Virtual Parenting

“Virtual visitation” is the use of electronic communication tools to provide contact between a parent and his or her children as part of a parenting plan or custody order. Virtual visitation includes many forms of communication, such as e-mail, instant messaging, and videoconferencing. Virtual visitation allows a non-custodial parent to maintain contact with his or her children when they cannot be with the children in person.

In California, there are no laws concerning a parent’s “right” to virtual visitation however, there is nothing to prevent parties from agreeing to the use of such technology and there is nothing to prevent a court from making such orders, if it is in the best interest of the children. This past week, Judge Shaller of the Los Angeles Superior Court, granted a paraplegic mother, Abbie Dorn, not only the right to visit in person with her triplets, but also the right to monthly visits with her children via Skype video conference call. The children live in Los Angeles with their father and their mother lives in South Carolina where she is cared for by her parents. There are only a few states which have “virtual visitation” laws. The first state to enact such a law was Utah, which mandates “virtual visitation” if parents live more than 100 miles apart. Using technology to supplement a parent/child relationship can be rewarding, but it should not be used to replace in-person visitation time.  Some fear that judges may be improperly influenced by parents seeking to move away from the other parent in situations that would not otherwise warrant child custody relocation, but it is unlikely a relocation would be allowed because such technology is available. Rather, it is more likely that such technology will merely be a factor in a judge’s decision making process concerning a relocation.

Virtual visitation has the potential to change the child custody legal landscape. Technology creates new channels of communication between a parent and child in child custody matters thereby allowing parents to have frequent and continuing contact with their children when physical contact is not possible. With that being said, virtual visitation should never be viewed as a replacement for quality face-to-face time with a child.