Virtual Visitation: a Sensible Child Custody Option?

When a couple with children divorces, it is best for the children if both parents are actively involved in their lives. Unfortunately for the non-custodial parent, events occur that cause separation between themselves and their children. Although the non-custodial parent tries to be there for his children, situations, such as a new job or marriage to a new spouse, occur and they cannot physically be in the same town or even state as his or her children.

The National Center for State Courts estimates that 18 million children have separated or divorced parents, and the parents of another 17 million children have never been married. One out of four of these children have a parent living in a different city. According to research, 75 percent of single mothers will relocate four years after divorcing, and half that number will relocate again. Approximately ten million children do not have regular face-to-face interaction with one of their parents.

Thanks to modern technology, parents can stay in touch with their children. A few tools to communicate with children are phone texting, email, Facebook, and video hookups with webcams. All of these “virtual visitation” tools, assist in making distance parenting much easier. The term, “Virtual Visitation,” is even being used in family courts to refer to the right of a non-custodial parent to have electronic communication with his or her children.

Utah enacted one of the first electronic visitation laws, and Illinois was the most recent state where virtual visitation became a law in 2010. Six states have laws covering virtual or electronic visitation rights, with effort underway in twenty-two more states. Advocates for virtual visitation say that it does provide a way to strengthen the bond between parents and children, but is not meant to replace the face-to-face contact, but just to supplement it between holidays and summer breaks.

Critics say the law gives some non-custodial parents an excuse to move away, using the promise of virtual visitation to receive approval from the court to relocate. There are cases, too, where virtual visitation has been used to spy on one parent with the non-custodial parent asking children to open closets or walk around the house so he or she can see if the custodial parent has a new significant other.

No matter whether you are for or against virtual visitation, it is here to stay and it does give parents the option to communicate and “virtually visit” with their children no matter how far apart from each other they may be.