Virtual Visitation: Technology Hits Home

Lee Rosen of the Rosen Law Firm in North Carolina has written the following article, published by WRAL (on Lee’s Blog and Website, you can also find a video on this subject and a PDF copy of the article can be found here):

Dreamstime_2317330 What Is ‘Virtual Visitation’?

“Virtual visitation,” also called Internet visitation or computer visitation, is a way for parents to have “face time” with their children via electronic means. The various methods that parents can use for virtual visitation are personal video conference, Web cam, and video phone. Think Jane Jetson talking to Elroy. The intent is to enhance and supplement other communication time (face-to-face and telephone) between parents and children.

Other methods of electronic communication that some consider virtual visitation include e-mail, chatting in a private chat room, instant messaging, and interactive game playing by a parent and child from remote computers, but these methods do not provide the critical “face-to-face” communication that advocates of virtual visitation champion.

Most reported cases concerning virtual visitation have addressed how non-custodial, divorced parents can communicate with their children. This is, of course, not the only application of virtual visitation. Any parent who is away from a child while traveling on business or vacation, in the military, or in a correctional facility can and should take advantage of this new technology.

Grandparents and other relatives can also use virtual visitation to share time with their loved ones.

Virtual visitation is not and should not be regarded as a replacement or substitute for personal contact between a parent and child, however. Its availability should never be justification for the relocation of the custodial parent. It is merely a factor the court can consider when determining how the parent-child relationship will be affected by custodial parent relocation.

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Think outside the box for parent-child communications

As our society becomes ever more mobile, parents can have a tough time when it comes to staying abreast of their children’s daily lives. While these solutions are pretty ‘Version 1.0? for today’s teens, they can work great for parents. (When did teenagers stop using email?)

  • Basecamp (http://www.basecamphq.com/) is an online project-management system. Although designed for businesses, it’s a great way for parents and kids to communicate, share pictures, schedules, and more. If you can keep all of your stuff within one project, you can’t beat the price: free.
  • Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/) is the well-known online photo-hosting service. Remember, parents, it doesn’t have to be only pictures of your kids’ activities. Take pictures of your own activities to share them with your kids. Again, you can’t beat the price: free.
  • Live Journal (http://www.livejournal.com/) is an online journaling system, and you can set it up so that entries are visible to anyone, just your friends, or only you. Not only can this service give you a place to write down your thoughts (just remember to set those to private!), but you can compose messages to your kids and engage in dialog with them. Once again, it’s free.
  • Campfire (http://www.campfirenow.com/) is an online instant-messaging system that works via the Web, so no worries about who has Yahoo!, MS Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, and so on. As long as the total number of chatters is four or fewer, it’s (surprise!) free.

While nothing is better than in-person communications, followed closely by a telephone call, the advantage of these options (except for Campfire) is that you can do them while your kids aren’t available by phone (in school, sleeping, etc.). When your kids get  home or wake up, they can check to see what you’ve left for them.

These options are not the only ones out there, and may not even be the best options. Hopefully they will inspire you to find more ways to keep in touch with your kids, even if they just live across town.

Sources for Post: Indiana Family Law and Divorce Help Network

Virtual Visitation

Thanks to Dan Nunley at the  Oklahoma Family Law Blog for his post on Virtual Visitation:

Divorce put David List and his 2-year-old daughter on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and he worried that she would soon forget him.

She hasn’t, though. List’s divorce agreement guaranteed him "virtual visitation" – the chance to talk with his daughter through an Internet video connection – and he and Ruby Rose, now 5, usually connect at least twice a week. The chats sustain them in between their in-person visits, which come only a few times a year.

"When she gets off the plane, I know what she had for dinner last night," said List, 49, of Santa Cruz, Calif. "She’ll run right up to me and jump in my arms because I know exactly what she’s all about."

Advocates of virtual visitation want states to spell out in their laws that judges can make it part of a divorce agreement. The benefits go beyond helping parents and children stay close, supporters argue. They say noncustodial parents are more likely to pay child support regularly if they can stay in touch, and electronic visits can help keep children from getting caught up in fights when bickering exes meet in person.

Utah made virtual visitation an official option in 2004, and similar legislation awaits the governor’s signature in Wisconsin. Illinois, Missouri and Virginia lawmakers have introduced proposals, too. "A telephone can only go so far," said Republican state Rep. Ruth Munson of Illinois.

The idea has its critics, though, who fear judges might use the option of virtual visitation as justification for ordering fewer real visits with children or letting one parent move away with the children. "Real parents need real time. Real kids need real time," said David L. Levy, director of the Children’s Rights Council. "It can be a wonderful accessory, but the danger is that it will be used as a substitute for real visitation."

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Virtual Visitation: Webcams and Weekly Visits

Proponents of the Web cam option seek to get it included in custody agreements and in state custody laws.

But not everyone is ready for it.

Instead of counting the months until she would see her son each summer, Carrie Hammond needed only count the hours until Kegan’s face would light up her computer screen. Though Kegan, 6, was in Tennessee with his father, and Hammond, 27, lived in San Marcos, the two were participating in virtual visitation as part of the family’s child-custody agreement by making video calls via Web cameras. "It’s been instrumental in keeping the relationship strong," Hammond said, recalling their hours-long, twice-weekly Web cam sessions.

Recently, Kegan chose to move in with Hammond, a decision she attributes to the emotional closeness the Web cams afforded them for four years.

Virtual visitation is becoming a popular way to incorporate the potential of modern technology into the lives of parents and children separated by divorce and distance. Utah, Wisconsin and most recently, Missouri, have made virtual visitation state law, and several other state legislatures, including those in California and Ohio, are considering making it a formal supplement to physical custody arrangements.

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