Parties will need to call and make a booking.

See Family Relationships Online—Alternatives to court(opens in a new window).

This organisation can also give advice by phone.

For details go to the website homepage at Family Relationships Online(opens in a new window).

Federal Circuit and Family Court

The court has some prescribed brochures for people who want to sort out parenting disputes.

See:

Or go to the website homepage at Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia(opens in a new window).(opens in a new window)

Department of Justice and Community Safety

The department provides a YouTube clip with information for people who are visiting a person in prison.

See Department of Justice and Community Safety—Visiting a prisoner(opens in a new window).

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