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How technology is changing child visitation

In an age where communication is increasingly done through instant messaging, email and social media, it is no surprise that child visitation may also be moving into the virtual realm. So-called virtual visitation is defined as any form of child visitation that makes use of an electronic medium such as a phone, email, webcam or social media site. A handful of states have enacted laws pertaining to virtual visitation, and ccourts in other states including California are beginning to take notice.

It is important to understand the potential benefits and drawbacks of virtual visitation. On the positive side, it creates a new level of flexibility for contact between a noncustodial parent and a child. If face-to-face communication is not possible due to schedule conflicts or distance, then virtual visitation may increase the frequency. It may also allow for more spontaneous, short-term communication such as reading the child a bedtime story or helping with homework. This broader range of possibilities is quite often in the child's best interest.

The downside is if a parent uses virtual visitation as a replacement for in-person togetherness. Virtual visits, especially with younger children, are not equal to direct, face-to-face contact. Custodial parents may also see virtual visitation as a way out of scheduling real visits or as an excuse to move farther away from the non-custodial parent. Some may use virtual visitation as a way to move the child farther distances than would be allowed by a standard custody arrangement.

Including provisions for virtual visitation may be a way to make a parenting better for everyone. It is important for the wording of these agreements to be chosen carefully and precisely to ensure they are not used to prevent or supplant face-to-face visits, which will likely not be approved by the court. An attorney can help with discussing the possibilities of virtual communication and including them in a new agreement.

Source: FindLaw, "Virtual Visitation", accessed on Jan. 29, 2015

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