While parents want to visit their children in person sometimes that’s not always possible. According to the National Center for State Courts, nearly 35 million children in the United States have unmarried parents. About a quarter of these children have parents that live in different cities. This is why virtual parent/child visitation can be helpful. Virtual visitation uses technology to help parents and children connect when they can’t face-to-face. We’re going to take a look at cases where virtual visitation may be requested as well as some of the benefits that can come along with it.
Requesting Virtual Visitation
Virtual visitation refers to child visitation that requires the use of technology. A request for virtual visitation can be made by the non-custodial parent in cases where the custodial parent is moving, and in-person regular visits are not possible anymore through the original custody agreement. Virtual visitation can also be requested by unmarried parents and in non-divorce cases.
Since virtual visitation is relatively new, not all states have laws pertaining to it. Several states such as North Carolina, Florida, and Texas do. As of this writing, California does not have virtual visitation laws on the books. Although there may not be laws pertaining to this type of visitation, it is often still allowed to extend parental visitation rights. It’s important to understand that virtual visitation is meant to supplement in-person visitation, when possible, not replace it.
When is Virtual Visitation Allowed?
As with any other matter concerning children, the court will consider the best interests of the child when deciding if virtual visitation should be allowed. If a non-custodial parent did not have regular visitation, it is highly unlikely that a judge will grant virtual visitation. Typically, a judge will allow virtual visitation under the following circumstances:
- When it does not interfere with the child’s routine negatively and is in their best interest.
- When the child and parent live far away and virtual visitation is convenient and may reduce travel costs.
- If a parent and child need more frequent contact.
Since each situation is different, virtual visitation will be granted on a case-by-case basis.
Forms of Virtual Visitation
Different forms of communication can be considered virtual visitation. Here are a few that parents and children can use:
Online Video Chat
This is perhaps the most popular as children and parents can use FaceTime, Skype, Facebook Video, and more to communicate. This allows parents and children to see one another and talk.
For older children, this can be a private way to communicate, if the child is the only one who has access to the account.
Live chat platforms can also allow parents and children to communicate more easily instead of going through Skype or other video chat models.
Phone calls and text messaging can also help parents and children stay in touch, but since there is no visual element, that crucial visitation element is missing. For that reason, these types of communication may not feel like visitation.
Benefits of Virtual Visitation
When virtual visitation is granted and is in the best interest of the child, both the child and parent can benefit. Besides being able to see each other rather than just speaking over the phone, virtual visitation can also be a way for a parent to see a sporting event or other activity their child is taking part in. A parent can also read a bedtime story to a smaller child or help with a school project. These are all things that would be done in person if possible. While it’s not the same as being there face-to-face, it is a beneficial way for parents and children to connect.
While virtual visitation can have its benefits, it can also have drawbacks if one parent is trying to use it as a replacement for in-person visits. If a parent is physically absent and relies on virtual visitation instead of making the effort to see their child in person, that may not be in the best interest of the parent-child relationship. This is why judges often stress that virtual visitation is only a supplement to regular visitation.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to virtual visitation, a judge will determine if it is in the best interest of the child. Not all states have virtual visitation laws on the books, but many will still allow it if the situation warrants it. If it does, it should never replace in-person visits when possible.