"Virtual visitation," as the term implies, is a form of child visitation that requires the use of technology to keep in contact with a child. This type of visitation may include email, video conferencing, video mail, and instant messaging, but typically is detailed as part of a parenting agreement or child custody order.
Requests for virtual visitation are generally made by the non-custodial parent in situations where the custodial parent seeks to relocate or move out of the area with a child -- thereby interfering with existing parental visitation rights. Requests for such arrangements also may apply to new child custody and visitation requests, including child custody and visitation in non-divorce cases and visitation requests by unmarried fathers.
Read on to learn more about how the law can accommodate alternatives to in-person visitation.
Virtual Visitation Laws
"Internet visitation" or "electronic visitation" is still relatively new, but growing in popularity as video calling becomes the norm. Several states, including Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Carolina, and Florida, have enacted laws allowing courts to order online or electronic visitation in custody matters. Legislatures in many other states are currently considering passing such laws.
Virtual visitation may also be an option in many states which don't yet have specific laws on the books. In many states such as New York, which have not passed specific legislation, family courts have ruled in favor of using technology to extend parental visitation rights.
Virtual visitation laws are meant to supplement, not replace, traditional in-person parent-time. These laws generally require each parent to:
- Permit and encourage virtual visits;
- Make them reasonably available; and
- Allow uncensored communication with the child.
Although the telephone is still the easiest and quickest way to communicate, the more technologically advanced ways to engage in virtual visits may include standard electronic communication tools (such as email and instant messaging), webcams, video conferencing, private document sites, social media sites (such as Facebook. Twitter, and Snaptchat), and photo-sharing sites (such as Shutterfly, Picasa, and Kodak Gallery).
Like other child visitation arrangements, courts will consider the best interests of the child in determining whether to allow parent-child virtual visitation. In addition, because it's so similar to traditional visitation, a court will not likely afford virtual visitation if regular visitation would not have been granted.
There are both benefits and drawbacks to such arrangements. Because of the growing number of divorced parents sharing custody of their children, virtual visitation provides potentially far-reaching benefits to enrich the parent-child relationship. Not only can parents become more involved in their children's lives, despite the distance, parents and children may arguably become better people.
Some of the examples of how this may be used to benefit the parent-child relationship include:
- Reading a child a bedtime story;
- Helping with homework or a special project;
- Seeing subtle facial expressions of a parent or child, such as a smile or frown;
- A child showing a parent missing teeth, an award, or other special accomplishment;
- Connecting on social media sites as a way to talk about day-to-day occurrences; and possibly,
- Witnessing sporting events, piano recitals, and other events live as they are happening.
On the other hand, while instant messaging and other forms of electronic communication may be beneficial in those cases where the non-custodial parent is physically absent, some believe that virtual visitation may be viewed as a replacement, and not supplement, for regular in-person child visits. In addition, some fear that judges may be improperly influenced by parents seeking to move away from the ex-spouse in situations that would not otherwise warrant child custody relocation.
Questions About Virtual Visitation? Talk to an Attorney
Technology can help to bridge many gaps, including those between a child and a non-custodial parent. Although nothing is as good as seeing a child in-person, virtual visitation offers the next best thing and is recognized and utilized by many states for both non-custodial parents and even grandparents. You can find out about virtual visitation and other aspects of child custody in your state by speaking with a child custody lawyer near you.