In the often-complicated realm of child custody issues, technology has been able to offer some solace to both parents and youngsters through the telephone. As the world becomes increasingly digital, it’s no surprise this process would follow suit: Virtual visitations are one of the latest ways parents and their children are staying connected after divorce through video chat programs like FaceTime and Skype.
“The most important development that we’ve seen with these phone calls is Skype,” says Barbara Behrens of Behrens Law Firm. “When the children are young, they don’t really get that it’s their dad or their mom on the other end of the line. They are often on the phone for only five minutes. Skype has really changed that.”
According to Margo Green, of Green Cordonnier & House, virtual visitations are sometimes court-ordered, while “other times, the parties consent to it because it is a very important tool for the child and the parent.” However, this consent doesn’t mean legal orders wouldn’t be beneficial. “I would like to see judges utilize it more frequently when there are relocation cases,” Green says. “In years past, we didn’t have this tool for the out-of-state parent to maintain continuing contact with the children—not that it ever would take the place of a face-to-face visit, but it certainly can improve the communication for the out-of-state parent and their children.”
Similarly, attorney Penny Robinson of Zerman Mogerman says she has seen parental, non-legal agreements designed to let the child ‘virtually visit’ whichever parent he or she is not currently staying with. Should ordered options be preferred, she recommends coming in with a plan. “If you’re going to ask the court for ordered virtual visitation, you’d want to identify the type—Skype, FaceTime—and when it would occur, as well as which of the parents would be responsible for initiating it,” Robinson advises.
Problems can surface when this virtual reality is viewed as adequate-enough contact to grant relocation. In 2009, The Australian reported a multitude of continental relocation cases in which rulings were similar to or stated that there is “no reason why the children cannot maintain contact with the other parent via telephone, Skype and email.” This type of problem is not what Behrens has seen in her experience. “I’m all for virtual visitation, as are all of the judges I’ve been in front of,” she says. “There initially was some concern that a relocating parent would argue that a virtual visitation was so good that it would make up for physical visitation—it has thankfully been rejected.”
The importance of face-to-face contact is echoed by all three attorneys, all describing—in one form or another—virtual visitation as a beneficial supplement. “Virtual visitation is a good tool, just like the telephone was, but it could never be a substitute for regular contact,” Robinson stresses. “It’s hard to kiss your child or tuck them in virtually.”