Virtual Visitation – Co-parenting in the Cyber Age

Technology’s rapid advancement of e-communication continues to improve the speed and variety of ways we can keep connected via telephone and the web. This technology has impacted family law as well, with many parents now utilizing cyber technology to stay more connected with their children, especially in situations where distance is a factor. More states and family courts now acknowledge “virtual visitation” as a means for parents to interact with their children through the use of technology. “Virtual visitation,” (also referred to as “e-visitation”) is the common term to reference various forms of internet technology such as video-enabled phone applications (i.e. Skype) as well as video phones, social media, email and text messaging.

The concepts of virtual visitation have appeared in several family law cases, dating back to 2001. However, Utah was the first state to adopt virtual visitation laws following a court order in a case where a divorced father of a then-four-year-old asked the judge to require his ex-wife to allow him to use Skype to maintain contact with his son.

The Utah legislation prompted a surge in requests for virtual visitation. Non-custodial parents relayed their own experiences that interactions with their children via phone were often limited and short. In contrast, reports have shown that video calls via the internet last as much as 3 times longer than telephone calls. This information has led to advocacy for legislation and permitting virtual visitation is becoming a growing trend. Since 2004, 6 more states have adopted legislation, and while none exists in Indiana, a pre-draft bill has been proposed and is awaiting legislative support.

Even without legislation, many judges consider proposals for virtual visitation by determining whether this type of contact is in the best interests of the child. Virtual visitation can be used to encourage increased contact between a non-custodial parent and the child, and the face-to-face interaction improves bonding in comparison to traditional telephonic contact, especially with younger children who have limited verbal skills. However, parents should remember that virtual visitation is not a substitute for in-person parenting time; the internet simply provides some extra tools, to be used carefully. If you have a parenting time or other family law issue and need legal advice, contact Harden Jackson Law at 317-569-0770 to schedule a consultation.

The above is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult with an attorney to discuss details of your particular situation.