Divorce isn’t easy, but technology is making one aspect of divorce a little less difficult for parents and kids.
Our Indiana child support lawyers have learned about virtual visitation, which is a relatively new development in child custody and visitation law. It’s altering the way non-custodial parents communicate with their children.
It’s child visitation that lets parents include technology – Skype, email, video mail, video conferencing, and instant messaging – as part of a child custody order or visitation agreement.
IS VIRTUAL VISITATION RIGHT FOR YOU AND YOUR CHILD?
The request to use virtual visitation technology is typically made by a non-custodial parent when either parent is relocating and thus making regular physical visitations impractical.
Virtual visitation – sometimes called “electronic” or “internet visitation,” has unexpectedly boomed in the 21st century, and it’s a growing aspect of family law.
Studies have shown that face-to-face communication increases the sense of bonding – and particularly for younger children – more effectively than audio-only telephone calls.
WHAT STATES HAVE VIRTUAL VISITATION LAWS?
Utah was the first state to order virtual visitation when a divorced father asked a judge to order “visitations” with his son through Skype. The Utah case generated a surge of requests for virtual visitation.
Utah, Texas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida, and North Carolina now allow courts to order virtual visitation in cases where it’s appropriate.
A number of other states, including Indiana, are now considering virtual visitation legislation.
But even without laws on the books, judges will consider proposals for virtual visitation if virtual visitation is in the best interests of the child.
In many of the states that do not have specific virtual visitation legislation, family courts have already approved the use of technology to enhance parental visitation privileges.
WHAT DO VIRTUAL VISITATION LAWS REQUIRE?
Virtual visitation is intended to supplement rather than replace traditional visitation time. In the states that have virtual visitation laws, those laws require parents to:
1. allow and facilitate virtual visitation
2. make virtual visitation reasonably available
3. permit uncensored and private communication with the child
Any time a child is involved in a legal matter in Indiana, any court ruling must be consistent with the best interests of the child.
WHAT DO COURTS CONSIDER WHEN VIRTUAL VISITATION IS REQUESTED?
Thus, Indiana courts will consider the best interests of the child in determining whether to allow parent-child virtual visitations.
An Indiana court probably will not approve virtual visitation if regular visitation would not have been granted in the same case.
As you might imagine, virtual visitation has advantages and disadvantages for everyone involved. However, most observers are saying that the benefits are far-reaching and easily outweigh the drawbacks.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF VIRTUAL VISITATION?
Virtual visitation may benefit a parent-child relationship in a number of ways. Here are some examples:
1. helping a child with homework
2. reading a story to a child at bedtime
3. seeing subtle facial expressions on one another’s faces
4. the ability to see the child in Little League games, school plays, and other events
CAN VIRTUAL VISITATION BE MISUSED?
As for the disadvantages of virtual visitation, some observers worry that it may become a substitute – rather than an enhancement – for physical, in-person visitations.
Some observers also believe that virtual visitation makes it easier for a custodial parent to move away and thus obstruct the child’s direct relationship with the non-custodial parent.
Whether you’re for it or against it, the fact is that virtual visitation is changing old presumptions about child custody and visitation.
Virtual visitation allows non-custodial parents to participate more fully in a child’s life, but it should never be used by a parent to replace face-to-face time with his or her child.
HOW CAN A FAMILY LAWYER HELP?
It’s quite rare in Indiana for a non-custodial parent to be denied reasonable visitation opportunities. However, visitation disputes sometimes emerge that must be resolved by a court.
If you are divorced, divorcing, or anticipating a divorce in Indiana, or if you never married your child’s other parent, and if your right to visit your child is a concern, speak promptly to an experienced Lake County family law attorney.
If the court has approved your visitation privileges, but your child’s other parent is obstructing or preventing those visits, a good family lawyer can help.
You may at some point need to have the visitation arrangement or order changed or “modified,” and a good family lawyer can request that modification from the court on your behalf.
CAN A PARENT BE DENIED ALL TYPES OF VISITATIONS?
An Indiana court will deny all visitation rights to a non-custodial parent only in the rarest situations.
Unless a parent has a record of domestic or sexual abuse or substance abuse, Indiana courts will almost always allow some type of visitation, although in some cases the visits must be supervised.
But if you’ve been convicted of a drug crime or a crime of violence, you may have a tough time obtaining any visitation privileges – even for virtual or supervised visitations.
HOW DOES VIRTUAL VISITATION WORK?
Indiana courts also encourage parents to make their own visitation arrangements, except when irreconcilable differences compel the court to consider visitation and issue visitation orders.
When a court orders virtual visitation, the custodial parent is required to provide the contact information. Both parents must respect the other’s privacy rights and may not interfere during a virtual visitation.
Parents usually notify each other to designate a time slot for a virtual visitation. When parents cannot agree, the court will set a virtual visitation schedule.
IN A VISITATION DISPUTE, HOW CAN YOU MOVE FORWARD?
Especially if you are – or if you become – a “long-distance” parent, virtual visitation may be just the answer for you.
In Indiana, if you are divorcing or anticipating a divorce, or if you are having a dispute with your child’s other parent regarding visitation, let an experienced Lake County family law attorney help.
Your attorney will be able to explain how virtual visitation might work in your own case, and your attorney will help you create a virtual visitation schedule that works for all parties and receives the court’s approval.
Technology bridges many gaps. We live in an age where distance from your child doesn’t necessarily mean separation from your child.
Of course, nothing is as good as the genuine, quality time a parent spends face-to-face with his or her children. But if you are a parent, knowing that virtual visitation is an option can bring real peace of mind.
Nothing is more important than your child and your relationship with that child. And as you know, kids grow up fast.
Get the legal help you need as quickly as you can if you are seeking virtual visitation rights or if you need to learn more about virtual visitation.