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Virtual Visitation: Parenting Time Online

Although parents often bemoan their children’s near-obsession with the latest technology, the younger generation’s fixation might be extremely useful for the parent that doesn’t have primary custody during a separation or divorce.

Due to the prevalence and convenience of technology such as video chatting, instant messaging, and texting, it is easier than ever for a non-custodial parent can stay in touch with their child. Studies have reflected the common sense idea that the more interaction a non-custodial parent has with their child, the easier it is to maintain a strong and healthy relationship. More recent studies, many of which were based on military families with participant parents and children thousands of miles apart, showed that additional virtual visiting or parenting time through technology resulted in stronger and happier relationships between the parties than would have otherwise existed under the same circumstances.


This can have significant implications for a parent whose children are far away. In today’s mobile society, it is not uncommon for a parent to be a resident of New York City while their former spouse and children are in Atlanta or LA. Even parties with the financial means to travel often may find bridging the gap difficult.

However, many video chat programs such as Skype or Oovoo are free, as are many other instant messaging programs. What this means is that a parent can have a face to face conversation with their child outside of the in-person mandated parenting time provided for under an interim or final custody determination. With internet access, a non-custodial parent and their child can have dinner together, even while several hours away from each other. They can use the internet to play online games like scrabble, cards, or chess (or other video games, if the parent in question has the interest and capability). The Mom or Dad in question can help with homework, read a story, or sing a lullaby.

Although like with many other forms of visitation, there is room for an adversarial ex-spouse to interfere, such as by refusing to allow the child online, “hovering” during scheduled sessions, or refusing to download software, the benefits of mandating minimum amounts of virtual parenting time as a part of custody agreements are clear.


The convenience of virtual visitation, combined with the low cost and positive impact on the parent-child relationship may be why some states have actually started passing laws promoting it. In fact, Utah, North Carolina, and other states have “virtual visitation” statutes that may permit otherwise unlikely relocation where such visitation arrangements are required, spelled out, and put into place to maintain the parent-child relationship after a separation or divorce. Now, in addition to designated holidays, certain weekends, and the occasional weekday (for the non-custodial parent who lives close by), a non-custodial parent may be guaranteed to “see” and bond with their child almost every day.

Although there is no perfect substitute for being together in person, virtual parenting time is a great way to supplement a more typical custody arrangement, or make room for the parties to relocate and rebuild their lives in different places while maintaining their most important connections.

Over the past few years, New York has begun to include provisions for video chats and other forms of online contact, particularly in relocation-based custody disputes. One can only hope that New York will soon pass an actual virtual parenting time law of its own.




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